I am never going to be "that guy" who decides to write an article saying that a team is better without their superstar player. While that article has been written about other teams before, I am not going to write it about this year's Cleveland Cavaliers team. At the same time, many of the problems with inconsistency this season have occurred as a result of the team looking sluggish on offensive sets. They have a tendency to move through one iteration of the offense, until the ball gets into Lebron James' hands, and then shuffle a bit until James does something. This is why Lebron doesn't have nearly as many highlight passes this season as he did last year. The movement away from the ball isn't good enough for a streaking player to be open.
We saw something interesting happen last weekend in Philadelphia when Lebron sat down in street clothes with his toe injury. While the team looked lost in the first quarter on its way to a 25-38 deficit, their team offense progressed thereafter on the way to a 105-97 win. It wasn't that they were better without Lebron, but the rest of the team seems to play a little bit differently when Lebron is on the court. They play a lazy style of offense, almost trying to stay out of Lebron's way rather than trying to be his options streaking to the hoop, or around a pick.
They slowly realized in the Philly game that they didn't have a bail-out option (Lebron) to throw it to with seven seconds left on the shot clock. Usually the team can count on Lebron to at least hit the rim no matter what low percentage shooting situation they put him in at the end of an offensive set.1
In Philly the Cavs were doing the same thing in the first quarter, except when the clock ran down, the ball was thrown to Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eric Snow, Sasha Pavlovic, or Larry Hughes. They couldn't handle it the way that Lebron does.
What ended up happening was that they started to execute their motion on offense. They ran the court with better spacing on the break. The energy on offense translated to energy on defense and they went out and scored 11 more points than the 76ers in the third quarter and 14 more points than the 76ers in the fourth quarter on the way to a 105-97 victory.
I think that the Cavaliers can play this well as a team like they did in the second half against the 76ers and they can do it with Lebron James in the lineup. But, they need some practice without Lebron so that they can remember how to play like that. They have lost the muscle memory of playing a team game because they got used to standing around and watching Lebron. They are hurting themselves, and they are taking away Lebron's ability to throw great passes to his teammates in positions for high percentage shots.
If Lebron sits out the next two or three games and the rest of the Cavs' players remember that they need to move on offense, it will pay huge dividends as this team heads toward the playoffs. It should improve the horrendous offensive (in)efficiency that the Cavaliers have shown so far this year. On top of that, it should translate into a more consistent team defense as the team is always more energized to play team defense when they are clicking on offense.
Don't get me wrong. A team shouldn't have to have their star player sit out of the lineup to get themselves to play the right way. That would (and should) normally occur under the tutelage of a coach in a practice situation. That is another story for another day. In the meantime, maybe something good can come from Lebron taking a few games off to let his toe heal.
1. Incidentally, I have heard a lot of complaints about Lebron "jacking up" shots this year. I think this is why and I don't necessarily blame him for feeling the need to hoist shots at the end of the 24 second clock.