On LeBron, leadership and the line between crazy and eccentric

Ball Don't Lie

LeBron James might think the media's fascination with his every on- and off-court move is all a bit much:

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... but members of the media aren't the only ones who have taken notice of LeBron's recent predilection toward pushing buttons (including the one that says "unfollow"). Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin and head coach Tyronn Lue "have had conversations with James over the past few days" about his "occasionally peculiar behavior," according to Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

Lue spoke with James after Saturday's 122-101 loss in Miami, during which at halftime James was noticeably chatting it up with his friend, Heat star Dwyane Wade, instead of warming up with the Cavs trailing by 21.

Griffin replaced former coach David Blatt with Lue in part to demand more accountability from James — which the player covets — and their chat was an example.

Griffin's talk with James on Wednesday afternoon was a little more general, but was sparked by James' comments to The Bleacher Report that he wanted to play with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul on the same team for a "year or two."

Those comments came from Howard Beck's excellent piece on the depth and scope of the relationship between James and Anthony that stretches back beyond their entrance into the league as two of the top three picks in the 2003 NBA draft:

"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together," James said. "At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP—we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that."

Maybe at the end of their careers, James said. Maybe sooner. One more ring chase, this time with everyone on board.

"It would be pretty cool," James said. "I've definitely had thoughts about it."

Before bounding away, he smiles and closes with a coy chirp: "We'll see."

How much do LeBron James' consistently curious off-court comments matter? (Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)
How much do LeBron James' consistently curious off-court comments matter? (Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)

Coming on the heels of LeBron's slew of curious recent turns — the mid-week jaunt down to Miami to work out with Wade followed by his insistence he didn't care about folks' response to it, his displeasure over the Cavs' decision not to re-sign veteran Kendrick Perkins and the team's lack of an enforcer, the raft of "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" tweets directed at nobody and everybody that he called the product of "a beautiful mind," the insistence that he would've moved to power forward full-time to make room for Joe Johnson, which would've meant displacing one of the team's many other big men, etc. — the "Brotherhood" team-up thought experiment added even more grist to the mill for those wondering just how connected LeBron is these days to the team he chose to rejoin two summers ago.

Like, if LeBron digs being where he is and playing with a roster whose rebuild he essentially oversaw, then why does he keep talking about how much he wants to play with other dudes? Might the much-discussed chemistry issues in Cleveland have something to do with what seems to our you-ain't-a-beauty-but-hey-you're-all-right minds to be an advancing interest in casting his gaze at a more verdant lawn somewhere off in the distance?

And given the position in which the Cavaliers now find themselves — 2 1/2 games up on the Toronto Raptors for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but looking less like the juggernaut that entered the 2015 postseason than a somewhat disjointed collection of talent against whom multiple teams in the East bracket feel they've got a legitimate chance in a seven-game series — what exactly is the productive point of all of this chatter? What lesson in leadership is LeBron sending, again?

According to Vardon, Lue said "James apologized to him for his behavior at halftime Saturday night," while Griffin's chat with James was characterized as "positive and productive." That doesn't seem to mean LeBron's done talking about the Brotherhood team-up, though. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

"I don't know how realistic it could be," James said. "It would definitely be cool if it happened, but we don't know how realistic it could be to have us four. But, I mean, if you got an opportunity to work with three of your best friends [you take it], no matter what. It's not even about sports. It's about being around guys that you don't even have to say nothing, you automatically know. We just have that type of history.

"So can it happen? I don't know if it can even happen, but it would be cool."

As our Kelly Dwyer and others noted Wednesday, it's technically possible to make it all work. It would mean one or more members of the quartet taking a substantial pay cut and, in all likelihood, playing on a roster that's even thinner on the back end than the CP3-era Clippers clubs that have tended to wither in the Western Conference playoffs whenever Doc Rivers has had to look to his bench to give Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick some relief, but it's not totally outside the realm of possibility.

If it's going to happen, though, Anthony doesn't see it happening in Manhattan or Cleveland. From Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“We still got years in this league,’’ Anthony said Wednesday after the Knicks defeated the Bulls, 115-107, at United Center. “Everybody dreams sometimes.

“Everybody has fantasies. We’d all have to take pay cuts. I’d take one. I think at that time we’d want to go someplace warm. Later — [close to] retirement.’’

Well, naturally. You can't get out on the banana boat when it's too chilly.

Anthony, who has repeatedly expressed an interest in remaining in New York and a reluctance to waive the no-trade clause he negotiated into the five-year, $124 million contract he signed two summers back, was willing to entertain the notion after helping the Knicks to their 29th win of what's all but certainly a third-straight playoff-free spring. On the other hand, Wade — whose Heat got pummeled by the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday to fall to 41-30, but remain in the thick of a four-team battle for the East's No. 3 seed — was a bit less enthusastic about it, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Asked in San Antonio about James' comment, Wade said, "I don't know. I heard it. I read it. But I'm not really jumping into the headlines right now. I mean, for me, I'm focused on my teammates in here. So as cool as the headlines are, it has nothing to do with what we're trying to do in here. So I'm not going to jump into the headlines. Don't put me in the middle of it. Don't put me in it right now."

Wade's comments are the kind of things a fan base invested in a team's well-being wants to hear from its signature star. LeBron's, well, aren't. But how much does that matter, really? Moreover, how much does any of this late-season static matter?

While James continues to write himself and his friends into issues of "What If?" and "Marvel Team-Up," he's also unmistakably cranking things up as Cleveland nears the playoffs. He torched the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, he's fresh off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors in February, and he's stepped up his production in March, averaging 25.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 34.2 minutes per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and finishing nearly one-third of the Cavs' offensive possessions. On the court, he's carrying the load. Off the court, as Terry Pluto suggests, maybe one of the most gifted passers the NBA's ever seen is just trying to find ways to pass the time.

The Cavaliers still have issues to address — namely, that defense, which gave up 61 first-half points to Milwaukee before tightening after intermission, which has ranked a middling 13th in points allowed per possession since the All-Star break, and which continues to concern Lue — and they've still got to fend off a spirited attack from the North. But they clearly feel confident in their ability to do so, and James remains the most prominent reason for that. Lest we ever had any doubt, this is LeBron's show, he's running it how he sees fit and, by and large, that's been a wildly successful recipe for a Cavaliers team that remains the favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals for the second straight year.

He's feeling healthy and getting locked in, and while all of the other stuff seems really weird and unhelpful (if not outright damaging) to the rest of us, maybe that's all that really matters. When you're poor, you're crazy, but when you're rich, you're eccentric. If LeBron's able to finish the job in this year's Finals, maybe we'll start to look at all this "peculiar behavior" as just the sort of button-pushing, string-pulling masterminding that Cleveland needed to finally get over the hump. Maybe that'll be revisionist history, but that's the nice thing about winning: you get to tell the story the way you want.

As it's always been for these Cavs, everything boils down to the pursuit of a championship. The rest is just conversation, including the conversations the bosses have with LeBron about the not-so-flattering conversations he's creating along the way.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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