The reactions to Cleveland’s loss to Boston in Round 2 have been varied but most have been along the lines that the loss was a calamity and will set back the Cavs quite a bit. Is this true? Sorta. Let’s go through the loss and try to separate fact from fiction:
Did the Cavs/LeBron Choke?
I don’t know if choke is the right word. Clearly, the Cavs seemed to be the better team by all accounts going into the series. There really is no one who could’ve predicted that the Celts would have Rajon Rondo morph into a transcendent guard AND that the old guys would start playing like it was 2007-08 again (Kevin Garnett finally stopped limping while playing!). Even so, it’s hard to explain away the Cavs getting blown away in Game 5 at home and this did not reflect well on the Cavs as a whole or on LeBron individually. I know LeBron played very poorly in that game but the way the Celts were shooting (and the way Cleveland was defending) made a victory impossible unless James planned on scoring 55 points.
There are some legit criticisms of the Cavs handling of the roster:
-Mike Brown played Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison together a lot. Shaq looked pretty solid stat-wise but has some defensive problems, particularly when paired with Jamison. Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis scored quite easily, making Boston very tough. In fact, Dave D’Alesssandro wrote an interesting article where he put forth that Brown did not have the stones to bench Shaq, who couldn’t guard smaller players and got in LeBron’s and Jamison’s way offensively. I don’t know if O’Neal was a problem offensively (his numbers were actually pretty solid). No, the problem was doubling down with Shaq and Jamison defensively.
-Rondo torched the Cavs and there was some murmurs that the Cavs should’ve pulled Maurice Williams for a defensive specialist. Williams was thoroughly outplayed but the Cavs didn’t have a roster match for Rondo if he was going to play like Chris Paul. I don’t see how pulling Williams for Jamario Moon or Delonte West would’ve helped that situation.
-I don’t think that J.J. Hickson is a future star but he brings some skills to the table that other Cavs big men do not (speed, athleticism, and explosiveness). In fact, Hickson was pretty solid the first three games but was absolutely buried thereafter. He had 29 points in 47 minutes over the first three games and was limited to a total of nine minutes the final three games. Given how stagnant the Cavs looked offensively and defensively, this was the time to throw-in an active player and see if it changed momentum. I’m not saying this cost the Cavs the series but the Brown went down without shooting all his bullets and these bullets were pretty effective early on.
Should Mike Brown be fired?
The real answer to this question is whether LeBron James wants Brown fired. You could make arguments either way on the point. Yes, Brown teams generally play hard and well but they have some match up issues in the last two playoffs, that potentially cost Cleveland at least one title. If James is willing to come back, he should be accommodated one way or another.
Should the Cavs really be cow towing to LeBron?
That is an emphatic yes. I know there are those that bristle at kissing a star’s ass too much. Yes, it seems annoying that the great players try to wield power and undermine their coaches but pretty much every great player has done this over the past 40 years in the NBA. We all remember that Magic Johnson famously got Paul Westhead fired (and less famously helped move Pat Riley out of town in 1990). Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were consulted on coach changes. The Orlando Magic supposedly refused to fire Brian Hill despite free agent Shaq’s demand in 1996. Shaq bolted town (he probably would’ve even if Hill was fired) and Penny Hardaway led a coup against Hill the next year anyway.
In short, it’s naive to think that players and all people don’t use their maximum bargaining power to their advantage. It would be nice if stars were down to Earth and considered themselves only cogs in the machine but this is not reality now and really never has been. Without LeBron the Cavs are in a bad place. They should make him as happy as possible. Granted, there is a limit to star demands. Demands can become offensive and excessive but engineering a coaching change is nowhere near such a line.
Where is LeBron going?
I have no clue but Chicago makes the most sense to me unless some team can convince another superstar to sign with LeBron as a package deal. An interesting note, most of the teams that are reportedly in the run for LeBron (Nets, Bulls, Cavs, Clippers) do not have coaches yet. This is sort of a tacit acknowledgement that most teams will let James pick his next coach if it means that LeBron will sign on the dotted line.
How about them Celtics?
All the LeBron hoopla, however, misses the larger point–the Celts have become a great team again. I have no idea how this happened and you’d be lying if you said you expected this if you watched Boston play after January 2010. They struggled for most of the second half and looked old and stale. Hell, Doc Rivers was noncommittal about returning next year before the playoffs. And now the Celts have played great, dominating Miami and Cleveland, and now the Magic too. As noted, Rondo has looked excellent and now can score too (scoring almost five more ppg in the playoffs). Give the Celts a lot of credit for beating LeBron. It’s improbable but Boston is back in the title picture again, and giving hope for all those older teams who believe they can jam open the window of opportunity for a title.