Why is LeBron James in such a bad mood?
His frustrations -- at least some of them -- about the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and even years-old bad blood with TNT analyst Charles Barkley have come pouring out. It's out of character for him to speak so aggressively on the record.
That's what NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last year during a frigid All-Star Weekend in Toronto, assessing the changes coming to the NBA with the huge injection of new television money. The league's collective bargaining agreement couldn't handle it, and scar tissue remaining from the 2011 lockout made the players' association uninterested in bailing out the suddenly antiquated document.
That is a league and maybe history-changing consequence, the cap spike allowing a 73-win team with three All-Stars to add an MVP. After the wrecking ball hit the Oklahoma City Thunder, perhaps no one else was more affected than James and the Cavs.
In the wake of his and the Cavs' incredible accomplishment in June -- perhaps the finest three consecutive games of his career, resulting in the team's NBA Finals comeback -- James was euphoric. Sitting on the mountaintop overlooking more than a million people jamming into a few square blocks in downtown Cleveland, his horizon had changed.
When he wrote his career-defining letter about coming back to the Cavs in 2014, James put it simply: "What's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
He'd done it. In reasonably short order. And he didn't want to stop.
Over the summer, James began talking about the biggest dream, the one that was so outrageous that he'd put it away for years. He dared to start talking about chasing Michael Jordan.
"My motivation is this ghost I'm chasing. The ghost played in Chicago," James told a young high school star at his annual Nike camp in July in Los Angeles, fully aware journalist Lee Jenkins was sitting there watching and taking notes. That quote ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
A few weeks later, he made it crystal clear in an interview with Rachel Nichols, fully knowing this clip was going to be all over ESPN for days: "I'm chasing that greatness. That's how great that ghost was. It's the same as anybody setting out goals and trying to reach them. That's just my personal goal."
Of course, James knew Durant had joined the Warriors. Of course, he knew chasing Jordan would mean more championships, not just "one for the Land." Of course, that had gotten so much tougher in the short run with the Warriors loading up in the wake of their Finals defeat.
But James was undeterred. Maybe it was the high from the title. Maybe it was that he had flat-out dominated Durant personally in his career -- he was 17-4 in head-to-head matchups coming into the season. Maybe it was arrogance.
Now, though, the smoke has cleared. James is stone-cold sober about how challenging his mission is for this season. The Warriors (41-7) are awesome. Their firepower is incredible. They've only gotten stronger as the season has gone on.
There are other things that nag at James.
He campaigned for Hillary Clinton, trying to help her secure Ohio, where he is one of the most popular citizens in the history of the state. It did not work.
James' signature Nike shoe hasn't created as much buzz with collectors recently.
Then there's his team. The Cavs (32-15) are in first place, but they are injured and thin. Kevin Love is sidelined for the fourth time in the past two months. J.R. Smith has been out for six weeks and isn't anywhere close to returning from a broken thumb.
The Cavs are a big man and a point guard short, and James, 32, has to play both positions to make up for it. As a result, he's leading the league in minutes per game. James was irked about the deficiencies on the roster before the injuries, and it has only gotten worse. The fact that the Cavs have left a roster spot open for nearly a month puzzles him to no end.
Before he went on his rant to ESPN's Dave McMenamin on Monday night, James played parts of the game as backup point guard and parts as backup center. Meanwhile, he watched as a point guard the Dallas Mavericks signed out of the D-League, Yogi Ferrell, put up 19 points to help his team win.
The Cavs went 7-8 in January. The Warriors are 12-2.
There were a number of reasons it happened. The motivated Spurs played expertly. But the Heat were tired, they were injured (Dwyane Wade missed 28 games that season) and they were thin after they cut Mike Miller for financial reasons and made a midseason trade in which they used a first-round pick to clear off salary.
James doesn't want to be there again. As he evaluates things now, it's clear he doesn't like the trend of this season.
Twice in the past two weeks he has mentioned how the Warriors improved themselves by adding Durant in reference to where the Cavs are. It's now at the front of his mind, and it isn't going away. The Warriors are boldly the best team right now.
Jackson and Barkley happened to have come into James' vision recently with negative comments about him. It was bad timing on their behalf because James is surly, and he's itching for a fight. Anyone else who wants to step up right now ought to be aware. That includes owner Dan Gilbert, too, though to this point, James has been more indirect with those comments. To this point.
"It's so hard to take the high road," James said in June after Klay Thompson took a shot at him during the Finals. "I've been doing it for 13 years. It's so hard to continue to do it."
James is off the high road now. Call it an unintended consequence.