May 14, 2010
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to"Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Cleveland Cavaliers.
I don't think it's an overreaction to tell you that it's all over for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Five days ago we were wondering if the Celtics had it in them to force a tie with the Cavs. Two weeks ago, we were wondering just how many games it would take for the Cavaliers to bounce the C's in a best-of-seven. All year, we've been wondering if the team that was built to down the Orlando Magic -- rightfully built to down the Orlando Magic, mind you -- would be able to down the Orlando Magic. The Cavaliers never got a chance to down the Orlando Magic.
Instead, they fell in the second round. And it was about as public and as swift a realization as you tend to see in professional sports. All at once, the Cavaliers were revealed as undercoached, uncoachable and a frightened little thing. All at once, a column on what the Cavaliers will do next season falls right in line with a column about what the Hawks will do next season. We don't know, because we don't know who will be around.
I'm sorry, but LeBron James(notes) is leaving this. Whether by design or defeat or both, he's made it possible to get out while the going is great. To hand-pick another group of sycophants to have his way and never have to answer for His Way, however misguided. The tri-state area, Miami, Chicago, who knows? He doesn't even want to know. He just wants to get back to remembering what it's like to be the self-proclaimed "King." The sort of guy who has to remind you what he wants his nickname to be.
Doesn't have to answer for nine turnovers in a deciding game. Won't have to answer for not attempting to take control of the game until the latter stages of the fourth quarter, and only in the form of a couple of desperate 3-pointers that happened to go in. Won't have to answer for that defense, which was embarrassing. Just has to answer to the question, "Who's the NBA's best player?"
It's still James, you know. Just because we don't really care for him at the present, it doesn't take away from his greatness. We've all got brains big enough to handle him being the game's best player and a crushing failure as a leader when it counted most in this series. If anything, it should add to the enmity that you've no doubt developed over the last week for this ghost. This person who should know better, but doesn't want to hear it.
I'm not going to even try to get into James' head. I haven't been famous since high school, so there's no point in pretending to have an idea. To me, millions are millions, and they all start to blend together once you get past eight figures a year, so I would go for the situation that would make me happiest. And the thing that would make me happiest would be a place where I could win a championship. Cleveland, had James actually deigned to try, should have been that place.
What makes James happiest, if all the rumors are true, is a place that won't make him answer for anything. A place that, with the newness and brilliance of "LeBron James is in town!" so sharp in everyone's minds, allows us to forget the self-imposed wreck that was his final two games as a Cleveland Cavalier. I don't know where it will be, but even if he's suiting up for my or your hometown team next season, it will be a cruel disappointment. This man failed the team he was paid to lead.
Assuming James leaves, Mike Brown has to go. Brown has to go even if he stays, and it's a wonder he's made it this far. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wanted him gone last season, and though Brown has had his moments, he's clearly not suited to make tough decisions at this level. It's been years, and he's a bad head coach. His rotations are terrible, his leadership weak, his offensive guidance nonexistent.
He valued his job and relationship with James over a championship, and though I can't blame him for that, I can also criticize him for that. Because James deserved a borderline suspension after Game 5, but Brown (as he does in the face of matchup issues, adjustments by the other team or any sort of change) continued apace. Didn't adjust. Didn't get in his face. Didn't inspire him to play in the moment. Didn't coach.
If James goes, you have to start over. Have to. General manager Danny Ferry won't, because he'll value his job over a championship, but the real way to a championship in the wake of LeBron James leaving your team for no compensation is to make it so LeBron leaves your team for no compensation. You don't delude yourself into thinking that everything's going to be somewhat passable. Forty-five-win passable. You don't add another eight-figure contract.
So that means no sign-and-trades for Luol Deng(notes), guys. Don't tell yourself that this is a step in the right direction. This means everything goes, you take that cap space and you work something out for a run that starts in 2011-12. Don't talk up Mo Williams(notes) and J.J. Hickson(notes) and Deng and tell me that while we won't reach the heights we did with LeBron, we feel confident in our core moving forward. Spare me.
But this is the NBA, and people value their jobs over going all-out for 65 wins. So this is what you'll probably see. A mad dash to remain relevant, however mediocre the result.
Which is a shame. An almost crying shame, I feel so bad, and that's even with the rumors about LeBron pushing him toward my hometown. I feel so incredibly bad for how James treated this team, this city, that state, and he's still under contract until July 1. He hasn't left yet, but in only seven days this franchise has gone from a championship contender to a vapor. As much as James' future has been bandied about over the last four years, this is still a shocking turn of events.
One that no fan base deserves. It's OK to be angry, even before he starts flirting with other teams. It's OK to be upset, because the franchise should have known better than to hand the keys over to a young man in his early 20s. It's OK to feel betrayed, because for whatever reason, LeBron James didn't want it as much as you did.