The Question Is, What Are We Witnessing?

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie:

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.

Scoop Jackson at ESPN:

I’m mad at LeBron because from now on (and “from now on” can be a very long time) I have to sit on the set on ESPN’s “First Take” and listen to Skip Bayless tell me (and everyone else that sits in that seat), “I told you so.”

And he will torture me (us) with it like we’d been captured and sent to Guantanemo Bay. He even sent me the email with the early confirmation, a warning of how he was going to make my life a living LeBron hell.

“Scoop, you have no idea how miserable you made my ‘First and 10’ life the last three years — you, Jalen [Rose], Jemele [Hill], The Stews [Doug and Ryan)] Jay [Crawford], Dana [Jacobson] ridiculing me day-after-day for calling him ‘Prince’ James and LeBrick. Even Wale and Common let me have it about LeBron. And now, finally, the ‘First and 10’ tabletop has turned! Get ready for at least one long year of payback. Now, when you all call me crazy, I can — and will — fire back: ‘How crazy was I about LeBron?'”

LeBron, I still love you, but you just made the next year of my life miserable. The worst thing that could have happened just did: You proved Skip Bayless right. And I’m the one that’s going to have to live with it.

Bill Simmons at ESPN:

As summer free agency approaches, LeBron’s camp will shift public blame to his coach (Mike Brown, who could be sued by Cavs fans for coaching malpractice after this series) and his GM (Danny Ferry, who dropped the ball at the 2009 trade deadline and never found LeBron a Pippen-type supporting guy). His people will make the following sentiment clear to Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert: For LeBron to even consider staying, you need to splurge on a better coach and a better GM. And even then, LeBron might leave. Part of me doesn’t blame him.

Part of me.

Because the other part feels as if we learned something substantial about LeBron James this spring. I always thought his ceiling looked like this: Jordan’s DNA crossed with Magic’s DNA crossed with Bo Jackson. Nope. Take the Jordan DNA out. Have to. Jordan was a ruthless mother******. Jordan was a killer. Jordan didn’t care if his teammates despised him. Jordan never, ever, not in a million years, would have allowed his team to quit in the final two minutes of Thursday night’s game the way LeBron did. His teammates feared him, loathed him, revered him and played accordingly. Bird had that same quality. In the second half of his career, so did Magic. Winning meant so much to those guys that their teammates almost didn’t have a choice; they had to follow suit. Or else.

LeBron James is 25 years old. He has played seven seasons — 548 regular-season games and 71 playoff games. There’s a feeling that he can still get better and, with better teammates, maybe he could. But fundamentally, to paraphrase Bill Parcells, he is what he is at this point — a gregarious, larger-than-life, supremely gifted basketball player who’s better at making us say “WOW!” than anything else. If he owned that cutthroat Jordan chromosome, or Magic’s leadership chromosome, it would have surfaced by now. In Wednesday’s column before Game 6, I mentioned how there comes a point in every great player’s career when you have to pour the cement, let it harden and see what you have. We poured the cement for LeBron in this series. It hardened last night. We know what we have.

Allen Barra at The Village Voice

Michael Wilbon at WaPo:

So we’re stuck with this conversation for 45 days, all the way until July 1 to be exact. Six-plus weeks of leaks and sources, of wooing and recruiting, of LeBron James being sighted at a haberdashery in Midtown Manhattan or a restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop or at a private party on Miami’s South Beach. Anywhere he shows his face it’s sure to be “BREAKING NEWS.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ stunning elimination from the NBA playoffs on Thursday night means the most curious guessing game in the history of modern sports in America is on, officially. Even though LeBron’s presence hardly means a trip to the NBA Finals, he still guarantees immediate and long-term contention, not to mention nightly sellouts, a run on jerseys and media coverage that will tilt the entire town toward the pro basketball team. And with that as the backdrop, the serious contestants are, in alphabetical order: the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks.

Oh, I nearly forgot the Cleveland Cavaliers, although this particular discussion is built on the premise that LeBron cannot stay in Cleveland after this defeat, especially not after rumored locker room disharmony between LeBron and a teammate. It doesn’t seem he can stay in Cleveland, short of management rebuilding the entire team. The trade for Shaquille O’Neal appeared smart at the time, but Shaq seemed to have aged three years between last season with the Suns and this season in Cleveland. He might help some team and somebody will certainly sign him, but he’s mostly incompatible with LeBron.

