Archive for the ‘cleveland cavaliers’ category

The LeBron James Doctrine: There Is No Team in the Word ‘Team’

July 15th, 2010

I kept trying to put my finger on it.

What was it about the LeBron James free agency process that was nagging at me?

It wasn't so much that he left Cleveland. As a columnist covering the Cavaliers, I wasn't thrilled about it, but players leave teams behind all the time.

It wasn't that the idea of playing with his buddies appealed to him.

It wasn't even that every move seemed calculated, as if to squeeze every drop of marketing muster out of the process.

No, something was distinctly different. What was it? How had I been mistaken about him—or at least miscalculated what motivates him?

LeBron’s affection for his hometown of Akron, Ohio, is well-documented and his loyalty to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School is widely known.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery and the rights to James in 2003, it was too good to be true. The hometown boy would be staying home.

The fondness that fans in Northeast Ohio already had for this young wunderkind would blossom into a full-grown love affair. For the next three years, James did and said all the right things to make people believe it was, like a good marriage, everlasting.

It was after the 2005-06 season that LeBron began showing the signs of a wandering eye. I, like the fans of Cleveland, didn’t see it—or didn’t want to.

Rather than accept a five-year, $80 million contract extension from the Cavs, James opted for a three-year deal with a player option for a fourth. After that, he would become an unrestricted free agent.

Most observers believed it made good business sense. Most also believed, however, that James selected the shorter deal as insurance—a guarantee, of sorts, that the Cavaliers would remain committed to improving each year.

Which they did. The following season, the overachieving Cavs made it to the NBA Finals. By years three and four of LeBron’s contract extension, they had led the league in regular season wins for two years running.

Along the way, they had worked within their limited salary structure to bring in veterans like Mo Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, and Antawn Jamison (all distinct upgrades over players on the 2007 team), remodeled an arena that was only 10 years old to begin with, and built perhaps the finest practice facility in the league just minutes from James’ home—all in an effort to show LeBron that they were committed to building a winner.

We all know the rest. Despite those league-leading victory totals in 2009 and 2010, the Cavaliers came up short in the postseason. This year, they looked horrible doing so, and James looked out of sync.

After the Celtics had sent the Cavaliers packing in game six of the Eastern Conference semifinals, James was subdued at the postgame news conference. At one point, he was asked about the future.

“It’s all about winning for me," he said , "and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that.”

So far, so good.

“But, at the same time, I’ve given myself options to this point.”

O-kayyyyyy...go on.

“Me and my team, we have a game plan that we’ll execute and we’ll see where we’re at.”

When I first heard those words, I was pleasantly surprised—because historically when LeBron had spoken about “my team” and “my teammates,” he had meant the Cavaliers.

My first reaction, then, was that he and the Cavs would discuss ways to improve the team, and, if he was satisfied, he would stay.

I was, to put it mildly, being naïve.

In fact, in a split second James had redefined what the word “team” would mean for NBA players, if not professional athletes in general, from that point on.

It didn’t mean the franchise he played for. It didn’t mean his teammates, his coaches, the uniform, the tradition, the city, or the fans.

No, it meant his agent, his marketing advisors, his lawyers, his friends, and even his mother.

But his basketball team, the Cavaliers? Who were we kidding?

Over the next six weeks, his new definition of “team” would govern his actions.

When it came time for “The Decision,” that odd and distasteful exercise in self-aggrandizement, this new definition was clear for all to see and hear.

“I want to thank all six teams that I had an opportunity to sit down with,” he said , before unleashing the zinger:

“And my team…”


“…they hear what we had to say also.”

My team. There it was.

His team was his, and his alone. It was for him, about him, and dedicated to him.

“I expected to be able…to sit down with my team and sit across from other teams and hear how they feel,” he continued.

His team, quite obviously, was not who we had always thought it was.

And so it went, for several more excruciating minutes, before James finally announced that he was going to Miami.

Like everyone, I knew it could happen.

Yes, I thought it was rude for James to divorce himself from a franchise, a city and a loyal fan base in such a public and thoughtless manner.

