- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

LeBron James, regardless of how annoying he sometimes is with his Jim Carrey-like facial expressions, is now the most dominant player in the NBA.

That assertion is not likely to prompt much debate, except perhaps among members of Kobe Bryant’s fan club in Los Angeles.

While Bryant is another version of Michael Jordan, James is a glimpse of basketball’s future in the fashion of Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving and Magic Johnson.

James is a one-of-a-kind specimen, and that includes his ability to channel Carrey’s rubbery-faced character in “The Mask” if he is displeased with the referees.

As a fullback in a basketball uniform, James invites contact at the basket. If an opponent does not foul him with enough conviction, James finishes the foray and goes to the foul line.



James is Karl Malone with a higher level of skill. Malone played mostly with his back to the basket and was dependent on someone delivering a pass to him. James plays on the perimeter, where he initiates the offense of the Cavaliers while measuring the responses of the defense.

He is too tall and strong for those quick enough to stay with him. He is too quick for those who can look him in the eye.

James has what never has come easily for Bryant, which is an appreciation of less gifted teammates. That distinction has allowed James to move ahead of Bryant, the NBA’s MVP last season.

James is not afraid to surrender the ball to an open teammate in the waning seconds of a one-possession game if he attracts two or more defenders. He does not have to take the last shot, as the Wizards know only too well from their three consecutive meetings with the Cavaliers in the postseason.

James is secure enough to be the setup person, just as Jordan was. Jordan hit a high number of game-winning shots during his career, but he also took advantage of the outside shooting of John Paxson and Steve Kerr.

The ability to balance the competing forces of shoot/pass always has bedeviled Bryant, most recently in the NBA Finals in June, when he lost confidence in his teammates at times and tried to go it alone.

As the 23-year-old James matures, so, too, do the Cavaliers.

They have forged a 15-3 record, their best start ever, highlighted by a 10-0 mark at home.

The Cavaliers have positioned themselves as the most compelling challenger to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers, with the offseason addition of Mo Williams and the growth of James, promise to be a more imposing postseason foe this season.

That should come as worrisome news to the Celtics, who needed seven games to eliminate the Cavaliers from the playoffs last spring.

Although the Celtics have exhibited no drop-off from their championship season, the 82-game schedule is certain to wear on the 30-something legs of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the months ahead.

James is such a load on the opposition that Williams, a solid but not great player, looms as the piece that was missing two seasons ago, when the Cavaliers fell to the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Williams is the perfect complement to James on the perimeter, drifting to open spaces beyond the 3-point line. This is the role that confounded the dribble-penetration instincts of Larry Hughes. This is the role that came with costs on defense whenever coach Mike Brown had no choice but to extend the minutes of diminutive Daniel Gibson or slow-footed Wally Szczerbiak.

That Williams could mean so much to the championship aspirations of the Cavaliers is a testament to James. It shows he does not need an All-Star at his side, just a competent player suited to the spot-up role.

A championship would mute the media-spun talk of James going to the Knicks in 2010.

James then could set out to be to Cleveland what Jordan once was to Chicago, a far more inviting proposition than possibly being swallowed up by the metropolis that is New York City.

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