Of all the gym joints in all the towns in all the world, he walks into this one.
As always with LeBron, spectacular timing.
His old team is a wreck. His old coach has been fired, and his old scorekeeper has left the building. Other than that, hoops in The Land is all good.
LeBron James returns to The Q tonight to get his first in-person look at the rot — it’s a lot — that he wrought. LeBron’s decision to leave his hometown team — “Go west, young icon!” — to attempt to establish a purple reign with the Lakers is nobody’s fault.
However, there are lessons to be learned all around, starting with this very obvious, very painful one for the Cavs:
Santa Claus doesn’t hang around forever.
When LeBron is on your team, it’s Christmas every day. When he’s not, it’s Halloween. The post-LeBron Cavs are an NBA oil spill.
They go into tonight’s game with the worst record in the league at 2-13, but that’s a little deceiving because they aren’t as good as their record indicates.
After winning 50, 51, 57 and 53 games during LeBron’s last layover in Cleveland, the Cavs have won two games this year. Sure, it’s still early, but that’s the problem. Think about how many losses they are going to have when it’s late.
The Cavs are 2-13 and they have yet to play a game against Golden State, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Houston, Portland, Memphis and the Clippers.
But that’s about to change. After playing the Lakers, 11 of the Cavs’ next 19 games are against the Sixers, Rockets, Celtics, Raptors, Warriors, Bucks and Pacers.
Oh, the humanity.
The one thing LeBron’s exit should have done is the one thing it didn’t do — send a loud and clear message to the Cavs that it’s tanking time. Instead, they immediately signed Kevin Love to a four-year $120 million extension that will only be wise if it facilitates their efforts to trade him for draft picks, which might be hard to do at the moment because Love almost immediately got hurt.
When LeBron left the Cavs the first time, after the 2009-10 season, the Cavs went from 61-21 to 19-63 the first year without him. When LeBron left Miami to return to Cleveland, the Heat went from 54-28 in 2013-14 to 37-45 in 2014. That wasn’t a tank job because even without LeBron the Heat still had Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic.
Last season the Cavs went 50-32 with LeBron, and this year they are 2-13. The temptation is to say the Cavs need to go into full tank mode, but that might not be necessary, because their roster is so weak that even if they do nothing, they appear to be riding a bullet train to a lottery pick, with or without Love.
Without J.R. Smith, for sure. The Cavs on Tuesday politely asked Smith to leave the building, while “the organization works with J.R. and his representation regarding his future.”
That’s a polite way of saying “you’re fired,” which is apparently fine with Smith, who told The Athletic he didn’t think the Cavs were trying to win, that the goal instead is to lose and get lottery picks.
Evidently J.R. isn’t up for trusting the process.
His exit comes at a fortuitous time, however, since now he won’t have to play against the teammate he played against in Game 1 of last season’s Finals, when, at the end of regulation, he was the only person in the free world either playing in or watching that game who didn’t know the score.
That led to the famous “are you freaking kidding me?” look LeBron gave J.R. in the photo taken immediately after J.R. J.R.’d the game, undoing perhaps the greatest single playoff game ever by LeBron, if not by anyone. If LeBron was anywhere remotely close to being on the fence about whether or not he was going to leave Cleveland again, the J.R. Game surely pushed the King off the fence and onto the Lakers.
Sadly, LeBron and J.R. won’t share a public, pregame bro hug, nor the same court tonight. But, in reality, nobody shares the court when LeBron is on it, because LeBron owns it.
As he returns tonight, the reception should be the polar opposite of the hostile hate-fest that was his first return to Cleveland in a Miami uniform. Those were far more incendiary times than these.
LeBron eventually returned, delivered the championship he promised, then left again. It wasn’t personal. It was business. Cavs fans seemed to sense that, and tonight they will get the chance to show that.
“Cleveland! This is for you!” will resonate as long as professional sports are played in Cleveland.
Now, the kid from Akron returns, for one night only.
Here’s looking at you, kid.
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