Earlier this season, when LeBron James told the media that his team needed “a f***ing playmaker,” it spawned a lot of reactions. From most people, it came in the form of mockery, laughter, or mild to severe disbelief. Which wasn’t really wrong. This is THE LeBron James we’re talking about. He’s the best player in the world, with two other All-Stars and a few other hand-picked teammates already. To actually hear him say he needs more help is strange, to be sure.
You can’t forget, however, that LeBron is smart and always thinking ahead. At the time, J.R. Smith was out and still is, and a few weeks later Kevin Love went down. James is playing more than 37 minutes per game this season, second most in the league. Now, either he’s making himself play that much, or he’s making Tyronn Lue make him play that much. But the point still stands.
Knowing how much he’s playing and how hard the team was working to scrape out wins, it’s not crazy to assume he could see an injury issue coming. He watched Golden State claw their way to 73 wins last season and arrive at the Finals a little worse for wear. He saw Steph Curry slip on a sweat spot and never return to full form. Things happen in an NBA season, and he knows that.
It comes down to trust. There’s little room for error in this NBA season. Two stacked teams are expected to meet in the Finals once again, and they’re in an arms race to gain the slightest edge over the other. Now that the injuries LeBron feared have happened to both teams (Love in Cleveland and Kevin Durant for the Warriors) it’s more clear why depth is important. How these teams overcome obstacles like that may decide who is most prepared to win in June. LeBron didn’t trust his team to get through the season unscatched, and he was right.
So is Deron Williams or Andrew Bogut specifically the answer? Not really. Past their prime yet effective players aren’t normally difference makers in the playoffs, but LeBron has shown they’re the teammates he trusts. Mike Miller, Richard Jefferson, heck, even Birdman Anderson have all played key roles on LeBron title teams in recent years. These new additions fit right in with that group.
Although Williams’ first big opportunity in a Cavs uniform didn’t work out, it still showed why he’s there in the first place. LeBron wouldn’t trust DeAndre Liggins or Kay Felder with that shot. (James’ lack of success or effort working with younger players that aren’t Irving is a phenomenon worth exploring, but that’s for another time.) It’s questionable if he’d even trust Iman Shumpert. But he trusted Williams. That’s a shot that will be consistently available as James draws double teams in the playoffs, so it’s good they got some practice for it now.
That play failed, but having LeBron’s trust means you’ll be a factor on his team. Kyrie Irving had his trust to take the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Finals. He trusted Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen completely. Technically Mario Chalmers had his trust, however begrudgingly. LeBron even trusts J.R. Smith to be J.R. Smith and fire away as he pleases. If J.R. didn’t have that trust, he wouldn’t be in Cleveland right now.
LeBron’s criteria is a mystery, but you have to prove yourself as an NBA player to him in some way before you’re trusted to play alongside him. Bogut has yet to play and we don’t know if he or Williams will ultimately make a big difference as “f***ing playmakers”. But at the very least they’re two more teammates that have LeBron’s trust, and that’s enough for now.