Yes, I thought it was peculiar that he had made such a spectacle out of having six teams vie for his services like so many contestants on “The Bachelor,” thereby ensuring that five of them, and their fans, would be alienated by his final decision.

But the decision was his to make, and he was free to do so. He played by the rules, and this is what the rules allowed.

Still, I found myself wondering what had changed in his manner and his approach. Eventually, I concluded that it all came down to that one word: team.

In the end, his new definition made all the difference. Because of it, I doubt that Cleveland ever had a chance. Truth be told, they had ceased being his team long before he rejected them on national television.

Miami, enjoy your new superstar. He is remarkably gifted, and he will thrill and entertain you.

Just don’t get too comfortable with the idea that the Heat are, or ever will be, his real team.

LeBron James has made it clear who that is, and where his true loyalties lie.


Dan Gilbert’s Revenge: How the Cavs Can Retool the East’s Contenders

July 15th, 2010
With an angry parting shot, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert officially declared war on LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Gilbert even went so far as to declare that Cleveland would win a championship before LeBron did. While Cleveland wont be in a position to win a championship any time soon, the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves have both proven that bad teams can have a large say in what team will win the NBA championship. Just ask Lakers and Celtics fans. So with the Pau Gasol trade very much the guide, here are some trades that will help the rest of the East's elite, keep up with Riley in South Beach.

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With Lebron Out Who Now Is The New King of Cleveland?

July 15th, 2010
Once upon a time not long ago, LeBron James reigned supreme as the mighty King of the city of Cleveland. After his decision to abandon the region last week however, he's now been disowned from the royal hierarchy in Northeast Ohio. While LeBron leaves some big shoes to fill in his wake and it is doubtful anyone will ever be able to match the magnitude of his star power here's some of my candidates to rise up and lay claim to the vacant throne as King of the great city of Cleveland.

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Did Commissioner David Stern Mishandle LeBron James and Dan Gilbert

July 15th, 2010

Speaking after the NBA’s summer Board of Governors meeting at The Palms Casino, Commissioner David Stern criticized “The Decision” show on ESPN and fined Cleveland Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert for his comments concerning LeBron James.

When I first heard the news, I was very happy to hear that the Commissioner had spoken on both issues. 

However, after reading Stern’s comments, I was left with the impression that the Commissioner really did not really say and do what needed to be done.  The comments by Commissioner Stern missed the mark on an individual level and in the broader context of what is occurring within the NBA.

In regards to James, Commissioner Stern had this to say about James decision to air “The Decision”:

I would have advised [James] not to embark on what has become known as 'The Decision.  I think that the advice he received on this was poor. His performance was fine. His honesty and his integrity shine through. But this decision was ill-conceived, badly produced and poorly executed. Those who were interested were given our opinion prior to its airing.


The Commissioner then added that he felt that:

I think [James] is both a terrific player and a very good person.  Had he asked my advice in advance I might have suggested that he advise Cleveland at an earlier time than he apparently did that he was leaving even without announcing where he was going.

The problem with the Commissioner Stern’s comments concerning James is that he is being inconsistent.

On one hand the Commissioner is suggesting that he believes that James conducted himself with “honesty and integrity” during the Decision.  

Yet, the Commissioner is also saying that LeBron delayed in telling Cleveland his intentions after he had decided he was not going to return to the Cavaliers.  The implication within the Commissioner’s comments is that James knew his decision and waited, causing the Cavaliers harm as they waited and missed out on other free agents. 

How can Commissioner Stern believe that James acted with integrity in negotiating with the Cavaliers if he withheld information from Cleveland that caused the team harm?

The Commissioner’s comments toward Dan Gilbert were also puzzling.

In fining Dan Gilbert $100,000, Commissioner Stern said,

I think the remarks by Dan Gilbert, catalyzed as they may have been by a hurt with respect with the respect to his team and the people of Cleveland, though understandable, were ill-advised and imprudent.

I think Dan Gilbert is a good owner and I think he was completely correct in expressing his disappointment and his determination to win. In fact, if he wants to guarantee a championship, more power to him. I'm going to tune in to watch to see if he can do it. But you would need read the rest of the statement to see where I think it was a little bit to the extreme and his follow-on interview.

