Friday, May 14, 2010
Good Riddens Prince LeBron
1. Trying To Figure Out LeBron's Future
By Chris Sheridan
BOSTON -- So which LeBron James do you want to believe?
The LeBron who said he hasn't given much thought to what he's going to do with his future?
Or the LeBron who said "my team has a game plan"?
Because James said both of those things after finally making his way to the interview room more than an hour after the Cavaliers' season came to a swift and stunning end with a 94-85 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Myself, I'll go with the LeBron behind Curtain No. 2, and beyond that I'll only go so far as to say I believe he has played his final game for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's been seven long years for James in Cleveland, and as Kevin Garnett pointed out, it's hurtful at times when you cannot get your youth back.
And the crossroads James now finds himself at is the one at which he chooses between staying in the state where he was born and raised, the state where he was loved like no other professional athlete Ohio had ever produced, or moving on to the next stage of his life, the stage where he breaks beyond the boundaries that have confined him to a Midwestern comfort zone and goes on to bigger and better things.
Chicago? Miami? New York?
Could be any one of those three, and whoever knows exactly what details Team James' game plan entails isn't yet spilling those beans.
Celtics fans certainly had fun letting James know their prediction, chanting "New York Knicks" whenever he stepped to the foul line on a night when his triple-double of 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists was buttressed by his nine turnovers.
James did not speak to the specifics, whether pro or con, of playing in any of those cities -- or even the possibility of remaining in Cleveland.
What he said he'd do is go into the summer with the proper mindset, something I asked him to define in the final question he took in his postgame news conference.
"It's all about winning for me, and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that," he said. "But at the same time I've given myself options to this point, and like I said before, me and my team, we have a game plan that we're going to execute, and we'll see what we get."
James also was asked what he could say to the people in Cleveland, and it was noteworthy that he used the past tense in saying "We had a great time together."
Great, at least, until they booed him Tuesday night in the disappearing act that'll go down as the LeBacle.
Unlike a year ago when he stormed off the court and left the arena in Orlando without speaking publicly after his season-ending loss, James was the sportsman this time around as he stayed on the court to congratulate the Celtics. As good as his numbers were, he had only one spurt that seemed to put the Celtics on their heels, making a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to get the Cavs' deficit down to four, 78-74.
Boston immediately called timeout after the second 3, coach Doc Rivers reminding his team what he told them pregame: We don't need any heroes in this game; we need to continue playing together as a team.
In the ensuing moments, that entailed a number of arms reaching in at James and forcing him to dribble the ball off his foot for a turnover that turned into a fast-break bucket by Rajon Rondo (21 points, 12 assists, five steals) at the other end. After Anderson Varejao missed from underneath off a pass from James, Paul Pierce drilled a 3-pointer, Antawn Jamison and James each missed a 3 and Rasheed Wallace knocked in a 3 from the corner to get the lead back to 12.
The coup de grace came on Boston's next possession, a 2-on-1 break (James was the 1) on which Garnett took a pass from Rondo and dunked to make it 88-74 and send the crowd into a frenzy.
Cleveland got no closer than seven the rest of the way, and James was ousted from the playoffs at the Garden in the second round for the second time in three years. Boston will begin the Eastern Conference finals at Orlando on Sunday afternoon.
"One thing we don't lack is confidence, and that was the case even when we were playing like crap and trying to get our chemistry problems together," Garnett said. "I think we hit our stride at the right time."
No one could have seen this drastic a turnaround after James came into this building six days earlier and scored 21 first-quarter points en route to a 29-point victory that gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead in the series.
But that ended up being Cleveland's final win, and the chances that it will end up being James' final win in a Cavs uniform now appear greater than ever.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have already acknowledged they plan to speak together and go over the options they will be presented with in the biggest free-agency period in NBA history, and James' acknowledgement that he has a "game plan" is an indication that things may be farther along than most people realize.
