Fortunately for LeBron James and his new Miami Heat superfriends, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the most glaring problems in their debut loss to the Boston Celtics can be fixed.
The lax defense, bad shooting, poor spacing and absence of easy baskets — those are all bugs that coaching, practice and playing together will eventually iron out. What remains to be seen is whether the sense of urgency that James lacked in Cleveland will ever come along.
James remains a transcendent talent. The way he took over the third quarter Tuesday night was a reminder of that. After a nearly 20-minute stretch without a basket, he strung together 15 points in the third to cut Boston's lead from 45-30 to 63-57.
Yet just like the Cavaliers, James' new teammates stood around and watched him take over, out of sync and uncertain of their roles. He provided precious little guidance during the game, but said afterward their inability to mesh wasn't the result of too few options — another problem in Cleveland — but an embarrassment of them.
"Right now it's a feel-out process for myself, for D-Wade, for Chris and for the rest of the guys," James said.
What he meant is that three guys who are used to having the ball in their hands at important moments haven't yet figured out how to make do with only one.
"This is a work in progress," James added. "We all feel like, we know, Rome wasn't built in a day."
Actually, the NBA version of an empire has been up and running for several years on the other side of the country. Kobe Bryant is chasing his sixth title in his 15th season with the defending champion Lakers, and Phil Jackson, who started in Chicago and will finish coaching this season in Los Angeles, is trying to lock up a fourth three-peat.
But it's a measure of how much hype James, his handlers and his shoe company have been able to generate that the Lakers had to settle for second billing. The wisdom of that campaign won't be decided until the playoffs are over, but the fans in Boston gave an early review by taunting their Eastern Conference rivals with chants of, "Over-rated!"
By coincidence, James was launching the next phase of his career in the same building where he lost his last game as a Cavalier, after seven ultimately unsatisfying seasons. Back then, he was taunted as a quitter; on this night, it was because he was a mercenary.
The Celtics, too, parlayed a Big Three of their own into two finals appearances in the last three years. But because both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston as relative graybeards after years of service in Minnesota and Seattle, respectively, they kicked up very little resentment. Not so with James and his All-Star pals.
Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and a handful of other NBA greats turned thumbs-down on James' decision to leave Cleveland, saying he was too good and too young to go looking for so much help so soon. And to be sure, James' stock plummeted with much of the public. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a shrewd marketer in his own right, guessed that James lost a billion dollars in brand equity over the summer.
If so, James appears unfazed and unrepentant. His just-out commercial for Nike trumpets that attitude, retracing his steps from high school and tweaking his many critics at every turn.
"What should I do?" James repeats at every important juncture.
For starters, absorb a lesson in leadership from Bryant.
Limited by a surgically repaired knee and a shooting hand that was broken last season and never completely fixed, Kobe didn't try to handle the scoring burden by himself. Instead, he set up teammates for easy baskets with seven assists in Los Angeles' win over Houston on Tuesday night. By the time the postseason rolls around, having teammates who can take command of the game when Bryant can't is what will enable them to repeat.
And in the meantime, what should LeBron do?
The short answer: shut up and win. It would do more than all the wall-to-wall commercials we've been subjected to since the day he first waltzed into the league.
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