Commissioner Stern characterizing Gilbert’s comments toward James as "a little bit extreme" is a like saying that Shaquille O’Neal is a little bit bigger and taller than NBA Referee Dick Bavetta.

Gilbert’s comments and the manner in which he made his feelings known about LeBron were incredibly extreme.  Gilbert’s rant even included Gilbert dropping the price of the LeBron James Fathead to $17.41 to draw an analogy between James and Benedict Arnold, who was born in 1741.

Over the next 20 years, when an owner of a professional sports franchise goes off the deep end does anyone really believe that the conversation at some point in time will not include a discussion of “The Letter” posted by Gilbert.


Additionally, Commissioner Stern waited until Monday to impose the fine upon Gilbert.  Why did Commissioner Stern wait so long to fine Gilbert?  Some of the negative publicity that the league received as a result of Gilbert’s actions could have been muted had the Commissioner acted more promptly. 


Commissioner Stern’s statements concerning James and Gilbert suggest someone who wishes to politely express displeasure while trying very hard not to offend anyone.   


The Commissioner, by the very nature of his position between the owners and players, walks a very fine line and one explanation for the statements by Stern is that the Commissioner is human and can’t always be expected to slam dunk all of his statements.


Commissioner Stern however is not new to the diplomatic aspect of his job.


Another explanation is that the Commissioner was overly cautious not to offend one of the highest profile players in the league and one of the most emotional owners in the league given the amount of labor unrest in the league. 


This past weekend at the Board of Governors meeting, Commissioner Stern reported that the league lost about $370 million last season.


The collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners is set to expire at the end of the 2010-11 season and a lockout is possible on July 1.


The players union believes that a lockout is a very real possibility in that they have been advising players and their agents to spread out player salaries for this upcoming year over the next 18 months.


Maybe the Commissioner believes that a lock-out or strike is a real possibility on the horizon.


We do know that Commissioner Stern stated on Monday that the league was “very anxious to make an agreement [with the player’s union].”


If the Commissioner spoke gingerly to James and Gilbert because he was worried about upsetting the apple cart with the players union and owners, Commissioner Stern missed a golden opportunity.


In order for there to be lasting labor peace between the players and owners there must be open, honest and genuine communication.


The Commissioner could have initially extended the olive branch of diplomacy toward the players and the owners by acknowledging that he respects both James and Gilbert as individuals.


The Commissioner then should have said that James exercised poor judgment in this instance if he waited in informing the Cavaliers of his decision to join another team.   Commissioner Stern could have then added that players should not lose sight of the fact that as they expect to be treated fairly and with respect that they in turn need to extend the same courtesy to management.

Commissioner Stern could have ended his comments concerning James by stating that he believes what occurred between James and Cleveland in this case was an aberration and that James and future players in similar situation will act definitely in the future.


Commissioner Stern could then turn his attention to Gilbert.


Commissioner Stern, while playing to the emotions of Cleveland fans, could have said that while he appreciates the emotion of Gilbert and his passion to win that his actions were clearly inappropriate.


Commissioner Stern could then take Gilbert to task for speaking to James in the manner in which he did; he could tell Gilbert that sometimes how something is said is more important than what is said. 


The Commissioner, in fining Gilbert, should have said that he was serving notice to all owners in the league that such behavior would not be tolerated.


Commissioner Stern missed an opportunity. 


The players and owners are not quite at the brink of work stoppage, but it would be in everybody’s best interest to remind each other of the importance of mutual respect as we move closer to July 1, 2020.


Commissioner Stern needs to take advantage of every opportunity he has to remind the players and owners of how good life is being a player and owner in the NBA, and how both are dependent upon each other for their long term success.



Why Would LeBron James ‘Quit’ on the Cleveland Cavaliers?

July 14th, 2010

NBA fans have been trapped in a free agency world of preposterousness these past two weeks.   

