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Cavs’ ‘decision’ is to move on

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 1, 2010

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CLEVELAND — There is a full understanding in Northeast Ohio that “LBJ Day’’ is approaching. That realization is coupled with a desire in the Cavaliers organization to move forward, avoiding all things LeBron.

A year ago, Cleveland relished the fact that much of its sports identity filtered through LeBron James. No one player in sports was more synonymous with an organization. Then on July 8, the hearts of a sports community that has been abused for generations were shattered. LeBron James announced he was signing with the Miami Heat.

James returns to Cleveland tomorrow, but before that landmark moment, the Cavaliers had an appointment with the Celtics, who drubbed them, 106-87, last night in front of an announced 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Cavaliers, who pushed the Celtics early but shot just 39 percent, are a franchise seeking a new identity. They spent seven years with the same partner and now are single.

The Cavaliers were LeBron’s team. Now they are referred to as LeBron’s former team, and they can’t stand that reference. New coach Byron Scott has attempted to change their image, reinventing a team devastated by the loss of its greatest commodity.

So members of the organization were sensitive yesterday when questions about James began flooding in. Scott has maneuvered a rather unimposing lineup to seven wins in 17 games, including a stunning, season-opening upset over the Celtics.

The Cavaliers play hard. They run. And they appear to enjoy the dimmed spotlight left in the wake of James’s departure. But for one night, the brightness will be almost blinding.

The Cavaliers’ quest for respect has gained momentum since opening night. They are legitimate playoff contenders and are almost an even bet to take down the Heat, who will be playing the second game of a back-to-back and are a pedestrian 10-8.

The Cavaliers want to be viewed as more than upstarts. There is a determination to rebuild quickly from the LeBron rubble.

“I’m not really paying a whole lot of attention to what Miami’s doing,’’ Scott said. “I have a young basketball team here. We’re still trying to get more familiar with one another.

“We’re getting there, but I’m still trying to find some things out about my guys and they’re still trying to find out some things about me. We are still in the honeymoon stage.’’

As much as the media and fans may want the Cavaliers to remain angry about “The Decision,’’ they are focused on what has become a more promising season than expected. Scott had nothing to do with the James situation. He was an unemployed coach last season and had just accepted the Cavaliers job when the free agent recruitment of James began.

He encouraged James to stay, but since July 8, he has refused to focus on the past. James is gone, his legacy relegated to a small mural on the wall of the Cavaliers Hall of Fame. Brad Daugherty, Bingo Smith, and Nate Thurmond have bigger displays.

“When I see Miami highlights, I just go in the kitchen, get something to eat, get something to drink,’’ Scott said. “It doesn’t affect me one way or another.

“I’m not in Miami. I’m in Cleveland, with a great organization, with a great young team, and 100 percent of my attention is here. Obviously, if you can do the math, none of my attention is there.’’

The Cavaliers put veteran parts around James, and those parts remain. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison have become resigned to the fact they are playing for a growing team, not an elite one. Owner Dan Gilbert did not allow his fury to hinder his efforts to improve the team.

James’s departure has brought more unity to the team. Life under the radar has made the Cavaliers closer, as they seek to prove that one man does not make a franchise, even if he can define one.

“We’re a more focused bunch,’’ said Williams. “I’m not going to say serious, but focused.

“We’re having the same [fun] but it’s a different situation. We’re still playing the game we love, still coming to work every day. You been in The Q [Quicken Loans Arena] this year? You’ll see. Same as last year.’’

There’s something dramatically different from last year, however, and the Cavaliers appear exhausted from discussing The Absent One. They want to move on, but that won’t happen until Friday when he’s gone again.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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