Saturday, December 4, 2010

Time to move on?

Two conclusions reached after watching Lebron James embarrass his former teammates and franchise Thursday night at the Q.

James is -- and this is not arguable -- the best player in the National Basketball Association, And if you think that's easy to type after all the grief he has put Cavaliers Nation through the last six months, think again. Whether or not you like him or hate him, agree with him or disagree with him, there is not a better player in the NBA.

When the spotlight shines on him -- it didn't get any hotter than his first appearance at the Q since last May -- and he knows it, he brings it. I know that's hard to fathom considering how he essentially quit at the most critical juncture of the Boston playoff series.

But even the most ardent LeBron haters have to acknowledge that his virtuoso performance Thursday against the Cavaliers was the stuff of legend. He proved he can surmount pressure with the best of them.

When history looks back at his return to Cleveland, it will note his 38 points in 30 minutes. It will note the relative ease with which he scored those points. It will point out he was a man among boys. And it will point out he got the last laugh.

Fans will remember this game not for the constant booing and name-calling. And not for the almost too casual approach to the game by the Cavaliers. And not for the smack talk LeBron delivered his ex-mates during timeouts and his team at the foul line.

No, they'll remember this is as the night LeBron came home and delivered a message. A 38-point tour de force message that clearly stated he did not miss Cleveland at all. In fact, he seemed to relish in the glory of the Miami Heat's huge victory.

Conclusion No. 2: The Cavaliers are a bad basketball team. A very bad basketball team. What's worse is that it is a passive basketball team.

The Cavs laid down against the Heat in a game that desperately called for something far better. Like a fight. No, not a fistfight. The fans wanted to see them stand up to LeBron and his new teammates. Knock him on his hind flanks. Let him know he's not welcome in Cleveland any more. Fight for the City of Cleveland. That never happened.

The fans fought better with their signs and their mouths than the Cavaliers did with their so-called talents.

For the most part, this is the same team that dominated the NBA regular season last season. Nine members of the current team played on that team that fell to Boston in the playoffs last May. Among the missing are Delonte West, Shaquille O'Neal and, oh yes, LeBron James.

The catalyst, of course, is LeBron. Without him, the Cavaliers are what they have become. Less than mediocre. Their starting lineup might be the worst in the NBA. It was pointed out that the Cavs lead the league in bench scoring. That's because the starters are awful.

LeBron's departure has reduced the Cavs to a stature that, without some creative and intelligent moves by the front office in the offseason, could lead to the first stage of possible extinction. Attendance will start to fall precipitously. Cleveland fans will not pay to watch a bad team. They need another LeBron and they won't get one.

LeBron is one of those preciously few once-in-a-lifetime players who make a world of difference wherever he plays. Michael Jordan was like that. So, too, were Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Today, it's just LeBron and Kobe Bryant. Only LeBron was unable to bring a championship to his city.

Cleveland was blessed to have his considerable and special talents for seven seasons. The only reason he stayed that long was because the rules prevented him from moving elsewhere. And when those rules allowed him to wander, he did not hesitate.

For seven seasons, Cleveland fans thrilled to his wonderful, thrilling, even magical exploits. He alone placed the city back on the relevancy map in the sports world. Cleveland was where this new icon played and the city loved being in the spotlight. The thought of him leaving was never even considered. He was northeast Ohio, born and raised. Period. Cleveland and LeBron were a matched set.

That, crystal clearly, is no longer the case.

As TNT commentator Reggie Miller said during Thursday night's telecast, "It's time to get over it, Cleveland. It's time to move on."

Perhaps he's right now that LeBron's first visit back to the Q is history. There's nothing to be gained by holding on to the anger. Yet, there are those who will never forget his betrayal, never forget the way he departed. That vitriol will never die.

The hatred will continue, of course, and LeBron will receive the same treatment every time the Heat returns to Cleveland. That's to be expected. Along, of course, with a series of virtuoso performances.

After all, he hasn't even approached his prime. He won't be 26 years old until later this month.

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