We've gone from "The Decision" to "The Letter."  We've gone from Amir Johnson's five-year, $34 million contract to Joe Johnson being the highest paid free agent in LeBron James', Dwyane Wade's, and Chris Bosh's class. 

And yet, one of the most preposterous ideas in all of this free agency hysteria has been that of LeBron James, The Royal Quitter. 

It started with his owner, Dan Gilbert, who ranted about LeBron quitting in every big game in an interview with the Associated Press .  He advised us to "go back and look at the tape" of the Orlando-Cleveland Game Six from 2009, asking us to check how many shots James took (he took 20 shots, for the record).

So, in other words, we can discount Gilbert because he's a bitter owner who's lashing out like a 13-year-old girl after a breakup.   What else should we have expected?  (To his credit, the Fathead stunt was hilarious.) 

Then we had the bloggers, who swarmed in with the "James = Quitter" argument by saying a true superstar would never want to join forces with other stars; instead, they'd create a decade-long rivalry on the court and maintain their friendship off the court.   

By joining Wade and admitting that he sometimes wanted another player on his team to be able to take over and dominate a game, LeBron showed a supposed weakness that he's never revealed before.

Then again, joining Wade and Bosh isn't so much quitting on the Cavs as it is quitting on the chance to become one of the all-time greats.  Therefore, it's not entirely relevant to this particular discussion. 

Finally, we get to Jay Mariotti. 

Mariotti suggested the possibility that LeBron would "deliver less-than-maximum effort at times" because he "was planning all along to bolt the Cleveland Cavaliers."  This appears in a column in which Mariotti practically begs the league to investigate the SuperFriends' decision for tampering and/or collusion. 

Moving beyond the fact that Mariotti's become a caricature of himself at this point, the mere suggestion of this conspiracy theory should cause FanHouse to ban Mariotti from writing for a week, for his own sake.

Imagine, for a moment, that Mariotti's right, and that LeBron, Wade, and Bosh had agreed to head to Miami months, if not years ago.  Why would that cause LeBron to deliver less-than-maximum effort in the last playoff run he'd ever have with his hometown franchise? 

Would LeBron really give up a chance at his first NBA championship just because he wasn't planning to stay with Cleveland long-term?

To put it plainly, not a chance. 

How can you argue that a guy who just passed up $15 million on his new contract for a better chance of winning doesn't value championships before all else?  (Including loyalty to his hometown?)  And if he's got such an obsession with titles, why would he intentionally sacrifice his shot at a championship when he's on a team that had the best record in the NBA? 

If anything, wouldn't Cleveland be (a little) less upset with LeBron had he brought home a championship before callously dumping them on national TV? 

No, LeBron's apparent lack of effort in the final two games of the Celtics series didn't stem from the underlying knowledge that he'd be leaving his hometown after the season. 

Instead, as Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski points out , LeBron hit a breaking point with the Cavaliers during the Celtics series: 

"But, well, if James did quit, then WHY did he quit? Why does anyone quit anything? It’s because they think there’s no point. I think LeBron simply came to the realization that his team wasn’t good enough. The coach wasn’t good enough. Ownership wasn’t good enough."

"He realized (rightly or wrongly) that no matter what he did, this team was not going to win a championship. And once he realized that, he lowered his intensity level and finally, in the last minute of his Cleveland career, watched the clock tick down." 

LeBron didn't quit on the Cavaliers.  LeBron felt like the Cavaliers quit on him. 

LeBron doesn't need Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman around him to win a championship.  All he needs are teammates that can knock down wide-open shots when he passes to them out of a double-team.   

Year after year, the Cavs came up short in that department. After seven years, James finally decided that he'd seen enough Mo Williams bricks for one lifetime.   

So he left.  A "quitter." 

To his credit, Mariotti did promise that we'd remember Game Five against the Celtics—the night that LeBron turned into LeGone , as he called it. 

But why suggest that James would intentionally forfeit his last shot at a championship in Cleveland, knowing that he'd be heading to Miami in a few months anyway?   

We may be able to place Dan Gilbert's letter in the "Most Preposterous Idea From the Summer of 2010" category after all. 

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