The latest talk making the rounds regarding Chicago is that the Bulls could be the best fit because they already have a top-tier point guard in Derrick Rose and an athletic big man in Joakim Noah, plus they have a coaching vacancy that could conceivably end up being filled by John Calipari, who is extremely close to both Rose and James confidante William Wesley. The Bulls did make a head-scratcher of a trade when they gave away John Salmons and their No. 1 pick to Milwaukee at the trading deadline, but the deal gave them the flexibility to have max money available this summer. Yes, James would have to play the next several years in the shadow of Michael Jordan, but the generation that is as old or younger than James (25) has more vivid memories of Jordan as a Wizard, or as owner of the Bobcats, than they do of him winning six titles for the Bulls.
Miami is intriguing (aside from the obvious climate reasons) because Pat Riley has been throwing around talk of building a dynasty, and he already has one dynastic building block in Wade, who has indicated that his heart is in Miami and he would prefer to stay there. If the Heat can clear more cap space by moving Michael Beasley and/or Daequan Cook and James Jones before the draft, or in a trade that would be finalized July 8, they could afford to have James, Wade and a third stud, presumably a big man from the available free-agent threesome of Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer.
The Knicks? Well, James is on record as saying New York is his favorite city, and Madison Square Garden is his favorite NBA arena to play in. If James is serious about becoming the world's first billionaire athlete, the opportunity to boost his earning potential on a global scale is greatest in the city that is home to Wall Street. Also, New York has cleared enough cap room to sign James, plus another max free agent, and still have a few million dollars left over.
You also can't completely discount the Nets, with Jay-Z (James' buddy) still a part-owner following the transfer of controlling ownership from Bruce Ratner to Mikhail Prokhorov. But that franchise is set to play the next two seasons in Newark, and it's hard to see the King serving time in purgatory before the Brooklyn arena is built.
So if it is truly a four-team race that includes the Cavs, we have to circle back to James' statement about a game plan.
He gave no clues to its details, but in acknowledging that it exists he sounded like a man with plans for bigger and better things than Cleveland has to offer. Remember, when he picked up his MVP trophy, he told the crowd he would always be loyal to Akron.
And on the night he may have played his last game for Cleveland, he certainly didn't sound like a man with a plan to be married to the Cavaliers forever. If that were part of the "game plan," he would have at least given Cavs fans a glimmer of hope.
"The world is his, whatever decision he's going to make," Garnett said.
But on this night, it was a world in which the city of Cleveland seemed like a very small point on a very big map.
As James said: "We had a great time together."
Spoken like a man for whom the good times ahead, if they ever occur, will happen elsewhere.
So Long! YOU stunk it up!
BOSTON -- LeBron James walked out of the interview room and down the long, noisy corridor toward the exits, out of another nightmare and into a new day. The clock had struck midnight in the East, and on his season, and maybe on his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, too.
Forklifts rumbled this way and that, moving seats and pieces of equipment in the bowels of TD Garden, the beep-beep-beep they make when they're backing up seeming to punctuate LeBron's exit from another lost season. Wearing red shoes on his feet, black pants and a white Nike pullover -- the signature Jordan colors -- he wasn't looking back. He was moving ahead, walking into the future with what he called, "My team."
Technically, LeBron's team is the Cavaliers until midnight on June 30, which is 48 days away. Forty-eight, like the minutes in a basketball game. It was more than an hour after his season had ended with a 94-85 loss to the Boston Celtics, a loss that so closely resembled the other three in this astonishing Eastern Conference semifinal series.
And already, when LeBron was talking about "my team," he wasn't talking about the 11 other guys who had lost with him Thursday night in Game 6. He was talking about Team LeBron, which walked in a phalanx out of the Garden, into the night.
With a game plan to execute, as LeBron had so cleverly put it.
"A friend of mine told me today after the game that I guess you have to go through a lot of nightmares before you finally accomplish your dream," LeBron had said in the interview room. "That's what's going on for me as an individual, for myself right now."
Five hundred miles away in Cleveland, a city groaned -- a city already in mourning.
