Countdown: LeBron's future
This looked like the Cavaliers' year, but in six games they were divided and dominated by Boston. Will their ultimate championship hopes now be dismantled by
Just like that his team is no longer the Cavs. His team is now his closest friends who form his marketing company, his adviser
"The world is his ... He's the face of basketball."
All season (as some of you may have noticed) I have been assuming James will return to Cleveland, an assumption based on respect for its deep roster and No. 1 seeding over the past two years. But this loss exposes the Cavs as pretenders. None of James' leading teammates over the last two years --
James needs to win multiple championships. All of the other talk of becoming the world's most famous and popular athlete will wither and die if he fails to win multiple titles. But after watching Williams (1-for-8 in the second half of Game 6) and Jamison (2-for-10 overall) and Varejao be ineffectual, is there any reason for him to continue to believe in the only team has known?
Several teams are worthy of his consideration, but each has issues that must be resolved.
Talk of James going to Chicago in a sign-and-trade makes little sense. The potential of receiving Deng or Hinrich in return would not be worth the pain of sending James to a divisional rival. If Cavs owner
Another recruiting tool for Chicago is to invite James to basically hire his own coach, with the thinking that he would choose his friend
Coaching is going to be important to James. He looked frustrated throughout the Boston series as he found himself in no-win situations. As the series wore on he was either turning the ball over or sulking uncharacteristically through Game 5, and when it was all over his demeanor was one of acceptance. Did he refuse to give interviews last year after the postseason loss to Orlando because he was angry with the coaching of Mike Brown? When James played a thoroughly disengaged second half in Game 5, he looked very much like he believed Cleveland had no hope against the Celtics and Rivers' game plan.
Another option for Cleveland is to bring in Calipari, a highly charismatic recruiter who is able to build tight relationships with the players of James' generation and younger. From everything I've been told, there is no doubt James believes he would flourish in Calipari's dribble-drive offense. Between his player relationships and his experience with the Nets, there is reason to believe Calipari can succeed as an NBA coach. But James is going to demand success of the highest level, and he won't need to be reminded that Kentucky lost in the NCAA Tournament because Calipari couldn't overcome West Virginia's surprise tactic of the 1-3-1 zone. If Calilpari has been unable to deliver an NCAA championship, will he be able to outcoach Rivers or
This can't just be about manipulating the system and working out a big-money deal for James and his friends. The bottom line is that James needs to win, because he's at the stage in his career where every loss is going to be viewed now as being his fault.
Otherwise, there aren't a lot of options. Neither Jamison nor Williams can be traded for anything close to market value. The Cavs could use their mid-level exception to fill in with a couple of role players, but the only way to dynamically change the team is to bring in a coach to change the style and ultimately salvage talents like Williams and Jamison.
There is going to be a lot of second-guessing of Cleveland's midseason decision to acquire Jamison instead of
But the Cavs were beaten in part because the Celtics trusted and relied upon each other, a result of the three years shared by their four-man core of
If James walks out on Cleveland, the Cavs will realize close to $6 million in cap space to fill in around Jamison and Williams. They'll be the team that couldn't convince their hometown star to stay home. It will be the death of their franchise.
While it appears more than likely that James will leave, the emotions will cool over the next month and Cleveland may yet be able to reach an agreement to retain him. Cavs fans shouldn't give up hope -- especially if James' intention is to sign a three-year contract with an option to leave after two, which would enable him to continue to dominate the free-agent buzz over the seasons ahead. If he doesn't see a compelling reason to leave this summer, he could postpone his decision for a couple of years.
Let's start by looking at each of your examples. In Boston's 29-point loss in Game 3, the Celtics were dwelling on bad habits. The Hawks were beaten before they played a postseason minute against Orlando - they'd lost to the Magic by a combined 65 points over their first three meetings during the season, and they looked very much like they had zero confidence. The Nuggets' loss was an extension of their dwindling play over the last month without
But the same kind of lopsided trend led to sweeps in all but one of the second-round series. My feeling is that cap-management and the constant shuffling of role players makes it more difficult than ever for teams to grow cohesive. They're thrown together and, when pressured, they don't pull together because they haven't been together long enough -- they crumble.
