Thursday, July 22, 2010

LeBron leftovers: Part Two

For some reason, I fully expected Sports Illustrated last week to revisit one of its most famous covers. You certainly remember the one depicted on Dec. 4, 1995.

How can you forget the cartoon that showed Art Modell sucker punching a Cleveland Browns fan, SI's way of decrying the unconscionable move of one of the National Football League's most storied and successful franchises for no good reason.

That cover is indelibly stamped into the memory banks of many Cleveland sports fans. Modell did not like the depiction (nor should he have), and it did little to mollify the anger that gripped Browns Nation at the time.

That's why I expected SI to come up with Part Deux of the Cleveland Torture Saga when LeBron James decided he wasn't good enough or strong enough or man enough to take the Cavaliers to an NBA title. It was a perfect opportunity for the magazine to tap back into that saga.

The cover, this time, would show LeBron gently ushering Modell to the side, saying, "Step aside, sir. My turn." And then LeBron whacking a Cavaliers fan upside the head because that exactly how it felt. Not a pretty sight, but one that more than accurately describes what happened on July 8, 2010, a day that will truly live in Cleveland sports infamy.

SI missed the boat on this one, choosing instead to slap on its cover the up-close-and-way-too-personal visages of the Miami troika, complete with fesces-eating grins, that turned NBA free agency into a joke.


And then there's the curious case of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a shameless self promoter who has made an art from of sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. What planet is this man living on where he calls out Dan Gilbert, who called out his star player for leaving Cleveland in cowardly fashion? Runaway slave is the term Jackson used to tie Gilbert and LeBron together. To reply to that statement would be to dignify it. So . . .


Of course, it's way too early to determine just how well LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will play together in Miami. Sometimes, you can have too much talent on the floor if egos spoil the party.

The big question is whether there will be enough shots for them. For example, the Miami Heat averaged 80.37 shots a game over the last two seasons and Wade took 24.6% of them. In Toronto over that same span, the Raptors averaged 72.3 shots a game with Bosh attempting 18% of them. LeBron the last two seasons took 24.45% of the Cavaliers' 78.32 shots per.

Together, they averaged slightly more than 57 shots a game. That large number is certain to rise when the three take the floor together since whoever else is on the floor at the time will be nothing more than a role player. The majority of shots, as it should be, will be taken by LeBron, Wade and Bosh. And you can bet 57 will be on the low side.

What hasn't been determined -- and with these guys it might never be determined -- is whether there's enough space on the floor for them to operate at peak efficiency. That's a problem coach Erik Spoelstra will have to figure out.

Who knows? This just might work if one or two of them willfully subjugate their egos to the point where they will function on a team-oriented basis. And that's where Spoelstra will find his greatest challenge.

The key is LeBron, who needs to cut way down on his shots and become a facilitator much like Magic Johnson was with the Los Angeles Lakers more than 30 years ago. If he can't and longs for the days of leading the league in scoring and winning MVP awards, there's no way this is going to work.

Why do I get the impression LeBron never wanted to play in Cleveland? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but the more I read and hear about his formative years with the Cavs, the more suspicious I become that he was unhappy when the club won that draft lottery seven years ago.

Oh, he was the good soldier. What else could he do at 18? The NBA rules were set up so he had no choice but to play for the team that drafted him for at least seven years, so he might as well make the most of it. And he did. Magnificently. Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Little did we know, of course, what was being plotted behind the scenes. And then came the blockbuster news. It sounded very much like LeBron couldn't wait to leave. If he wanted to stay, he would have actively recruited Wade and Bosh to Cleveland and said it was either Cleveland or you're on your own.

(LeBron's high-fiving journey down that runway in Miami in gala fashion with Wade and Bosh takes its place in my memory bank with Modell's triumphant arrival in Baltimore that Monday in December of 1995.)

If Cleveland and his beloved Akron meant so much to him, LeBron would have strong-armed those talents to join him in Ohio and Gilbert would gladly have paid whatever luxury tax was involved.

Nope. I don't believe him when he says, "I never wanted to leave Cleveland. My heart will always be around that area." That's what he told well-known broadcast prostitute Jim Gray that fateful night when he informed the nation he was "taking my talents to South Beach."

You can put salve on the wound, but it will never go away. It'll keep coming back in scab form.


The Cavaliers managed to salvage four future draft picks from the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal. Big whoop. With the Heat becoming one of the NBA strongest teams, finishing annually with one of the best records in the league, they'll wind up picking somewhere around 28th or 29th. Yeah, that should have a significant impact on the Cleveland roster.

Better than nothing? Yeah, I guess so.

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