Even if Cleveland was able to package young J.J. Hickson and Delonte West, bringing in one all-star and another front-line player in one summer is very, very unlikely, so we move to the other options.

The big issue is whether LeBron is going to make a basketball decision or one geared toward marketing, exposure and his personal life. After talking to several veteran NBA players and several club executives over the past 48 hours, it was somewhat surprising to hear that few people believe LeBron will make primarily a basketball decision. Nobody I talked to believes LeBron was humiliated by the loss to Boston. None of the players I talked to believes LeBron is motivated by winning in the same obsessive way Magic, Bird and Jordan were, or Kobe is. They believe that LeBron thinks he has years to win, and isn’t particularly pressed at the moment to do so.

A former league executive, a former coach and a current general manager all told me LeBron is one of the most spoiled and coddled players of this generation and as a result isn’t particularly accountable, as evidenced by his refusal to shake hands with the Orlando players after they whipped him in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. It’s a particularly disappointing thing to hear repeatedly because, if true, it suggests LeBron has this AAU mentality that values individual accomplishment over winning. I could live with hearing this about, say, O.J. Mayo, but LeBron James?

A.J. Daulerio at Deadspin:

Yes, in the past two hours, many of you have sent in an email that looks exactly like this:

Subject: Please Read Lebron

My uncle is the general contractor at the Q and has been for the last 7 years. He is good friends with a lot of guys at the Q including some of the bigger boys in the organization and knows Gilbert personally. I was just told from my brother that a very reliable source informed my uncle that Delonte has been banging Gloria James for some time now. Somehow I guess Lebron found out before game four and it has destroyed our chemistry and divided our team. This is no joke, the only player worse then Lebron has been Delonte. I am not making this up, I wish it wasn’t true but it happened. Wait and see if lebron stays you will not see Delonte in a cavs uni again.

Or maybe this one, in which the source has climbed the ladder all the way to David Stern’s office:

A large number of NBA employees received a VERY interesting email today regarding a developing LeBron James story. I figured before the ESPN assholes get wind of it, you guys should break the story. The word from David Stern’s office is that Delonte West has been sleeping with LeBron’s MOTHER for a couple months now, and LeBron has recently found out. For some reason Delonte is still alive, but not for long – when Cleveland fans find out that for this reason LeBron wants out of Cleveland no matter what. This could explain Delonte’s decreased playing time of late, and who knows – maybe why LeBron hasn’t seemed to have his head fully in the game.

Of course, this should all sound very familiar. This time, however, it’s the mother of the star player — a particularly dirty twist on the classic locker-room urban legend. Unfortunately, this one’s picked up steam and become an “exclusive” for one site, even though it probably has as much basis in reality as the one about Joe Horn and Willie Roaf’s wife, or Jeff McInnis and Phil Ford’s wife, or Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds’s girlfriend (or was that Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher’s girlfriend?).

But yes — this rumor is spreading all over the place, and just remember that it is most likely coming from a bunch of 4chanish wags preying on the vulnerability all those sad Cavs fans searching for answers right now. Just for fun, we had Crashtern David Matthews call the Cavs’ media relations department seeking comment. No call back yet!

Jordan Ruby at SB Nation:

This morning, the laboratories of SB Nation Science had a hypothesis that at least 50% of Friday’s hour-long SportsCenter would be devoted to LeBron James in some manner. So, we tested it. The results:

Of the 42 minutes Sportscenter spent on the air (commercials make up the other 18 minutes), 25 minutes were devoted to coverage of Lebron James and his future in Cleveland. (That’s nearly 60% of the time. Hypothesis confirmed.) Only seven were spent talking about  the Celtics, the team that dominated Lebron and the Cavs throughout the series, and is still alive in the playoffs.

Six of the eight MLB games that were played Thursday were not mentioned; including a game-saving play at the plate in Baltimore, and a walk-off hit in extra innings by Vladimir Guererro.

In those 25 minutes of LeBron-centric coverage, I watched countless analysts and beat writers give their expert opinion on which jersey Lebron will be wearing next season. They mentioned a number of possibilities, but ultimately came to the same conclusion: “Well, umm…I don’t really know yet.” Its going to be a loooooong six weeks.

UPDATE: Trey Kerby at Ball Don’t Lie

Chad Ford at ESPN

Scott Raab at Deaspin

UPDATE #2: And Lebron goes to Miami. David Matthews at Deadspin

Michael Wallace at The Miami Herald

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One response to “The Question Is, What Are We Witnessing?

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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