As the Cavaliers try to avoid The Final Humiliation—losing Game 6 to Boston Thursday night in this series of alternating humiliations—there’s at least one reason for fans to be hopeful:
There have been no NBA games for LeBron James to watch on TV this week.
Everyone has a theory about why James has looked so lethargic and passive most of this series, especially during the 120-88 defrauding of fans who bought tickets expecting the Cavs to compete in a basketball game in Cleveland Tuesday night.
My theory is the King has checked out mentally because he’s convinced that pursuit of a crown this year and with this team is futile.
James has said it hundreds of times: his No. 1 goal is to win championships.
On off days of this series, he’s undoubtedly been watching the other series. And what has he seen?
All three series have been 4-0 sweeps.
As he's watched, James has to have been thinking, “These teams are playing out of their minds. There is no way we can beat any of them the way we’re playing.” This is only a short step away from, “So why even try?”
Losing in the second round is exactly the ethical "out" James needs to justify abandoning his home area and signing with another team.
Assuming, reasonably, that the Cavs lose Thursday, here’s the speech you’ll hear from him some time in July, when free agency begins:
"I love Akron, Cleveland, my teammates, and the fans. I gave everything I had to bring this town a championship. It just didn't work out.
"My first priority at this point in my career is the same as it always has been, to win a title. Looking at my options I just felt like this (fill in the name of the team he's signing with, probably Chicago or Miami) represented a better opportunity to do that.”
This isn’t to accuse James of intentionally tanking.
Or that he doesn’t want to win a title in Cleveland this year. He surely does.
But if he’s convinced it isn’t going to happen, it would only be natural for him to not want to prolong the agony. He may not be conscious of this. But I think he is, at least a little.
The only hope for Cavs fans is that with two days of relief from “sweeps” week on TV he’ll forget the pessimism and come out and play like he knows the Cavs can go all the way.
Like he used to play.
Like the team still can if he demonstrates belief.