They will still say his name in Cleveland, only this time the words that accompany it will lack the usual PG rating. The man who once ruled greater Ohio is now a veritable pariah in his home state, a belief proved by wild-eyed fans doing drive-bys at his house and burning his jerseys, with only an armed police force preventing an angry mob from tearing down the massive Nike billboard bearing his likeness.
The despair, of course, is felt most in Cleveland, a city that has endured The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble and now The Betrayal, a word purposefully chosen by incensed Cavs owner
No, rebuilding is the only solution. The current Cavs aren't good enough to make the playoffs, but they are not bad enough to slip to a New Jersey Nets-like level, either, where they would be in a position to snag the next LeBron in a future draft.
The Jamison-Williams-Varejao troika is probably good for 28-32 wins next season, acceptable totals for a team on the rise but utterly unacceptable for one with no real future. The Cavs must be stripped, their parts sold. Varejao is a hot commodity for teams in need of rebounding and energy off the bench. Jamison and Williams are aging quasi-stars with just enough left in the tank to make them appealing to a contender.
The Cavs could create about $13 million in cap space or, if they complete a sign-and-trade deal with Miami for James, make use of a $16 million trade exception anytime during the next year. They're not out of options, but they're certainly limited; simply subbing another star into LeBron's void isn't going to return them to contender status. It's been said that the night is always darkest before the dawn, but in Cleveland that moonless eve could last a while.
It's not as Shakespearean a tragedy in New York, but for a city that has been building towards LeBron's arrival for three years, losing James to a conference rival -- a conference rival managed by
"Wait until 2010" had practically become the Knicks mantra, as they asked fans to accept cost-cutting trades with a promise that the moves would yield dividends in the future. Well, that future is here, and thus far all the Knicks have to show for it is a $100-million promise to
There are other losers -- New Jersey and Chicago had to feel at least a twinge of disappointment -- but the biggest of them all may be turn out to be James himself. The King is suddenly the world's most famous mercenary, a high-profile hired gun expected to provide championships in bunches. Only, there are no guarantees he can deliver.
If this were a game of
This isn't the '07 Celtics -- a group of 30-somethings who are looking to punctuate the careers is a little different than a trio of 20-somethings still trying to flesh out theirs. Of course it will work in the beginning. The fledgling Big Three will sit down for an ESPN interview and laugh and joke about how easy it will be to play together. They will smirk at the naysayers and tell everyone that the allure of winning a championship far exceeds any need for individual accolades.
And for the sake of James -- a man who told
The pressure is on now for James to win in Miami, the last NBA city that will show him love.