LeBron's Leftovers straggle into Boston tonight to face the Celtics, and it's not a pretty sight.
For Cleveland, it's like returning to the scene of the crime. The last time they played here they still had LeBron -- and hope. The moment James decided to take his talents -- and sell his basketball soul -- to South Beach it all went south, period, for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who bring a dearth of talent and a 17-game losing streak to the parquet.
Cavaliers fans have borne witness to one of the worst stretches of basketball in recent NBA history. The Cavaliers have the NBA's worst record at 8-36. They've lost 21 consecutive road games, matching the team record set in 2003, the season before James arrived as their ersatz savior. They haven't won a basketball game in more than a month. Cleveland's last win was a 109-102 overtime victory over the Knicks, another outfit spurned by James, a week before Christmas.
Remember that defiant missive that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert fired off after James's nationally-televised dumping of Cleveland?
"I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'king' wins one," Gilbert wrote. "You can take it to the bank." Oops. That bank has failed and there is no basketball bailout for Gilbert or the putrid Cavs.
But this isn't Gilbert's fault. No. It's not totally the self-absorbed James's either. He just wanted to win. The people most responsible for the carnage in Cleveland are your Boston Celtics. That's right the onus for the Cavaliers collapse belongs to Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and the rest of the Celtics. They'll be playing what they wrought -- or more accurately, rot -- tonight.
If the Cavaliers, who had the NBA's best record last season at 61-21, had managed to conquer KG and Co., last spring instead of losing in six games, James may still be wearing an awful burgundy colored uniform tonight instead of forming the Heat's unholy trinity with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Say what you will about James, but he's not stupid. After losing to the Celtics in the second-round for the second-time in three seasons and seeing Cleveland's big midseason acquisition, Antawn Jamison, get eviscerated by Garnett, James didn't need his hangers-on to convince him to leave Cleveland. The writing was on the wall in the Eastern Conference.
The only way for him to beat the Celtics Big Three or now Formidable Four was to form a mega-group of his own. Miami happened to have the cap space, the in-place superstar in Wade and the glitterati James craved.
Tonight marks the first time Cleveland has returned to TD Garden since being eliminated in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 13. It turned out to be the last game James ever played in a Cleveland uniform. The Celtics effectively delivered the eulogy for the James Era in Cleveland. The shamrock was a stake driven right through the heart of the Cavaliers.
For all the talk about LeBron quitting against the Celtics in Games 5 and 6, again fueled by Gilbert, don't forget that the other two components of Cleveland's triumvirate melted like an ice cube in a glass of hot cocoa. In Game 5, when James was booed off the court by Cleveland fans, Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams combined for a total of 18 points.
In Game 6, while James had a near quadruple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, 9 turnovers), in vainly trying to provide CPR to his lifeless team, Williams had 20 points in the first half and then one hoop after it, going scoreless in the fourth quarter. Jamison shot 2 of 10 and had just 5 points. The Cavaliers should have filled out a missing persons request for him.
After that game Anderson Varejao said of LeBron and the loss: "We can't just look at one player. We know he is the best player on this team and he won the MVP two years in a row. There is always going to be a lot of talk about him. But if we would win he wouldn't win by himself. It's the whole team."
And James surmised that the "whole team" Gilbert had put around him in Cleveland was good enough to win in the regular season, but not good enough to beat out Boston when it counted. The Cavaliers' one NBA Finals appearance with James came the season before Ainge united Pierce with Garnett and Allen.
So, the Celtics are as culpable as LeBron for the great regression in Cleveland. Unlike the last time the Cavaliers were this impotent, there is no LeBron James on the horizon to save them. The 2011 NBA Draft is without a clear-cut No. 1 pick or franchise player. Gilbert will be hard-pressed to fulfill his promise to the fans of Cleveland.
Perhaps if the Celtics are in a charitable mood they'll allow the Cavaliers to steal a victory tonight and save some face. The Celtics do have a habit of not getting up for the league's bottom-feeders. Plus, it's really the least they can do.
As for Cleveland's long-term plight, don't expect any sympathy from the Celtics or Celtics fans for the Cavaliers. If you recall the year before the Big Three were formed the Celtics limped through a 24-58 mark that included an 18-game losing streak. Pierce was all but asking out of Boston, as he wanted no part of the apparent rebuilding process even if it included Kevin Durant or Greg Oden.
But Boston's fortune changed and so did the fate of the franchise. Out of the rubble, the Big Three was born and so was James's discontent with being a Cavalier.
James dishonorably deserted Cleveland and left a mess behind, but it was the Celtics who opened the door.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.