Magic Johnson played horribly by his standards to lose the 1984 NBA Finals and was re-named "Tragic" Johnson for a year; he has long referred to that lost Finals as a turning point in his career. When Bird's Celtics were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the 1983 playoffs, he promised to make amends by working harder than ever that summer -- which led to his victory in the Finals the following year against Magic's Lakers.
James is in his seventh NBA season and has more in common with these incidents. Your reference to the early years of Magic and Bird has little relevance to James' troubles in Game 5 this week, as well as his defeat in this series.
I did make note of his elbow injury, which is why it was all the more surprising that he relied on his jump shot instead of driving the ball inside to earn free throws in Game 5. You're defending LeBron like he's already playing in your city, Dennis -- do you know something we don't?
Good call there, Jordan. At that time the Lakers were struggling and the Spurs looked like their old selves. I think most people were surprised to see the Spurs lose to the Suns, but that doesn't change the fact you are right. I was wrong to believe so quickly in San Antonio's revival.
I reached out to an NBA pro personnel scout to examine the next moves for these three evicted playoff teams.
Duncan is signed for two more years. The Spurs could use their No. 20 draft pick and sign 25-year-old Brazilian big man
Could Hill be ready to flourish in his third NBA season should coach
My own feeling is that the Spurs won't deal Parker because it is so difficult to make a fair trade in basketball terms anymore. The Spurs would need to receive talent in return, but in this market most teams will be seeking to steal him for expiring contracts. I'm guessing they'll look forward to acquiring Splitter and a promising rookie while counting on further improvement from
Millsap has three years left at $24.3 million on the contract he originally signed with Portland, which Utah matched last July.
"I don't think they believe Millsap is an $8-million player, but they could not give up the asset for nothing. If they still believe that [Millsap is overpaid] today, then they should move that asset. Keep the guy you like the best -- if you like Boozer then re-sign him, and if you can't then the decision is made for you. It may be that Boozer already has something done to go to Miami or New York and there's nothing you can do about it if you're Utah. The problem is the agent won't tell you that up front because he wants the competition from Utah trying to sign Boozer in order to drive the money up and up."
Another big question facing Utah is whether to keep
"I don't know how they can do much with their roster. You've got this upper-echelon player in
The Nuggets hold an option on Billups' contract. If they pay him $3.7 million after next season, they can escape his final year worth $14.2 million in 2011-12 (which is the anticipated lockout season).
"The only problem with that is Chauncey is a favorite son, and Denver has very few favorite sons in the NBA," said the scout in reference to Billups' college career at Colorado. "He's a local kid who made well, and when he came home they made it to the conference finals with him. If you don't do that guy the right way on his way out, they could sour a lot of people. What they're better off doing is to suck it up and figure out how this guy is going to help them run their organization down the road. Whether he's a coach or a scout or whatever, he has to continue being an ambassador for that team."
Then there are questions of whether George Karl will recover from cancer treatment to coach the Nuggets next season. "Everybody seems to think he'll be OK and he'll be back for them -- which is big, because over the last few years George has salvaged that team," said the scout.
These opinions come from an NBA advance scout.
"Which means [
"If Phoenix goes small, that should create a strength at the offensive end, but not at the other end. Oklahoma City showed if you can make the Lakers run, you can put them at a disadvantage. But if it's a half-court set, the Lakers are much better suited.
"Then you look at [
"I don't see how Phoenix wins more than a couple of games in this series, but let's give credit to Nash. He has been the best point guard in the league the last three years, in my opinion. He is the embodiment of all the things a point guard is supposed to be: First, he's a great teammate and leader, and they feed off his energy. He's the only guy to do the 50 percent [of field-goal attempts], 40 percent [threes], 90 percent [free throws]. You can't go under screens because of his threes, and you can't stay in front of him physically. He makes everybody better. He'' a great passer, runner and shooter -- and while he's not a great defender, that's not going to get exploited by the Lakers. Steve is not a great defender, but he's not terrible, and Fisher is not going to blow by him."
"I think Boston is going to make a better series of it than Cleveland would have, because the point guards will be going at it. It's going to be entertaining to see [
"I still think Orlando beats them. They're not scared of going there, because they've won in Boston. The Celtics really need to come out playing hard, because Orlando shoots so well in the first quarter that they can bury you early."