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For LeBron James and the Cavaliers, this could be it.
This could be the season. This could be the end of another James era. This could be the final act of an amazing run of pro basketball in Cleveland.
It’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Sunday night, against the Celtics, in Boston. Tipoff is 8:30 p.m. The winner is East champion. The loser is left to figure out what to do with the offseason.
Win or lose, it could also mean the end of Tyronn Lue and power forward Kevin Love with the Cavs. But almost definitely the end of Lue as coach with a loss.
Lue has been exposed a little without Kyrie Irving. He has struggled with in-game adjustments, rotations and getting the players to play with passion during the regular season. Those regular-season issues are why the Cavs are playing on someone else’s floor in the biggest game of the year.
But Lue brushed them off with comments such as, “I still believe we’re the best team in the East.” We’re about to find out if he’s right. Still, no one really wanted to hear it. Members of the organization and fans just wanted a team that consistently played hard, a team of which they could be proud.
The drama that comes with being LeBron’s coach seems to have gotten the best of Lue. He missed time with what appeared to be stressed-related health issues. It would not be surprising if Lue and the Cavs were to amicably part ways after the season, perhaps via a contract buyout.
That’s not any insider information — merely a gut feeling. Lue seems to have had enough of the drama, and the Cavs seem to have had enough of Lue.
The same goes for Love.
He is hurt at the most important time of year — again. It always seems to work out this way for Love.
That’s not to say he is faking the need to go through the concussion protocol for a fourth time, which is where he is today. But injuries aside, he has become known as a soft player, a weak defender and someone who too often shrinks when the heat and pressure rise.
The Cavs will miss Love in Game 7. But everyone knows they could still win without him.
It may be time to move on, and you can be absolutely certain the Cavs will try (again) with attempts at summer trades.
KING OF CLEVELAND HOOPS
But all of this doesn’t compare to the narrative surrounding James, a narrative that he himself creates, and despite his attempts to downplay it, a narrative he thoroughly enjoys.
Will he stay or will he go, the entire basketball-loving universe is dying to know.
James is expected to enter free agency in July. He can sign with any other team, and put himself in perhaps a better situation, saying goodbye to Cleveland a second time.
Of course, he could also end the speculation by telling the Cavs and public of his intentions — especially if his decision is to return. It would make the Cavs’ attempts to build around him considerably easier.
But that’s not the LeBron way.
Instead, he will leave everyone to guess, because that keeps him at the center of the sports world. It builds the brand.
And frankly, with the way James has carried this franchise and this league, he has earned the right to handle free agency as he sees fit. Because of LeBron, the NBA will be most of this summer’s biggest sports story.
At 33 years old, he is still the best player in the league. He gives the Cavs hope that they could actually pull off a basketball miracle in Boston.
And who knows? Maybe he will sign another one-year contract with the Cavs — and do this all over again next season.
MAKEOVER ON WAY
No matter what happens with James, or Lue, or Love, the Cavaliers will march on. They will field a team next year. There will be pro basketball in Cleveland. That alone is always reason for celebration.
But there will be changes, likely major ones, even if James stays.
Team owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman have admired Boston in this series. The Celtics always play hard, play smart and really get after it on defense. They are a team that’s very in tune with their coach.
That is the type of unit the Cavs want to assemble. They know it will be easier if LeBron comes back. But they are prepared to build it the right way even if he departs.
Now, the Cavs could certainly win Sunday, delaying all these questions for another day. J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jeff Green or Kyle Korver could spring to life on the road. James could save the day. A fourth straight trip to the Finals could happen.
But if not, buckle up. The offseason will be here, and everything will start again for the Cavs.