"I'm going to approach this summer with the right mindset," James said. "With me and my team, we're going to figure out what's the best possibility for me. I love the city of Cleveland of course -- the city and the fans. It was a disappointing season to say the least, but at the same time we had a great time together. So we'll see what happens."
Wherever James is going, at least he didn't go out with a whimper, the way he did in Game 5 at home, when his injured elbow and Nike-only-knows what else caused him to be a spectator as the Cavs' championship aspirations were flushed down the toilet in a 32-point loss. True to his all-around gifts, James went out with a triple-double -- 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. He missed 13 of his 21 field-goal attempts, though -- still something wrong, something he won't admit -- and almost made it a quadruple-double with nine turnovers.
The only sign of the breathtaking force that James can be came with back-to-back 3-pointers that made it 78-74 Celtics with 9:34 to play. Back-to-back treys, and the building gasped, and the Celtics called timeout. But there No. 23 remained, stuck on 23 points for more than six minutes as the season slipped away.
"I had opportunities to do things that I wanted to do," James said, "and it just didn't fall for me."
Earlier, Celtics coach Doc Rivers stood in the hallway beneath the stands and emitted the sigh of all sighs, feeling fortunate to have dodged the freight train he had felt coming. Rivers had looked on with horror as James was ridiculed, criticized, challenged and turned upside down over the previous two days. This 2010 firestorm, a controversy LeBron himself created and never tried to tamp down, along with his passive performance in Game 5, was going to create a time bomb in Game 6. Rivers just knew it.
"My wife calls me this morning yelling, 'What the hell's going on? They're just making this guy mad,' " Rivers recalled. " 'It's gonna be a volcano eruption tonight. Stop it.' I said, 'It's too late. It can't be reversed.' I was really concerned about our team because everyone was so concerned about the 'after,' nobody was talking about the actual game. Everybody was talking about, 'What if we win, what if Cleveland wins, what happens with LeBron?' And I was just very concerned that we were going to start focusing on the 'after' and you've got to win the game."
Will LeBron James turn his back on Cleveland? He gives no indication he won't. In the frenzy leading up to Game 6, it had been open season on LeBron. He had searched for the words to explain an epic playoff failure, yet failed even to do that. He feigned ignorance of the notion that basketball reputations are built in the playoffs, and you wondered if it had finally hit him as he walked out of another dismal defeat Thursday night. One thing he did right this time -- he shook hands, avoiding the embarrassment of last year's snub of the Magic in Orlando. But with his seventh season over, James stands 0-4 in postseason elimination games on the road.
He was Jordan losing to the Pistons again Thursday night, except that by his seventh season, Jordan had his first title.
"I thought it was madness what happened to him over the last 48 hours," Rivers said. "People don't realize how good he is. And he's human. He had a bad game the other night. Tonight wasn't one, I can tell you that. I personally hope everybody stays, but I don't know. I think that's what makes it so intriguing. I think we'll be talking about this until July 1. He's a great kid, he's everything you want. And if someone else gets him, they're the luckiest team in the league."
One aspect of the LeBron hysteria that fed into this game, and spilled into it, made Rivers laugh. It was a first for the Boston Garden, for any version of it -- a "New York Knicks!" chant every time LeBron went to the free-throw line. Somewhere, Red Auerbach choked on his cigar smoke. Rivers usually tunes out the crowd noise, but this was a chant no one could miss. He turned to associate head coach Tom Thibodeau, the defensive guru and former Knicks assistant who had turned James into a mortal in this series, and said, "Well, this is freakin' strange."
"It's funny, I never hear anything," Rivers said. "I didn't hear the MVP chants [for Rajon Rondo] the other night. But I actually heard that. That was funny. ... Boston fans are pretty smart."
Not as smart as Boston coaches were in this series. Rivers, Thibodeau and their staff orchestrated an evisceration of the team with the best record and best player in the league. They pulled it off by not only exploiting every weakness, but by focusing especially on the ones that would cause chaos in the Cavs' huddle and locker room.
