Are you a witness?
A look at the highs and lows of Cavaliers guard LeBron James' career.
LeBron James, battling futilely as I would remember Michael Jordan doing so often in the late 1980s, found Ben Wallace down near the basket, perhaps a foot or two away, with the Cavs on the verge of overtaking the Celtics and perhaps stealing the series.
The Cavs were down by a point with just under two minutes left. Wallace was generally open throughout the series as teams rarely defend him, and you had to be scratching your head why he even was in the game. But Cavs coach Mike Brown would prefer to win a game 16-12 and continue to play defensive sets and strategies even when his team needs to score.
So apparently fearing he'd be fouled and have to shoot free throws, Wallace, instead of turning toward the basket, whipped the ball back to James, who had to force a 3-pointer with about three seconds left on the shot clock. It missed and P.J. Brown made the crucial 20-footer seconds later.
In other words, "It's up to you, LeBron."
The sequence was symbolic of James' five years in Cleveland, and which he has just two more to go before he moves to play in New York for the Knicks or the Nets. And make no mistake, James, no matter what he or anyone says, will be gone. And many of the reasons were apparent watching that end-of-game sequence.
Despite being one of the most remarkable overall talents ever to play in the NBA, James remains saddled with a defense-first, defense-only coach and a team, arguably, that doesn't have one player who would be a starter on maybe any other playoff team.
Perhaps Zydrunas Ilgauskas, though he remains a bit player in what offense the Cavs have.
It seems a shame that five years into his career, James, who hauled the Cavs to the 2007 finals on the strength of transcendent ability and favorable matchups, continues to be surrounded by such a weak supporting cast.
It's a sin to saddle this talent with so many old, beaten down horses.
And after five years!
The East is woefully weak at center, but Ilgauskas is hardly the classic big man as he scores mostly on face up jumpers and is 33. Wallace's body has abandoned him as he plays out his last contract. Wally Szczerbiak also has slowed down from being slow and is 31. Delonte West has been starting with Daniel Gibson hurt, though both really are small shooting guards and probably reserves.
The bench offers Joe Smith, who will be 33 this summer; Anderson Varejao, who, like Wallace, doesn't get defended on offense; Damon Jones, who'll be 32 this summer and doesn't defend much so doesn't play; and the erratic Sasha Pavlovic, who only played more than 20 minutes in one playoff game.
Yes, this is what the Cavs have assembled to put around James.
It's an embarrassment, really, and why it's difficult to see James sticking it out when he can become a free agent after the 2009-10 season.
Nothing personal. Cleveland is a fine place and home for James. But when New York is calling...
And it is.
It probably would be considered tampering if it wasn't being done by the league commissioner.
Not that David Stern is publicly trying to move James. But Stern clearly had a hand in getting Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh to take the Knicks head job. It was fairly well known around the NBA that Stern was encouraging Walsh during the season and even mentioned Walsh as the kind of leader the Knicks might need. It all seemed a bit curious since Walsh had a job at the time.
So Walsh comes in and says everything is changing around the Knicks and they are no longer spending money, not even their mid-level exception, so they can get under the cap and get involved in free agency after the 2009-10 season.
Just when James is available. Certainly a coincidence?
In no league more than the NBA is having a star so vital, and few stars rival James.
Plus, James has made it pretty clear his interests go beyond basketball. He's cultivated a friendship with investor Warren Buffet and said he wanted to learn Mandarin to better communicate for economic reasons when the U.S. team is at the Beijing Olympics this summer. So you want to make a name for yourself in the business world? Do you want to be in New York? Or Cleveland?
And there's an alternative, though the belief is the NBA would prefer James in Madison Square Garden. The NBA seems generally to feel it's better off when the team in the headquarters market is doing well.
The Nets continue to say they'll move into New York City (Brooklyn). One of their owners is rapper Jay-Z, who represented the Nets at the draft lottery Tuesday and has something of a hypnotic effect on NBA players. Though that could be because of his wife, Beyonce Knowles.
The Nets are slowly beginning to break up their team as they dealt Jason Kidd for the younger Devin Harris and there have been rumors they are looking to deal Richard Jefferson. One rumor, seemingly speculative at this point, has them pursuing Carmelo Anthony. He would be a heck of a teammate for James, something LeBron doesn't have in Cleveland.
The Jordan Bulls faced a similar issue in the 1980s. But they wisely accumulated draft picks and made deals looking toward the future and were able to grab talent like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.
The Cavs continue to live for the moment. They made several ill-advised acquisitions a few years back, like Jones, Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall, to help persuade James to re-sign, if only for three years. This season they made a big deal to get rid of some of those contract mistakes and took on other long contracts. True, most will expire when James' contract comes up again.
But can the Cavs compete for high-level talent with teams from New York, and perhaps Chicago, who are building a foundation now while James, like Jordan 20 years earlier, continues to pressure management and demands improvement by the day?
The Cavs haven't put James in a particularly good environment to succeed with their stolid attack and aging and limited personnel. People change jobs all the time for similar reasons. In two years it will be James' time to do so as well.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
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