When the Boston Celtics crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers, 120-88, to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-7 NBA playoff series, it meant more than a blowout loss for Cleveland. It may have been the last home game for LeBron James as a Cavalier.
The NBA's biggest star becomes a free agent on July 1, and speculation has raged that James would leave Cleveland if he didn't win a championship this season. With the Cavs one loss away from facing that reality, sports columnists have launched a fierce debate over whether the LeBron era in Cleveland is over and how much blame he deserves for the Cavs' Game 5 failure.
- Moment of Truth "Stop strutting, stop preening, stop stomping away as an ungracious winner, a sore loser, and win something, LeBron. Win something now," snaps Yahoo! Sports's Adrian Wojnarowski, who savages the two-time reigning Most Valuable Player for his no-show performance in Game 5 and says Game 6 is the defining moment in his career to date. "LeBron James is on the clock now, and Game 6 in Boston could be for his legacy in Cleveland. He has been prancing around the edges for too long now, angling for a transcendent existence he believed his brand could bring him. Only, it’s all a mirage. It’s all vapor until he does the heavy lifting that comes now."
- No Eulogies Just Yet Fanhouse's Tom Ziller offers a counterpoint to Wojnarowski and the masses calling out LeBron. "This type of near-universal mourning would be appropriate if the Cavs had lost the series and LeBron shrugged it off," he argues. "But the series isn't over, not by a long shot. And should Cleveland bounce back and take the series, the caterwauling filling today's airspace will either be forgotten or laughed at."
- 'Where Will LeBron Go?' asks AOL News's Paul Wachter. After dismissing LeBron's Cleveland legacy as "nothing to brag about," Wachter focuses on his most likely destination: New York. "Along with Los Angeles, it's the sport's biggest market, and James has entrepreneurial ambitions that go beyond the basketball court," he notes. "What's more, the chronically poorly run Knicks have cleared enough cap space to land not only James, but also another first-tier player -- perhaps Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, other free agents that have been cagey about their plans this summer."
- Cleveland's Worst Nightmare In a more nuanced look at the situation, ESPN's Bill Simmons explains why losing to the Celtics would be the nightmare scenario for the Cavaliers:
See, there was only one way LeBron was leaving Cleveland this summer: if the team fell apart so badly and indefensibly before the Finals that he could get talked into a "You just need a fresh start with a new team" case. He couldn't leave if they lost in the Finals to Kobe's Lakers; he'd look like a coward. He couldn't leave if they won the title; no great player leaves a defending champ at the altar -- it's never happened before. But if it plays out like this? He could leave. Absolutely. It's conceivable.