By Victor Milani
You might question why I feel I have knowledge of NBA basketball. Before politics and social media posts I worked with the Cavs as their team photographer and public relations during the “Miracle of Richfield “ years in the late 1970’s and 80’s. I photographed Austin Carr, Campy Russell, Bingo Smith, Jim Chones, Nate Thurmond and all the Cavs stars of that era. Forty years later I still had friendships with most of them. The head coach was Bill Fitch, who got the most out of his team as a cohesive unit. They had no superstars, just a collective group who knew their role.
The current Cavs have LeBron James, when healthy Kevin Love, and a bunch of pieces to a puzzle that never put it together as a cohesive unit. The mid-season trade that gutted half of the team was needed, but there was little time to mesh as a team. Actually, the Boston Celtics losing Kyrie Irving kept them out of the finals. The Cavs overachieved to get into the finals, riding the huge shoulders of James along the way. Overpriced and underperforming players such as Tristin Thompson and JR Smith forced Coach Ty Lue to play them regardless. As for Coach Lue, he had physical and emotional issues that even took him out of many games. To be honest, the Cavs performed better under his replacement, assistant coach Larry Drew, who the players seemed to respect and respond to more. Clarkson, Hill, Hood and Larry Nance were nice midseason additions, but didn’t have enough practice or game time to jell as a unit. There is talent there, but in need of an offseason and time to become a team. The defense was terrible most of the year, with no rim protection from their big men. Defense is the will and sacrifice to want to play it. The Cavs didn’t seem interested. Watching James go one on one, while others launch up three-pointers appeared to be the game plan.
The Cavs backed into the playoffs and barely got past the Pacers and Celtics. When it was time to play Golden State in the finals, there was little left in the tank. The terrible calls made by incompetent NBA referees in the first game took the steam out of their engines. James breaking his hand against a chalkboard allegedly in game one, made what he accomplished in the NBA finals that more admirable. No one will beat the Warriors for many years in the NBA finals. They are TOO GOOD!
LeBron James is now in yet another ”where do I play next year” courtship. When he returned home he promised an NBA title, which he accomplished. He now says his decision is based mainly on his family’s opinions, which I can respect. He has new homes in Los Angeles, possibly getting fellow free agent Paul George to follow him to LA. Playing for Lakers owner, and former NBA great Magic Johnson have to be attractive, as well as having business interests out west as well. His dislike for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert hasn’t waned over the years. They seem to tolerate each other for the common good.
I think unfortunately having said that, Cleveland might have seen the last of James in a Cavs uniform. Be it Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, San Antonio, they all appear to be better suited for James, going into his sixteenth year. I hope I am wrong, and he returns, but I was always taught it’s better to leave somewhere a year too early than a year too late. It could be a while before the Cavs see the NBA finals again without James. The Cavs sales team might have a hard time selling out the Q without James. Cavs fans were lucky to witness greatness.