The plan was so good, it kept working even after the series was over. After repeatedly praising the Celtics' game plan, James was asked what he thought of the ones put together by his doomed coach, Mike Brown.
"I think we had good game plans going into the game," James said. "I think sometimes we could've made some better adjustments throughout the course of the game. But for the most part, we had good game plans and we tried to go out and execute them. Did it always work? No. Did it work sometimes? Yes."
But that was not the game plan on James' mind as he answered the final question of the night, at the end of what might have been his last postgame news conference as a Cav.
"First of all, I want to win," James said. "That's my only thing; that's my only concern. I've always prided myself on becoming a better basketball individual and then taking that onto the court. It's all about winning for me, and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that. At the same time, I've given myself options to this point. And like I said before, me and my team, we have a game plan that we're going to execute and we'll see where we'll be at."
His team was waiting in the hallway -- friends and marketing people, people from Nike, Wes Wesley and Leon Rose. There they were, LeBron's teammates, with a game plan to execute and 48 days to finalize the details.
gOOD BYE Coach! Thanks for.........?
BOSTON -- LeBron James sat in his corner locker room stall with his feet in a bucket of ice water. The evening's box score floated on top of the water-like debris. James leaned down to read the awful truths facing him over the long early summer ahead -- the nine turnovers he was forced to commit in 46 minutes of play, as well as his triple-double of 27 points and 19 rebounds that failed to negate the Celtics' 94-85 victory in Game 6 Thursday.
Boston wins the Eastern semifinal 4-2, and afterward Kevin Garnett looks forward to studying a thick scouting book on the Magic to prepare for the conference final that launches Sunday in Orlando, Fla.
Cleveland loses, and the loss is implosive. Coach Mike Brown is likely to be replaced -- by another Brown, first name of Larry, perhaps? The Cavaliers wanted to hire Larry Brown as team president five years ago, and any hope of salvaging a new contract with James this summer begins with acquiring a sure-thing coach -- even if it means doling out compensation to the Charlotte Bobcats -- who has proven he can deliver a championship. There are only a few such coaches who own a championship ring, and one of them happened to be responsible for wrecking the ambitious dreams that drove the Cavs' grabs for expensive talent over this last lost year.
"The coaching staff gave them a great game plan,'' said James of Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his assistants. "They tried to keep us on the perimeter as much as possible. They got a lot of veteran players that's been in postseason games, and they all just bought into their system and it's worked for them.''
This was a terrific series, and it was based entirely on absolutes. The underdog fourth-seeded Celtics came into the series wondering if this was their last chance at contention between Ray Allen's impending free agency and the injuries that threatened Garnett and Paul Pierce much of the season -- and the urgency with which they won four of the last five games is undeniable proof of how badly they wanted to avoid their own demise.
As No. 1 seed of the playoffs with the two-time MVP, the Cavs should have been playing from a position of strength. But insecurities were their ruin -- resulting in Mo Williams' 1-for-8 second half (after scoring 20 in the opening half) as well as the 2-for-10 performance of midseason acquisition Antawn Jamison, who was supposed to be the finishing piece but instead failed simply to finish.
To blame this series defeat on James is wrong in one sense. In spite of an injured elbow that clearly limited his shooting (he attempted fewer three-pointers than normal and made 26.9 percent -- a rate worse than any season, including his rookie year) he nonetheless averaged 26.8 points and shot 44.7 percent while contributing 9.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.3 blocks and, yes, 4.5 turnovers. Those numbers could have been enough to drive the league's best team -- had James been provided support from the likes of sixth man Anderson Varejao, who was enormously ineffective in this series.
Varejao was in the middle of two key second-half sequences that would bury the Cavs. His traveling turnover in the third quarter led to a Pierce three-pointer and then Varejao continued to complain hopelessly that he had been fouled, leaving his teammates to go 4-on-5 as Williams bricked a three-pointer that Garnett converted into a post-up jumper for a 67-58 Celtics advantage. In the fourth Varejao missed one layup, had another blocked by Rasheed Wallace and then was victimized at the other end by both Wallace and Garnett. This is not to pick unfairly on Varejao, but to point out that he had made a positive impact in midseason games against Boston while making so many of the energy plays that Garnett was at that time unable to make. But now Garnett is healthier, and he made Varejao appear to lose all of his powers.
