Depending on which team you’re rooting for – the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Atlanta Hawks – you probably have a certain opinion about Matthew Dellavedova. The Cavaliers guard has been front and center in multiple loose-ball scrums in the Eastern Conference Finals, with one incident leading to a season-ending ankle injury for Kyle Korver and another leading to an Al Horford ejection.
While some Hawks feel Dellavedova is dirty, LeBron James and other Cavaliers feel he’s just scrappy – someone who works his tail off and isn’t afraid to give up his body for the team.
“Each camp sort of feels how they feel,” Rachel Nichols said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “How many times have we seen this with players? There’s dozens and dozens of players in every sport, frankly – but particularly in contact sports like basketball and football – where there’s a guy that you love when he’s on your team and you call him words like gritty or hard-working, scrappy, or maybe even, at worst, just an irritant – but in a good way. But if you’re on the other team, you think that he might be dirty or he goes too far. Most successful teams need to have one of those guys because there is quote dirty work to be done.”
Indeed, and the beauty – or ugliness – of that is in the eye of the beholder.
Regardless of your thoughts on Dellavedova, one thing is certain: he is not the reason the Cavaliers are up 3-0 in this series. No, that distinction belongs to LeBron James, who had 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 3.
Is James playing essentially as he always has, or are we seeing LeBron 3.0?
“I think it’s definitely LeBron 3.0,” Nichols said. “That’s a great way to put it. That’s what you hope for, right? We hope that we all grow as we get older. I started covering LeBron when he was a senior in high school, and if he was the same guy now at 30 that he was then, we’d all be pretty worried about him. But he has grown.”
James turned 18 just a few months before he was drafted first overall in 2003.
“He was a kid,” Nichols said. “As much as he had to be the leader because he was the best player on the team, he was definitely the kid on that team. And he goes to Miami and he’s playing with his peers. You have Dwyane Wade, who’s actually older than him. You have Chris Bosh. These guys are all in the same draft class, and they leaned one each other for leadership. If you have questions about whose team it is – LeBron or Dwyane’s – by definition, there can be a debate. There is no debate on this team. He is the leader. He is the guy who’s sort of in charge of filtering all the information and experience down to these guys. And in most cases, he is much older than the guys he is playing with.”
Kyrie Irving is 23. Tristan Thompson is 24.
“You are talking about LeBron with 12 years of experience in the NBA (being) in a completely different position than he’s ever been before,” Nichols said. “And when I sat down before this series and asked him about it, he said he’s had to have more patience this year than he’s ever had before – because he has to start more at the beginning than he has in a long time with these kids.”
Kids. That’s a good way to put in. In fact, that’s how James put it. He’s compared this year to becoming a father for the first time. He isn’t calling his teammates children, but he knows he has to be patient and he knows he has to teach.
“It completely changes your perspective,” Nichols said of having kids. “It’s not, ‘Oh, gee, I have to change diapers now.’ You have to reorder the way you function and do things. And I think that he had to do that in a very real way when he came to this team.”
The Cavs can close out the Hawks in Game 4 in Cleveland on Tuesday. Tip-off is slated for 8:30 p.m. ET.