Facing his toughest challenge yet: Why LeBron’s greatness may have reached its ceiling

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in trouble.

For the entire NBA season, the reigning champions have looked a little bit off. Their defense is sixth worst in the league, they’re barely getting by teams like the Charlotte Hornets for wins and they had a worse record in March than the worst team in the league, the Brooklyn Nets.

There was mild chatter about all of this throughout the year, but after a historic finals performance in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, LeBron James and company didn’t just deserve the benefit of the doubt – it was earned. But the Cavaliers falling to the two seed in the east raises some doubts. So much has been made of James’ “switch” – he can coast through the regular season, because he saves his real work for the playoffs. Some of that may be true, but this year seems different.

The Cavaliers have lost three games in a row while aiming for the one seed in the Eastern Conference, including blowing a 26-point fourth quarter lead to the Atlanta Hawks. That’s alarming, but all of this may be moot. The Eastern Conference is still comparatively weak to the rest of the NBA, and the Cavaliers still have the best player in the league, James. To put it quite simply, this is the worst the Cavaliers have looked in years. They may even lose a game in the conference finals – something James rarely does.

This just goes to show the willingness we have to overlook these potential deficiencies and believe that James will find a way to make it to the Finals for the seventh straight year. The Cavaliers on their worst day are still better than the Wizards on their best. Many are saying that come playoff time we will be forgetting all about the previous struggles from the Cavaliers, but I’m not as convinced.

As someone who has the utmost respect for James, and someone who genuinely wants him to succeed, I am still saying that this isn’t his team’s year. Championship hangovers are real, and succumbing to a potential Golden State Warriors dynasty is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, in the age of social media and critics doing everything they can to bash players for even their smallest weaknesses, championships matter. A legacy is at stake for James. At 32 years old, he’s going to be exiting his prime very quickly, and we’re not sure how many years he has left in the league as a dominant force. If he truly wishes to be considered the greatest of all time, he’s going to have to reach another level of greatness.

What we saw in the 2015 NBA Finals when half his team was injured was not only spectacular, but a sign of what he’s capable of when completely locked in. If James can retain that level of play with a healthy roster while shoring up their defense in just a few weeks, then they have a very good shot at repeating as champions.

I just don’t see that happening.