Should the Cavs lose James to free agency this summer, they may look back and wonder if the speculation was self-fulfilling. The pressures to win a championship for Cleveland and keep LeBron to themselves drove the Cavaliers to trade for Shaquille O'Neal and Jamison. In the end, they appeared to be a team overwhelmed by the diversity of its options, and yet unable to execute the simplest plays. For this, Brown will likely be the first to be out of a job.
A big difference between these two franchises was the faith that bonded Rivers to his players and divided Brown from his. All season, Rivers had followed a plan to rest his elders when needed and then force-feed them minutes over the second half of the season, essentially sacrificing precious games in the standings as if they were preseason exhibitions. At times, he appeared to be the only man in Boston who was openly convinced the deteriorating Celtics could win another championship, and the faith he showed in his players was compelling and unifying. At 34, Ray Allen played the best defense of his career while averaging 15.7 points over the series. At 33, Garnett closed out Game 6 with 22 points, 12 rebounds and three assists while delivering from the post more confidently and routinely than during the postseason run to the '08 championship. Likewise, Pierce at 32, recovered from his injuries to hassle James and contributed a trio of crucial three-pointers in the decisive game. Together they believed what everyone else had viewed to be impossible ... and on top of that they added Rajon Rondo's now typical line of 21 points, 12 assists and five steals.
The Cavs viewed Brown, fairly or not, as someone who had been outcoached by Stan Van Gundy during Cleveland's conference finals loss to the Magic last year. Rivers had earned a benefit of the doubt after winning the championship two years ago, but Brown governed without faith in his convictions. And so the pressures to retain James by winning now look very much like the same pressures that resulted in this loss, the loss that threatens to ultimately drive him away.
Celtics fans cleverly raised up Cleveland's worst fears by serenading James with chants of "New York Knicks, New York Knicks,'' as he shot his free throws Thursday. The game and its potentially devastating outcome had grown inseparable.
Does this sound like a break-up speech? "I love the city of Cleveland, of course, the city, the fans,'' said James, who was booed throughout his Game 5 loss, and will be booed even more loudly if he returns next season wearing a different uniform. "It was a disappointing season to say the least, but at the same time we had a great time together."
The Cavs played all-out twice in this series, winning Game 3 to reclaim home-court advantage and then attacking frenetically in vain to extend the season. Why didn't they work so hard throughout the playoffs? The answer is that they were never the real thing, because hard work defines championship teams. It defines the Celtics now, and that is why they will be in Orlando Sunday while James vacations and all around him Cleveland shudders.
LeBron gone! Celtics eliminate James and Cavs in 6
BOSTON (AP)—The Boston Celtics sent LeBron James(notes) and the Cavaliers back to Cleveland to admire all of their regular-season accomplishments and ponder their future.
It’s the Celtics who are still in the chase for an NBA title.
Kevin Garnett(notes) scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo(notes) had 21 points and 12 assists to beat Cleveland 94-85 in Game 6 on Thursday night and advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Boston will play the Orlando Magic, who are undefeated in the playoffs.
“Winning is gratifying,” Garnett said. “You’re playing the best team in basketball; the challenge is there; you don’t have to dress it up. One thing we don’t lack is confidence. We’re a veteran team and we understand when it’s time to lock in as a group. I think we did just that. I think the experience is taking over.”
Despite his sixth career playoff triple-double, James is headed for another early offseason after winning a second MVP award and leading the Cavs to an NBA-best 61 wins and a home-court advantage they never got to use.
“The fact that it’s over right now is definitely a surprise to me,” James said. “A friend of mine told me, ‘I guess you’ve got to go through a lot of nightmares before you realize your dream.’ That’s what’s going on for me individually right now.”
