With home-court advantage on the line and the controversy over star players resting for key games boiling over, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers effectively made a mockery of the NBA this week, as LeBron sat out both of the Cavs’ final two games.
Mind you, the Cavs were neck and neck with the Boston Celtics in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Cavs basically told the world by choosing to rest LeBron that they were above competing for minor accomplishments such as that.
As a result, the Cavs lost in overtime at the Miami Heat and were beat handily at home to the Toronto Raptors to close out the season, a pathetic ending for the defending champions. Also as a result, the Cavaliers lost out on earning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, winding up two games behind the Celtics. One can’t help but wonder if Cleveland still feels that resting a 32-year-old still in his prime for two very important games was worth it.
LeBron has griped for the past few months now about how he feels like he’s being treated unfairly with regard to the resting controversy. But here’s the thing: no one has ever rested at such inopportune times as he has this season. From nationally televised Saturday night games to games against rivals to the two most important games of the regular season, LeBron has basically given a giant middle finger to the NBA by choosing to sit out at will.
When Popovich chose to rest Duncan and all of the other old Spurs players when they became long in the tooth, he chose smart times to do it. There’s a difference between a star player resting for a meaningful final game of the season and a star player resting for a random Tuesday night game in December against the Sacramento Kings. The latter was the type of game that Popovich utilized for opportune rest because he knew that the Spurs could still manage to beat the Kings in a game that nobody was watching anyway, even without the services of Tim Duncan.
The Cavaliers have cost themselves the best record in the lowly East by resting James, Irving and Love as much as they have this season. Honestly, with all of that talent and a weak field of conference opponents, it’s embarrassing that the Cavs finished 51-31 this season. Losing over 30 games and coming up short to a Celtics team that was supposed to be a few years away from competing for the one seed in the East is not ideal for Cleveland, and if the Cavaliers fall at all short of a third straight trip to the NBA Finals, LeBron will have to answer for it.
It’s really strange how LeBron has acted this season. As evinced by his public feuds with reporters, the commissioner, Cavs management and even LaVar Ball, LeBron has been testier than ever this season, and it doesn’t make any sense because this was supposed to be the year in which LeBron could chill. He accomplished his ultimate goal of bringing a championship home to Cleveland this past June, but one wouldn’t be able to tell it by his actions this season. LeBron has been a walking hypocrite. From denigrating the talent level of his own team to the media to publicly demanding that Cleveland management add another “fucking playmaker” to insisting on sitting out games over the course of the entire season, LeBron has been a source of derision like never before this year.
Considering that, as of now, LeBron’s legacy as a fan favorite is not exactly glowing, one would think that he would looking to better ingratiate himself to his haters in the latter portion of his career, but, instead, he seems to have no qualms about pissing people off like never before. When the face of the NBA takes a seat on the bench for the last two games of the regular season when his team is fighting for the top seed, that’s an awful look for both LeBron and the Association. Although the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate is overwrought, it’s worth posing the rhetorical question of whether or not Jordan would sit out games like James has done this season. The answer is obviously not in a million years.
This could all blow up in the Cavs’ faces if they were to bow out earlier than expected in the playoffs. It’s almost as if the general assumption that all basketball fans had coming into this season that the Cavaliers were far and away the best team in the East and certain to make it back to the NBA Finals went to Cleveland’s head. Sure, the first round is a cakewalk, but the Celtics, Raptors and Washington Wizards (all potential opponents of Cleveland in later rounds) are no schlubs.
Don’t be surprised if all of this rest and all of these off-court distractions work against the Cavaliers, causing them to choke in the Eastern Conference portion of the postseason. That would be karmic justice of the basketball variety, as LeBron’s dismissal of the importance of the regular season has been an insult to himself, his organization and the game of basketball. All in all, it’s been a downright disgrace.