When the Cleveland Cavaliers crumbled to the Boston Celtics after losing to them 94-85 in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, they lost far more than a shot at the championship against the Orlando Magic. They quite possibly lost the best player in the league in LeBron James and their claim to being a legitimate NBA franchise as well.
The Cavs looked like champions on paper but championships have to be won on the court. That’s where the problem started–and ended. James played without passion in a horrific 32-point blowout loss in Game Five, and despite a triple-double in Game Six, he still seeming distracted and disinterested.
The King has no clothes. Or a kingdom. Certainly not a crown.
If James walks onto the court of Quicken Loans Arena next year wearing another team’s uniform, don’t boo him Cavs fans. He gave you seven years of his life; the Cavs gave him Mike Brown, one of the most inept and unimaginative coaches in the NBA. He gave Cleveland basketball respectability where it was once a bad joke and the only wining pro franchise in the city. The Cavs never gave him a reliable second option to take some of the weight off of his shoulders.
Shaquille O’ Neal? A lock for the Hall of Fame, but he’s running on fumes and memories. Antwan Jamison? Inconsistent, doesn’t dominate at the four spot and is on the wrong side of 30. Shooting guards Anthony Parker and Delonte West combined for ten points in Game Six. Their jump shots come and go and against Boston they were mostly gone. Point guard Mo Williams was totally outclassed by Rajon Rondo. He needs to go knock on the door of the Celtics locker room and politely ask Mr. Rondo for his shorts and jock strap back because he got undressed.
The Cavs had the best record in the NBA during the regular season which just goes to prove how utterly meaningless the regular season is. It’s not the team that has the best record that dominates in the playoffs. It’s the team that dominates and the Cavaliers learned the hard way champions aren’t crowned in April.
The Bulls gave the Cavs a nastier fight than they were expecting in the first round and the Celtics exposed them as frauds who were never as loaded or talented as the sports media had hyped. Too old, too slow, and not athletic enough, the Cavaliers fattened up during the season on the weak sisters of the league, but in a seven-game series they were once again totally dependent on James to carry them to victory.
James is saying all the right things about staying in Cleveland, but he’s going to explore his options and he’s got a LOT of options. Even if he stays will the Cavs be any better? They can’t sign any of the other big-name 2010 free agents to help James and he knows that. The team only leased Shaq for one year and it didn’t pan out. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a free agent and he’s old too, so the Cavs are looking at Anderson Varejo as their starting center next season. Not a happy prospect when the broad shoulders of Dwight Howard are blocking your path.
So fuhgeddaboutit, Cleveland. You never owned James. You were only renting him for seven years. He had a great run, no denying that, but it’s time for him to take his ball and hit the road. There are at least 29 other NBA teams that would move heaven and earth to land King James. There are three that are most likely.
New York Knicks: Why wouldn’t’ the greatest player in the world want to play in the greatest city in the world? Because the Knicks are a terrible team. Even James on Broadway isn’t going to change that anytime soon. The Knicks could add another coveted free agent to compliment him, but if winning is the priority for James, the Knicks are a lot further away than the Cavs. There’s no upside for James to go from a flawed team in Cleveland to a Knick team that’s a hot mess Nike would love to build a gigantic billboard in Times Square with James rocking the Knicks colors, but it seems unlikely to happen. Don’t tell the fans in NYC that. They’re convinced he’s on the way.
Miami Heat: If anything could get Pat Riley out of the suites and back on the bench is the chance to coach James to a championship. The problem for Riles is he’s got his own superstar, Dwayne Wade, thinking about filling out a change-of-address card as a free agent. Wade has said he’s not going to re-sign until he sees what the Heat do to improve the team. Maybe the promise to go all-out to lure James from Cleveland snow to South Beach sand might convince Wade to stick around. The problem here is despite the lack of a state income tax, bringing James to Miami and resigning Wade would give the Heat two good players and not much else on the roster. And James would be the second-highest player to Wade. There can only be one Alpha Male and James is a lead singer, but a back-up.
Chicago Bulls: No less than four NBA general managers have picked ‘Da Bulls as the most likely place for King James to rebuild his kingdom. James knows many a superstar minus a championship was only a great point guard away from being fitted for a ring. Given a choice between Williams back in C-land, Chris Duhon in New York and Mario Chalmers in Miami, the prospect of playing with a young stud on the verge of greatness like Derrick Rose has got to be an enticement. There’s other young talent on the roster. Plus, the Bulls are trying to come up with scenarios that could bring Wade, Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh to the Second City as well. Some sportswriters have doubts James would want to go to a team where Michael Jordan ruled. I disagree. There’s already a statue of His Airness outside of Chicago Stadium. Pair James with Rose and Bosh and Chicago instantly has its most exciting trio of players since the days of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. That’s when some sculptor will start figuring out how close to Jordan’s statue LeBron’s willi be.
James already announced to honor Jordan he would no longer wear number #23 and would be switching to #6. A better way to honor Jordan (and to further his goal of becoming the world’s most popular athlete, a task made easier by the fall from grace of Tiger Woods) would be to win his first NBA championship where Jordan won his last.
In six weeks when free agency opens James will reveal his plans and we can stop guessing. I’m betting the Bulls shirt I bought recently turns out to be a smart investment.