With time winding down in the 4th quarter of Game 6 between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, things looked grim. It was win or go home for Cleveland, and everyone was still waiting for Lebron James to play like the MVP we all knew so well. Down 10 points, Lebron hit consecutive 3’s to cut the deficit to four. Here was the Lebron we had been missing since Game 3. The Celtics barely took notice and pushed the lead back to nine with less than two minutes to play. It was at this point that the Cavaliers quit. Nine points in 90 seconds is indeed a mountain to climb, but it’s not an impossible task. It seemed like they knew deep down that even if they forced a Game 7 that they were simply delaying the inevitable. Air seemingly drained out of the bar where we had gathered to watch this game. One of my friend had his head in his hands, and I could only say that we should be used to this by now. The Cavs had been unmasked by a Boston team that outplayed and outplayed them every step of the way. Game 3 proved to be an anomaly, and in the end Doc Rivers took Mike Brown to school on how to properly coach a Playoff series. I have made peace with this. I’ll say it plain and simple: Boston deserved to win and the Cavaliers did not. The question now remains, what will Lebron do now?
July 1st is the biggest day in the history of the NBA, and arguably could prove to be one of the most significant in sports history. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are likely aware that Lebron James, along with the top talent of his draft class, will officially become free agents on that day. Sportscenter had a down to the second clock counting down to that day on tonight’s broadcast. If you thought ESPN’s coverage of Brett Favre was excessive, then buckle your seatbelt because I think we haven’t seen anything yet. The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks are among the teams being bandied about as possible new homes for James and when once I thought there was no chance he would leave, I now have no clue. One thing I can say for sure, is that until Lebron makes his decision, almost no team in the league can make any of their own plans for the free agency. Coaching vacancies will remain empty, and players the likes of Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Amare Stoudamire are going to sit and wait patiently for the King to make his decree.
One thing will become crystal clear once Lebron makes up his mind: what is truly important to him. Whatever perception the people of Cleveland have about the man that the viewed as their sports savior could potentially be shattered. Lebron going to Chicago is at least a move that I could understand if winning a title sooner rather than later is one of his highest priorities. The thought of having Lebron with Derrick Rose at his side should be downright scary to everyone in the NBA. Rose represents everything that Mo Williams frankly is not. Rose has proven that he can carry the Bulls on his own and has talent that rivals James’ own as he showed in Chicago’s opening series with Cleveland in this year’s playoffs. As much as I despise him, Joakim Noah is also better than Anderson Varajao, almost without question. I could continue through the rosters but I’m not going to. If Lebron goes to the Bulls, they will be a NBA Championship contender almost without a doubt.
The other leading suitor for Lebron is New York. The popular belief is that if Lebron goes to the Knicks, they will pair him with Chris Bosh and that New York will finally have a basketball team that is worth a damn. I’m inclined to disagree. While Lebron and Bosh would indeed be a powerful tandem, the depth chart falls off quickly from there. The notion that Lebron and Bosh could bring a title to New York next year, or even in the next three is misguided by my calculations. Everyone that thinks the Cavs lack a supporting cast would be seeing a similar if not worse situation in New York. The Knicks would have to tie up so much money on Bosh and James duo that there is almost no way that they could afford anyone else of note to help out. If Lebron goes to New York, he is going for one reason and one reason only: the grand stage. Loyalty be damned because Lebron’s desire to become a billion dollar brand clearly is more important. The people of Cleveland still foster a grudge against Carlos Boozer after he left. I promise you that if Lebron leaves for New York that the level of hate and vitriol that will pour out of Cleveland will make Boozer seem well liked by comparison. He will be dead to me, no chance at redemption because he sold his soul to the devil for bright shinning lights.
This brings us to the real question. What will it take to keep Lebron in Cleveland? Despite Dan Gilbert’s comments last week to the contrary, I think its pretty clear that Mike Brown is not going to be the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers next year. Doc Rivers made Brown look like a high school coach at best in games 5 and 6 and highlighted problems that have been present for a long time, but were never talked about. When you have a player that is the caliber of a Lebron James, the need for a traditional offense somewhat goes out the window. I personally think Mike Brown couldn’t draw up a play more complex than “set a pick for the guy with the ball” if his life depended on it. His substitutions and general decisions like when to call timeouts were all suspect in the Boston series and it proves to me one thing. We need a coach that has been there and has the championship rings to prove it. A coach that isn’t going to be afraid to possibly butt heads with a superstar. Hiring John Calipari would be a tremendous mistake for this very reason. I am of the belief that coaches and players should not be friends. Far too much kissing of Lebron’s butt has gone on in Cleveland over the last seven years. Deliver me a title and I’ll till my lips are chapped, but please earn it first.
Topping my list of coaches is Phil Jackson. The man that got both Michael and Kobe their first titles. Why would Jackson leave the sunshine of L.A. for cold and dreary Cleveland? Plain and simple, Dan Gilbert is “going to have to make him an offer he can’t refuse” and for the chance to add to his legacy. Offering Jackson north of $15 million a year and I think he could be swayed. However this brings up another important and potential problem. Would Jackson come to Cleveland without knowing if Lebron was going to be there for him to coach? More importantly, would Lebron decide to stay without a coach of Jackson’s stature being signed? This is a big problem and one that I think will be one of the biggest problems the Cavs front office is going to face this summer. The pieces basically have to be glued in place before Lebron is going to make a decision.
After coaching, comes personnel. Even with Shaq’s expiring contract, the Cavs have very little salary cap room to play with. If Lebron stays, in the near term, he’s going to be playing with the same supporting cast. Trades to bring in fresh talent are going to be a zero sum game because Cleveland would likely have to give up just as much to get anyone of note. JJ Hickson is going to be a star down the road, and the Cavs need to do everything they can to keep him on board. Without a doubt any team shopping off their talent is going to want a young player like Hickson as part of the deal. Even if Mike Brown was too blind or dumb to realize it, JJ Hickson was a key part to the Cavs successes in the regular season and not giving him minutes in the Playoffs was a gross misstep. Hopefully a new coach will see that.
There are some that think that Lebron bringing a NBA Championship to New York would be one of the greatest achievements in all of sport. Despite my potential bias, I am going to say that bringing a title to Cleveland would be even greater. We Cleveland sports fans have been described as fatalistic. No matter how good of a chance to win we think we have, in the back of our minds there is a voice that whispers that we should know better than to dream of championships. In 1997, the Cleveland Indians were one strike away. One strike. I was only 12 years old at the time I to this day remember thinking that even being that close that the worst could and would happen. I have honestly told myself on many occasions that I could live to be 100 years old and not see all of the Cleveland teams win a championship. Lebron James represents our best hope, now, and perhaps ever. Lebron despite his millions of dollars and global celebrity still feels like one of us, Akron’s native son, an example of what kid from the Midwest can accomplish. I pray that he will remain that Midwest kid, barely two weeks older than myself, and stay til he gets brings a title to those that want one so badly. Until July 1st the Cleveland faithful can only pray that their faith in this man will be rewarded, but that fatalistic streak I mentioned earlier already has me looking for a dagger coming at my back.