INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Back on Cleveland Cavaliers media day in late September, LeBron James came into the new season with a fresh mind and body.
“This is one of the best offseasons I’ve had in my career,” James said. “And I’m extremely excited.”
After spraining his left ankle, however, and only playing in one of the Cavs’ five preseason games, followed by a 3-4 start to the regular season, James admits that all the air from his summer training was let out of his balloon when he got injured.
“This was probably the worst training camp for me in my career because of the injury,” James said at Cavs shootaround Wednesday morning before their game against the Indiana Pacers. “I didn’t get an opportunity to do the things that I like to do and with the summer that I had, I kind of had a setback.”
With the Cavs coming off three straight trips to the NBA Finals, training camp might have been looked at as nothing more than a tune-up had Cleveland returned its core. However, Kyrie Irving’s offseason trade request set off a string of roster moves that resulted in the Cavs bringing in eight new players this season.
The practice time was necessary. And there was no way to substitute learning how to play with James for the roster additions unless James was actually on the court.
“Training camp has always been like my favorite point in the season, it sounds weird, but to be able to get back into it, get the team going, having that camaraderie, getting back on the floor, getting that system back in place,” James said. “For me to be in and out and much more out that in and to be able to implement what I do, especially with [eight] new guys, that kind of hurt.”
The Cavs aren’t the only perennial power off to a slow start, however. The Golden State Warriors are 5-3; they didn’t have their third loss last season until Dec. 1, when they were 16-3. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder — both picked to finish near the top of the Western Conference — are 4-3. The Cavs, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls are the only playoff teams from a year ago currently under .500.
Yes, the season started a week earlier and preseason was shortened to accommodate the schedule shift, but the Cavs can’t blame everything on the calendar.
“I was kind of already behind the eight ball, so it didn’t matter if it was a shortened preseason or not with the injury that I had, personally,” James said. “So I’m not sure. I’m not sure. We know that the season kind of started earlier. Everybody was kind of a little bit off rhythm for a little bit. But we’re into now so it’s not much of an excuse.”
The Cavs tried to rid themselves of excuses with an air-it-out full team meeting prior to practice Tuesday. James was “vocal” in the meeting, a source present for it told ESPN, however “most everyone spoke.”
James was encouraged by what was said.
“It was needed and we’re receptive, and the best thing about it is guys got out everything that they wanted to, even with it being early in the season,” James said. “It was good, so, see how it translates on the floor too.”
While most would think a team meeting just seven games into an 82-game schedule would be cause for alarm, James didn’t see it that way.
“Everything happens for a reason, so, excited what the future holds for our team,” he said.