This offseason is destined to define the future of the franchise—and the rest of the NBA, too.
The LeBron watch began at 10:53 p.m., when Rondo dribbled out the last 14 seconds and the Celtics began celebrating their 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven series. James is eligible to opt out of his contract this summer, a move that would make the two-time MVP—and zero-time NBA champion—a free agent and set off a scramble for his services from New York to Miami to Los Angeles and, of course, back in Cleveland.
“I want to win. That’s my only thing, my only concern,” James said. “I’ve always prided myself—it’s all about winning for me and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that. But at the same time, I’ve given myself options to this point. Me and my team, we have a game plan that we’ll execute and we’ll see where we’re at.”
James scored 27 points with 10 assists, and his 19 rebounds matched a career-high and were the most he’s ever had in a playoff game. But he also had nine turnovers, and he may have been hobbled by an elbow injury that limited him to dunks and short jumpers, going 8 for 21 from the floor overall.
“I just told him, ‘Keep your head up, man. I’ve been there,”’ said Garnett, who was a star without a title in Minnesota for more than a decade before joining the Celtics and leading them to their NBA-record 17th championship in 2008. “‘You have a very, very, very bright future. Continue to work and make decisions based on you and your family.”’
Mo Williams(notes) scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half for the Cavaliers.
Boston’s Paul Pierce(notes) scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half after playing just nine minutes—and shooting 1-for-5—in the first with foul trouble. The Celtics had missed their first eight 3-point attempts when Pierce hit a 3 that gave them a 65-58 lead with 4:06 left in the third.
It was 67-61 when Rasheed Wallace(notes) hit a 3-pointer, and then Ray Allen(notes) stole James’ pass and got the ball to Pierce for another 3 that completed a 16-4 run.
James hadn’t made an outside shot before hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to cut it to four points, 78-74, early in the fourth quarter and force the Celtics to call a timeout. But Rondo drove for a layup, then set Pierce up for another 3. Pierce found Wallace for a 3-pointer and then Tony Allen’s(notes) steal led to a Garnett dunk at the other end that sent the Cavaliers into a timeout to regroup, down 88-74 with 5:53 left in their season.
“You knew it was coming at some point with LeBron,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who reminded his players that they weren’t good enough to take over the game. “That’s what that timeout was about: to remind them that we can’t do that, what LeBron was doing.”
It was the second straight year Cleveland has finished the regular-season with the No. 1 overall seed, and the second in a row that they have failed to get out of the East. Last year, they lost to Orlando in the conference finals, an exit that left James so shaken he skulked off the court without shaking hands.
This year, he might not stop until he finds himself in a new city.
James seemed like he couldn’t wait to slip off his Cavaliers jersey, pulling it off as soon as he reached the tunnel to the locker room. He casually flipped it to an attendant moments after he walked into the dressing room.
Brown said he wasn’t ready to think about the future yet.
“Obviously, he’s a heck of a talent and a great guy,” he said. “But right now we just lost the series. I’m not thinking of that. It wouldn’t be fair to everyone in that locker room to think beyond tonight.”
Brown’s future with the Cavs, too, appears uncertain. After a second straight postseason flameout, there’s no guarantee management will bring him back for a sixth season.
Same goes for the hired guns brought in to help James. Shaquille O’Neal(notes) finished his first—and maybe last—season with the Cavaliers with 11 points against the Celtics. Antawn Jamison(notes), acquired at the trade deadline from Washington, had just five points.
The sold-out Boston crowd taunted James’ every free throw with a chant of “New York Knicks!” and fans wore Knicks jerseys with his name on them. The only “M-V-P!” cheers were not for James, who was the league’s best player in the regular season, but for Rondo, who was the best player in this series.
NOTES: The hottest T-shirt in the stands was a takeoff of the famous Barack Obama campaign poster with James’ image and the caption, “Nope.” … Wallace was called for a technical foul in the second quarter. He had 14 in the regular season, but it was his first of the playoffs.
Posted by just BS at 5:47 AM