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LeBron has more reasons to leave

Special to FOX Sports Couper Moorhead
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CLEVELAND

What does it all mean?

What does it mean that with a triple-double following the most criticized performance of his career, LeBron James' teammates were largely absent in Cleveland's attempt to stay alive?
LeBron James

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Or that, in referencing his pending decision in free agency, James flatly spun the usual tale of winning being the only thing, and that his team would make the best decision for him, but that in no way was he speaking of his actual basketball team?

"Me and my team, we have a game plan that we’re going to execute, and we’ll see where we’ll be at," James said.

What does it mean that the team with the best record in basketball just lost to the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs, an outcome James claims doesn't factor into his decisions?

"I didn’t play this season wondering what I was going to do in the offseason," he said.

Nobody knows what it means. Probably not even LeBron. But still, that's the question that fans, scribes and team executives alike will frantically try to answer.

All we can do is piece together the facts.

For starters, we know that all the harsh words lobbed James' way after an invisible Game 5 were justly deserved. He drifted aimlessly and for one of the first times, his talents were squandered. But within the opening moments of this 94-85 elimination-game loss, which left him embracing Kevin Garnett at halfcourt and issuing congratulations, you could tell this was a different James.

POLL

  • What are LeBron's chances of staying in Cleveland?
    • Great
    • Fair
    • Lousy

On Cleveland's first offensive possession, James made a move he didn't make in all of Game 5 — a simple back cut. It was a far cry from standing in the offensive exile that is the weakside corner, and the result was a powerful, crowd-quieting dunk.

And so began his retort.

It might appear that his 8-for-21 shooting and nine turnovers marred James' 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists, but both were understandable. The Celtics executed a swarming game plan that forced James to open things up with his jumpers, and whether it was an elbow issue or not — he flatly denied rumors of torn ligaments — his shot was consistently inconsistent.

The turnovers? Sure, it's an amusing one-liner to say he almost had a quadruple double of the unfavorable sort, but the Celtics relentlessly trapped James in the pick-and-roll, taking away his primary options and forcing the extra passes, which put the onus on his teammates.

And after he hit consecutive threes to spark a fourth-quarter rally, there came a point where it was clear that if James kept deferring to, or even trusting, his teammates, the Cavaliers were going to lose. He did, and they did.

His teammates just weren't there for him, combining for 16 second-half points.

They were there in the crowded locker room before the game, when all eyes were on James, the island. While James wasn't interacting much with his teammates with media present, quiet moments were still rare.

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Even as he fielded questions, his headphones provided the white noise. And when sitting on the training table, he rapped along. It was, effectively, the same pregame routine of the Celtics' high-octane personality, Tony Allen. Perhaps he was deflecting attention, perhaps he was putting on an act, but due to whatever forces, there was James, and then there was his team.

For how much longer will it be his team? That's still the reaction to this turn of events. And perhaps the best insight came from the player that gave the Cavaliers fits throughout the six-game series.

"He’s going to have to make a decision on not just him, but his family and his future," Garnett said, going back to his days spent toiling away with the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get youth back. I can honestly say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d have [changed teams] a little sooner.

"I haven’t spoken to him or anything. But the world is his."

POLL

  • What's the biggest reason the Cavs lost the series?
    • LeBron wasn't good enough
    • The rest of the Cavs stunk
    • The Celtics played great

It's his, and rightfully so. He may not have the qualifier, the ring, for some of the stronger voices out there, but he's still the MVP and the best player in basketball. And despite what some reactionary naysayer may shout, this isn't his legacy. It's part of it, just as he was part of a title contender falling short. But Cleveland's loss doesn't define him.

Perhaps his decision this summer, whether he re-signs with the Cavaliers or chooses to go with one of his many suitors, will paint a clearer picture. But even then, there are games to be played.

"A friend of mine told me today after the game that you have to go through a lot of nightmares before you finally accomplish your dream," James said.

Just looking across the court Thursday, there were three players — Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — that had recurring nightmares before finally winning the title in '08. What are they remembered for now?

So if you want answers, boring as it sounds, patience is the virtue. Not just for a location on July 2 or 3, but for years upon years of playoff games. Because there's winning to be done, and where that quest takes James will ultimately be the answer we're all looking for.
Tagged: Celtics, Cavaliers, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James

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