Welcome, King JamesThe NBA's next big thing visits Toronto for first time
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
The challenges and issues facing LeBron James may seem eerily familiar to Raptors fans.
For one thing, the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching staff has been encouraging James to be grumpier and less visibily carefree before games, in the hope he'll set more of a serious, no-nonsense example for his teammates.
For another thing, Cavs management is on the hunt for a running-mate for LeBron, someone a little more reliable than the departed Ricky Davis, or even Dan Quayle or Geraldine Ferraro.
James needs a partner, a cohort, a "second scorer" for the Cavs, if you will.
And finally, in the absence of that "second scorer," at least for the time being, James is carrying the weight of the entire team on his shoulders. He knows if he doesn't play well on any given night, the Cavs probably aren't going to win. In fact, they probably aren't going to come close to winning.
We wouldn't go so far as to say James and Vince Carter of the Raptors are leading mirror lives. But when the two of them look deeply into each other's eyes tonight, there will be empathy.
Tonight will mark James' first visit to the Air Canada Centre, and the Raptors are anticipating a sellout crowd. That's hardly a unique phenomenon for Toronto, since the Cavs have gone from being the third-worst road draw in the NBA last season to the second-best this season. We're betting that turnaround has more to do with James, a 19-year-old wunderkind who was the No. 1 pick in the draft last June, than any groupie-like fascination with Cavs coach Paul Silas or second-round pick Jason Kapono.
Has James generally lived up to expectations so far?
Well, his team is less than stellar, and that's sugar-coating it. The Cavs are 11-23 after winning 107-96 last night against the new-look New York Knicks. James had 14 points and 10 assists.
But considering James as an individual talent, it has been tough to find serious fault with his performance, despite the crochety persistence of the nay-sayers.
"When (James) comes with it, 20- or 30-plus points, we're a pretty good team," Silas said. "When he's not on, it's very hard for us."
True, James makes rookie mistakes, he turns over the ball too much, his shot is inconsistent and he has a lot to learn, not only about his own capabilities but about when to take over games and when to utilize his teammates. But the fact is, not many players have the wherewithal to average 40 minutes, 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game, let alone ones who are 19 and have about as much chance of escaping the opposing team's attention as Michael Jordan.
"I felt bad for the kid coming in," Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said recently when asked about James.
"I wasn't sure anybody could live up to it. But he's making that thought seem ridiculous."
Carlisle went on to describe James as a "blossoming icon." While that isn't the most manly of compliments, it is undeniably accurate.
Obviously, for James to reach his potential, the Cavs are going to have to improve their roster in the coming years. A suitable running mate for James will be hard to find, as the Raptors know all too well from their failed efforts to find one for Carter ever since Tracy McGrady left.
But for the most part, things appear to be reasonably on schedule for James, the most hyped player in NBA history.
"Nah, it's easy," James said when asked if all the media attention -- not to mention the travelling-circus atmosphere of Cavs road games -- is starting to bother him.
"Y'all ask me the same questions and I give you all the same answers. I'm a tape recorder."
Speaking of tape recorders, you might want to set your VCR for the game tonight.