Michael Jordan had “The Jordanaires.” LeBron James has “The Non-Brons.”
While guys like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman were definitely valuable contributors with the Chicago Bulls, they often were relegated to second-tier status by the media.
The same holds true for guys like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith with the Cavaliers, and at least one person, Kyrie Irving, craved top billing and asked to be traded.
As the Cavs prepare to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year — Game 1 is tonight at 9 at Oakland’s Oracle Arena — both teams are fully aware James is not the only talented player on Cleveland’s roster.
“Anytime you have a team that’s led by somebody who is considered the greatest player of all time or one of them, there’s going to be an interesting sort of dynamic with the teammates,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “We have great respect for the other guys.”
After James, who will be appearing in The Finals for the eighth straight time and ninth overall, the best of the rest is All-Star big man Love, who might be cleared from concussion protocol in time to play in Game 1.
Like Love, Thompson and Smith have appeared in the last three Finals with James, but that didn’t stop “Saturday Night Live” from doing a recent skit that mocked the 33-year-old’s teammates.
“I think they’ve always had a narrative of LeBron carrying the team,” Thompson said of the media. “He’s definitely a big part of our team. But if you watch the games, we have guys that have big moments.
“LeBron definitely has done a great job for us, but he’s not alone,” he added. “He has help. I think guys that know basketball know the guys that he has on his team. So ‘SNL’ and all that stuff, I’m glad they got their hits and people watched it, but they don’t know sports.”
James, who is averaging 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the 2018 playoffs, praised a number of his teammates during his media session Wednesday, and knows he’s going to need their help against a Warriors team that features former league MVPs in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry and All-Stars in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
“Listen, Golden State is one of the best teams I’ve ever played,” James said. “It’s one of the best teams that’s ever been assembled. Then they added Kevin Durant, so then what does that do to them? It makes them even more dangerous and even more powerful and great.
“For me as a competitor, it’s fun. It’s truly fun to know when I’m done playing the game of basketball, to know that I played against some of the greatest teams that ever played, ever been assembled. And this is one of them. You look at it, they’ve got four Hall of Famers on their team in Klay, Dray, Steph and K.D.”
Truth be told, though, the Warriors haven’t been nearly as dominant this season as they were the last three, and a lot of that has to do with decreased production and impact from their role players.
Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, will miss his fifth straight game due to a sore left knee, and guys like Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and Mark West frequently have failed to make significant contributions.
The same holds true with the Cavs, as Smith has frequently been invisible, Thompson fell totally out of the rotation at one point and guys like Jeff Green and Kyle Korver have been great on some nights and lousy on others.
Kerr and the Warriors, however, heaped praise on Cleveland during media day.
“We have great respect for the Cavs, their resiliency,” Kerr said. “The fact that they’re here four years in a row, we know exactly how hard that is. So we’re preparing for a lot more than just LeBron, that’s for sure.”
Curry was very outspoken in his belief the Cavs are a lot more than James, but he also realizes the small forward is vital to anything and everything Cleveland does.
“It’s a weird kind of dynamic thinking about this is the fourth time in a row we’ve played Cleveland in The Finals,” he said. “Obviously, LeBron’s still there and he’s the Mr. Everything for them. He’s been playing amazing the whole regular season and especially in these playoffs to will his team back here.”
While the Cavs’ bench actually might be better than the Warriors’, the big difference is Golden State has four reliable players — Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green — who can share the burden, while Cleveland has virtually no chance of competing if James has a bad night.
“Everything stops and starts with LeBron,” Green said. “(We’ll be) trying to do what we can to make things tough on him, but also take other guys out of the game.”
- NBA Finals: Cavaliers in 2-0 hole after Warriors find groove offensively, win 122-103
- NBA Finals: Warriors beat Cavs in 124-114 in overtime
- Jim Ingraham: Cavaliers have no answer for Kevin Durant
- LeBron James doesn't want Cavaliers to get too comfortable just because they're back home
- NBA Finals Preview: Sure, it's possible the Cavs will win, but...
- Anticipated or anticlimactic? Warriors-Cavs 4 in NBA Finals
- NBA Finals preview: LeBron's season for the ages led to Cavs-Warriors IV
- NBA Finals Preview: For the Cavs to succeed, they need Love
- Cavs notes: Kevin Love's status for Game 1 up in the air; Warriors will be without Andre Iguodala
- Warriors await word on top defender Iguodala as LeBron looms
- NBA Finals: Cavaliers huge underdogs against Warriors, face long odds to win 2nd title in 3 seasons
- Commentary: Thanks to LeBron James and plenty of determination, a nightmarish Cavaliers season ends up back in the Finals again
- Round 4: It's Cleveland vs. Golden State, again