LeBron gets swept, and now all eyes on his future
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
Saturday, June 9
CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James checked out of Game 4 of the NBA Finals at 11:20 p.m. on Friday, his phenomenal season officially over.
His Cleveland tenure may be as well.
This ending was inevitable: For as good as James was this season, his Cleveland Cavaliers were not good enough. No one gave them a chance to beat the Golden State Warriors, for obvious reasons. And the ending was a sweep, the second of James’ career in the NBA Finals and perhaps a most unceremonious end to his time in Cleveland.
The final on Friday night was Golden State 108, Cleveland 85. The Cavaliers probably should have won Game 1 and had a great chance to win Game 3, but there’s no doubting who the better team is.
The Warriors are better. James knows that.
The Warriors are smarter. James knows that, too.
He scored 23 points in Game 4, by far his lowest-output game of the series. The Cavs led briefly in the first half, but it was over shortly after halftime. James was subbed out for Cedi Osman with 4:03 remaining, shook hands with a few of the Warriors players on his way to the bench, and walked off the court shortly after time expired.
It’s entirely possible that James left the floor Friday night knowing he was wearing a Cavaliers uniform for the last time.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where James knows where he’s going — if anywhere.
Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers are oft-mentioned as possible James destinations — but since they’re in the Western Conference, that would mean potentially dealing with the Warriors earlier in the playoffs. He could go to Philadelphia and join a up-and-coming team, albeit one now dealing with front-office questions after the resignation of Bryan Colangelo in a Twitter-use scandal. He could return to Miami, a place he still loves.
Thing is, there’s no obvious choice.
He will likely decide based on what his family wants and where he can win.
Even if the Lakers landed James and another top-flight player like a Paul George this summer, it’s still hard to see them being ready to overtake the Rockets and Warriors out West. Philadelphia might be on the cusp of contending in the East, but doesn’t seem like a championship club yet. Houston may seem like the move, though it’s anyone’s guess how a James-Chris Paul-James Harden trio would work.
All that’s clear is this: Cleveland isn’t winning another NBA title anytime soon with a roster that looks like the one it had in this series.
And James wants more rings. That’s why he spends well over $1 million a year to tweak and hone his body. That’s why, in his 15th NBA season, he was as dominant as ever.
He is showing no signs of fading — yet.
But he’s 33. Father Time is undefeated. James’ window of greatness will close, someday.
James can leave without owing Northeast Ohio anything. He came back. He brought Cleveland an NBA title. He has given the city so much. Still, James will never forget the infamous letter that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned when he left for Miami in 2010.
Whether he stays or goes, it’s now the summer of LeBron again.
Many free-agent moves around the league after July 1 will be held up while teams wait to see what James does. His decision, whatever it is, could mean Kevin Love gets traded. His decision, whatever it is, could decide whether Tyronn Lue returns as coach. His decision, whatever it is, will dictate if Cleveland is a contender next season or a tanker. There really isn’t any in-between.
It’s all up to James.
How the league looks a year from now hinges in so many ways on what he decides a few weeks from now.
LeBron says after NBA Finals that he played with broken hand
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
Saturday, June 9
CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James walked into his final interview of the NBA Finals with one last surprise: A dark brace on his right hand, covering an injury he’s hidden for a week.
“Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand,” James said.
The cause: He punched something after Game 1 of the finals, his frustration having obviously boiled way over when the Cleveland Cavaliers let the series opener against the Golden State Warriors get away amid late-game miscues and one overturned call that left him seething.
The injury was never disclosed, and James played basically every minute for the rest of the series and put up great numbers.
James didn’t get the only reward he still seeks from the game of basketball. There will be no parade for him this year, no ring, no banner ceremony. All James has now is a few weeks to think, a few weeks to ponder his next move.
“He’s a bad boy, and I love having him on our team,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He fights and competes to the end. Sometimes you can give everything you’ve got and still come up short. I thought that’s what our group of guys did in this series.”
“I think maybe the greatest testament to LeBron is that five years ago he was one of the top five players of all time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “From five years ago until now, it seems like he’s 10 times better, because he’s added so much skill to his game.”
With that, the watch is on. What will LeBron James do next?
“I have no idea at this point,” James said. “My family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide. We’ll see what happens.”
With that, he was gone. Cleveland can only hope he comes back.
LeBron, not calendar, to dictate NBA free agency
By Ira Winderman, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel
Sunday, June 10
NBA free agency starts July 1. Only it doesn’t.
For some prominent potential free agents, it may not start at all.
That is the lesson from a year ago, when Chris Paul headed many free-agency wish lists … until he never made it to the final list.
For teams lacking significant salary-cap space this summer, which is the overwhelming majority of the league, including the Miami Heat, Paul’s decision to bypass free agency last summer in favor of his trade to the Houston Rockets should particularly resonate in coming days and weeks.
It is why the LeBron James timetable for some teams may not include either the July 1 start of free-agency negotiations or the July 6 start of the signing period.
Instead of moving into free agency last season, Paul moved in advance of the deadline with a well-conceived (if curiously orchestrated) plan of bypassing his free-agent opt out in order to land with the Rockets and assure the Los Angeles Clippers of something tangible in return.
At a time when opposing teams were banned from contact with potential free agents, the deal still came together that delivered Paul to Houston in exchange for a package that included Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and enough filler to stuff your typical ballpark hot dog.
Because Paul let it be known to James Harden who let it be known to the Rockets who let it be known to the Clippers that Paul would be targeting Houston in free agency, potentially at the cost of Los Angeles receiving nothing in return.
In a similar situation at the moment stands James, who holds a $35.6 million player option for next season, an option, if exercised, that would allow him to be traded to the team of his choice in advance of free agency.
Yes, it would mean leaving millions on the table at the moment, just as Paul did last summer, but such a trade also would allow James to retain his Bird Rights with an acquiring team. And just as Paul, no matter his playoff injury, will get every last wink-wink dollar from the Rockets for his wait, so would the expectation be in the case with James.
Yes, it would require a shotgun wedding for Cleveland with a trade partner, in this case with Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner who launched a tampering investigation when the Heat lured James in 2010. But something now, as the Clippers accepted last June, still could be better than nothing later.
James is not alone with such flexibility when it comes to the opportunity to defer free agency in favor location preference. Paul George has a $20.7 million decision for 2018-19, DeAndre Jordan a $24.1 million decision, Carmelo Anthony a $27.9 million choice, all due by the end of the month. In the cases of Jordan and Anthony, their current teams’ preference might be cap relief, anyway. (Kevin Durant also has $26.3 million decision, but he isn’t going anywhere but on to his next contract with the Golden State Warriors).
The irony, as ESPN chronicled last fall, is that on the very night Paul was completing his deal to the Rockets, James was seated at the next table at a West Hollywood restaurant.
Now the question becomes whether he follows that blueprint instead of his previous approach of bringing free agency to a standstill at the start of July.
From the end of the NBA Finals, the league moves on to one of its most intriguing portions of the schedule, one that could have greater overall impact than the June 21NBA draft and one that has become pre-free agency.
It is a tricky, treacherous domain, but one that last year established the Rockets as a contender for years to come.
In other words: Gentleman, start your tampering.
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