LAS VEGAS – Don Nelson stared at the flat-screen television. The Golden State Warriors coach had come to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for a charity event to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The night was also being used to honor Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, but given Nelson’s interest in the TV, there was no denying who was the man of the moment.
Once James announced his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) with the Miami Heat, the NBA coaches and executives filling the Hard Rock ballroom turned their attention back to the true reason for their presence. But they also had some pointed opinions about whether James’ departure for South Beach would be good for the league.
Karl, who is recovering from his second battle with cancer, found a chair to sit in and tried to make sense of it all.
“I’m suspicious,” Karl said. “I’m suspicious about the whole system. I think it buried [Cleveland]. It’s going to bury them for a while with the combination of your best player ever [leaving] and then keeping him in the same conference where you got to play him four times.”
Said Nelson: “I thought, 'Poor Cleveland.' I’m not shocked. Things are changing. Times are changing.”
Karl knows Cleveland well having coached the Cavaliers for two seasons from 1984-86. His son, Nuggets guard Coby Karl(notes), also is a former Cav who played with James. George Karl hoped James would give the Cavs one last shot to try to win the franchise its first championship, but it was for naught.
“I was hoping for LeBron to go back to Cleveland for three more years and then after 10 years say, ‘Guys, I got to go win my championship.’ That’s what I was kind of hoping he would do,” Karl said. “Give them another two more years, three more years and then he’d have another seven years some place else.”
James’ teammates undoubtedly would have preferred that scenario. Cavs guard Mo Williams(notes), who was acquired two seasons ago from Milwaukee to help deliver a championship, said on his Twitter account that hearing James’ decision made him feel “like my heart has been pulled out.”
Williams said James should have spared Cleveland the heartache by not going on national TV to announce the decision.
“I know u made your decision for the rt reason but we could have got it done here and u would have enjoyed it in cle a whole lot more,” Williams tweeted in a message meant for James.
Williams said the Cavs have “taken leaps and bounds backwards.” “Let's pray he have a change of heart 2nite,” Williams tweeted. “It is the night of the unexpected.”
Then, in a moment of clarity, “Who am I kidding?”
James now rivals Art Modell, who moved the former Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995, as the most vilified sports figure in Cleveland’s history. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who grew up in Cleveland, still rates Modell No. 1.
“I think moving the franchise is a bigger crime,” Morey said. “To me, it’s hypocrisy if teams put some sort of value judgments on where players choose to go, but at the same time were negotiating hard for their contracts to go the other way.”
“They got to get some size,” Nelson said. “I think people expect too much because they have three great players, but you still need size in this league. They’d have to accumulate that, but they’ll be a fun team to watch.”
Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry was just happy James, Wade and Bosh remained in the East. He thinks the Heat should be considered favorites to advance to the NBA Finals – with one caveat.
“Chemistry,” Gentry said, “can be a strange thing.”