Sidelines: LeBron James Show set to open in Orlando

Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Nothing but raves.

That's the early word on the LeBron James Show.

The curtain lifts tonight when the Cleveland Cavaliers play their first summer league game in Orlando, Fla. It will be a typical over-the-top production that seems to follow James everywhere. More than 10,000 fans are expected, and as of Monday, 108 media credentials had been issued.

Summer league games are usually watched only by coaches, scouts, a few family members and writers. Most of the athletes won't make an NBA roster, although the Cavaliers do have Carlos Boozer of Juneau, Darius Miles, Dajuan Wagner and DeSagana Diop in camp.

In fact, those four will join James in the starting lineup.

"Just wait until you see him," Boozer gushed. "I'm impressed with how he's handling everything. At 18, he does some things that athletically are unbelievable."

James' three days of practice with the Cavaliers have been closed to the media and the public, but that doesn't stop players and coaches from talking about the team's top draft pick.

"He just doesn't seem 18," Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. "The way he gets everyone involved is wonderful. He picks up things fast. He knows the game. He gets along with the other guys. He's really, really playing well."

Silas is giving the 6-foot-8, 242-pound James a chance to have his wish and play point guard.

"We've put the ball in his hands, and we're running defensive pressure at him," Silas said. "We're coming right up (on him), and he's handling it."

There's more.

"The way LeBron plays the game is beyond his years," said Mike Bratz, a former Cavaliers point guard and now the team's player personnel director.

Most NBA people believe point guard is the most demanding position for a rookie. For one thing, he must adjust to a 24-second shot clock. There was no shot clock in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary.

The point guard also has to learn new players, where everyone is supposed to be on the court, and then keep his teammates happy by spreading the ball around and not taking too many shots himself.

Far more difficult tests are coming, but so far, James has shocked some veteran basketball people with his savvy.

"Because the expectations are off the charts, you don't want to get too carried away, but he has been everything I expected - and more," Bratz said.

What about on defense?

"Not too bad," Silas said.

"He's got things to learn, but he moves his feet well, he's quick, he gets up there and guards you," Bratz said.

Miles compared LeBron's court vision to that of Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson.

Everyone knows this is just practice, and it's mostly against young players. But even the best rookies tend to struggle in the initial stages of the summer league. A year ago, Wagner was gasping for breath, banging jump shots off the front of the rim and seeming more than a little lost in his first exposure to the Cavaliers.

James has been acting as if he belongs and as if he should make an immediate impact.

"I thought he was a little nervous in his first practice, but then he settled down and has shown a lot of poise," Silas said. "His shooting is starting to come around. In the open court, he's great. He really finds guys on the fast breaks. He makes other players better."

Or as Bratz said, "He really is the ultimate team player."

James simply says, "I know how to play the game."

From most other rookies, that would sound cocky.

But the Cavaliers will tell you that he is just telling the truth, he has been performing as if he were born to play in the NBA.

And maybe he was.

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