By Rich Levine
BOSTON We always joked about what might happen in Cleveland if LeBron decided to split.
And on Tuesday night, those jokes played out on the parquet.
Basically, every potential consequence of LeBron taking his contraction talks to South Beach has turned into a reality. Throw in a couple of tough injuries and a head coach who doesnt exactly have the best track record in the motivation department, and youve got disaster.
The Cavaliers' 17-point loss to the Celtics was their 18th in a row, and their 28th in the last 29 games; yet another brutal showing in a season thats grown so ugly that even Popeye Jones is offended.
And its only natural for Celtics fans to get at least a little satisfaction out of that.
After all, over the last three years, theres been an unbelievable amount of anger and animosity built up towards the orange and yellow (or whichever of their million uniform combos theyre wearing on a given night).
In the 2008 playoffs, the Cavs took the Cs to the brink of elimination and would have ended their season if not for a legendary performance by Paul Pierce and the genius of PJ Brown. In the two seasons that followed, the Cavs won a combined 127 regular-season games (the Cs only won 112) and twice finished the as the Easts No. 1 seed. At one point, they beat Boston eight straight times at the Q.
And over that time, whether or not it ever played out that way, the Cavs always felt like the biggest threat to the Celtics Eastern Conference supremacy. Other than the Lakers, who only popped up twice a year anyway, Cleveland was the Celtics' biggest rival.
And then, with one pathetic playoff series, followed by one pathetic TV special, the Cavs were dead.
In an instant, they became the team we all casually joked they would.
Now, theyve just become a joke.
For years, the CavsCeltics games were two of the best three home games of the seasons. They were the games that always gave off the biggest playoff vibe. They were the games that felt like they actually had playoff implications; where if you had tickets there was always that moment when you thought: You know, I could probably sell these for A LOT of money right now. You never did. But you knew it was a big deal that you were going.
But that was then. Now, you might have trouble giving away those Cavs tickets. Now its the kind of game that the Cs use as a tune-up for their long-injured starting center, where you see Luke Harangody in the first quarter, where you watch without ever worrying about the outcome.
Now, the Cavs are . . .
I dont know, who the hell are they?
Christian Eyenga? Samardo Samuels? Who knew Manny Harris was actually in the NBA?
Theyre the worst team in basketball.
And while that might not all be about LeBron (theyd be a little better with a healthy Anderson Varejao and a less-scorned Mo Williams), it doesnt change the reality. In less than six months, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from a 66-win, Finals favorite to a team thats on pace for 16 wins and enough ping-pong balls to make Forrest Gump all tingly (although maybe not anymore since hes got to be in his late 60s).
The Cavs were maybe the sharpest thorn in the Celtics side. Now theyre a withered old toothpick. And that should be reason to celebrate in Boston. After all, we've celebrated every Cleveland loss for the last three years. It's only natural to see that uniform, fall back into that mode, and maybe have some fun with this runaway dumpsters of a season.
But on closer inspection: It's impossible.
With the Cavs, the animosity's gone. The hatred's all been transferred to Miami. There's nothing else left, and in the end, you just feel bad.
It's not like you want the Cavs contending every season, but nobody deserves to go down the way they have.
Its like, imagine if your worst enemy just some guy you really hate went on The Bachelorette. Except for this season, the twist is that the Bacherloette was the guy's actual wife.
It was him, a bunch of other single guys, and his wife.
Totally embarrassing, but this guy loved his wife THAT much. He was willing to do anything, just to get her back.
Now imagine he goes through the whole thing, all the ups and downs, and makes it to the Final 2. Then on the last show, the wifebachelorette invites his entire family to the set, kneels down before him on national TV, and picks the other dude.
Admit it, youd feel bad.
And if not then, youd definitely feel bad when you ran into the guy six months later and learned that since the divorce hed been fired for appearing on the show, gained 50 pounds and now spends his lunch at Centerfold's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
Now that's sad. Whoever it is.
And anyway, you start talking and realize that since his wife left, the guy's not even that big of a jerk. Turns out she was always the worst thing about him.