Heavy is the Head…

Let the sideshow begin…

When the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 6 of the Eastern Conference last night, they started the clock on what will be six weeks of speculation about LeBron James’s future. Actually, the unofficial clock started last season as teams started to position themselves to clear enough cap space for the class of 2010, a class that includes James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire and possibly Dirk Nowitzki and Carlos Boozer. 40 minutes of coverage on SportsCenter this morning shows just how large this story will loom over the sports world for the next month, the final four of the NBA Playoffs have become an afterthought, as LeBron’s future is on the tip of everyone’s tongue and the future of a handful of NBA franchises rests on the head of a 25-year-old boy king that may or may not have quit on his team and by extension city in the last three days.

The final performances of this season by King James were unlike any we’ve seen in his seven-year NBA career. Gone was the energy, the flair, the power, the aggression that has struck fear in opposing players, for the first time in those seven seasons, the superhuman LeBron, looked, human. At times on the court and bench, he alternated between lethargic, confused, distant and a little unsure about what was happening around him. One thing was for sure; he and the Cavaliers were getting outplayed by a Celtic team that seemed to be clicking on all cylinders in the last three games and had a clear game plan, frustrate LeBron. That tactic seemingly worked as James turned the ball over 19 times and shot 34% in the final three games, didn’t attack the basket with the reckless abandon that has become his signature and seemed content to shoot jump shots and let the speculation of the extent of his elbow injury become center stage early in the series.

The story this morning has to be the way the coaching staff and team quit in the final minutes of game 6, carelessly passing the ball, not fouling in the final minute and not looking like the team that danced together all season. The chemistry looked broken and of course all fingers will be pointed in the direction of LeBron, and rightly so, he’s the man that supposed to lead, but he can’t shoulder all of the blame. The Cavaliers’ management made every move they thought was necessary to get overcome the Orlando Magic in the east, but it seems they forgot about the rough and rugged Boston Celtics, because the finesse team they assembled couldn’t handle being punched in the face for 24 quarters.

And that’s where head coach Mike Brown has to be accountable, he was never able to counter the problems Boston presented and couldn’t find the right lineups to match the Celtics intensity, at times looking just as disheveled as his players. The offseason addition of Shaquille was a gamble they had to take and may have worked had they faced Dwight Howard, but against Kevin Garnett last night he looked like his 38-year-old self, but he fought to the end. The trade deadline move that brought Antawn Jamison to town was less than effective and seemingly the move that altered the course of the season, as Brown struggled to fit Jamison into the lineup and find a rotation that worked. You add the failures of the last two seasons, the meltdowns of the last two games and the inept showing in the last two minutes and Mike Brown should be contributing to the nation’s unemployment rate very soon.

Fans in New York, Chicago, New Jersey, Miami, Los Angeles (Clipper fans if they really exist) and Cleveland will watch the reality show like spectacle that will scrutinize everything LeBron says, where he vacations, if he wears a Yankee hat, a Michael Jordan jersey, everything! These are a few of the teams that have the money to sign not only the King, but money to bring in another All-NBA talent or at least an All-Star performer to team with him and the pieces currently in place. Cleveland still has to be the overwhelming favorite, he’s an Ohio playa, and he’s always shown loyalty to the city and his hometown of Akron. Well…not always, he’s publicly rooted for the Yankees and Cowboys, acts that have struck a chord and become news fodder over the years, as he put the Cavaliers and both city on the global map en route to becoming a global icon.

Four summers ago, the city of Cleveland held its collective breath as he waited a week to sign a contract extension on his rookie deal, but released a sigh of relief when he did and announced his intention to bring a championship to the city. However, his deal was structured so that he could become a free-agent after three seasons on that five-year deal, keeping the pressure on the Cavs management to make the moves to keep the team contending for a title. They have done their best, consistently turning over the personnel of the team since getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals. However, those moves have resulted in a return trip to the Finals for the team, as Boston and Orlando have made moves to improve their teams and have kept the Cavs from advancing the previous three seasons.

The failures of the past, bring the hopes of the future for Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Nets and Clippers (if they really exist) fans and have given sportswriters enough copy to last through mid-summer. Much of the speculation has centered on the New York Knicks as a destination for LeBron this summer, because they are expected to have close to $34 million in cap space, enough money to land two maximum contract stars. The money to sign LeBron isn’t the only incentive most people see, but the thought that playing the media capital of the world is thought to be alluring to him, but seriously, how much bigger can LeBron really get?

We live in a digital age where stars are made on YouTube, playing in New York doesn’t have the same meaning today as it did 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. However, the continued diversifying of his corporate brand can be incentive for wanting to play in the Big Apple, as well as proving yourself in the world’s biggest fishbowl. But, he could never repeat the 10-day stretch he just completed on the court while playing in the city that never sleeps or forgives, can he handle that pressure? He will make nearly $30 million less over the life of his contract if he leaves Cleveland and regardless of urban myth, Nike says there is not $100 million dollar incentive if he plays in New York or Los Angeles.

The Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as their cornerstones and the legacy of Michael Jordan are an appealing contender for his services. The last two postseasons have left many saying they are one player away from being a title contender and LeBron is that player. But, LeBron makes any team he plays for a title contender, which makes me say don’t discount the New Jersey, soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets. His BFF Jay-Z is a minority partner, he’s said that Brooklyn was his favorite borough in his favorite city and they have two young pieces, All-Star Devin Harris and center Brook Lopez, who is becoming a top-5 center and they have the #1 pick in the draft (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Evan Turner) or could be used as a bargaining chip in a trade for veteran to add to the mix. Sure, they had the worst record in the league this season, but they played as hard as a team in flux could. They spent most of the season with an interim coach, an ownership change in process, young players growing into their roles and the impending move to Brooklyn being the sixth man. Who better to give the franchise a face than the man who would be King?

So much to speculate about over the next month and a half, where’s LeBron going, how about Dwayne Wade, will Chris Bosh team with one of them, but the Lakers, Suns, Celtics and Magic are still fighting for supremacy and that should not be overlooked for what may be overblown hype, if he decides to stay in Cleveland. But, watching him peel off his accessories and jersey on his walk to the locker room reminded me of John Coffey walking the green mile. Only LeBron knows where he’ll play next season and he may not know that this morning, so it’s foolish of all us to decide this morning, but what is there to talk about?

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