CLEVELAND: Eleven thoughts, for obvious reasons, following another stinging 107-97 loss to the New York Knicks on Z's big night...
1. Where to begin? I saw things tonight I never imagined, beginning with LeBron James walking back into Quicken Loans Arena. That in and of itself was quite startling given the circumstances. I laid out James’ impact on this night and his future in this Sunday column, so I’ll try not to rehash too much of it here.
2. But seeing James sitting on the Cavs’ bench during Z’s ceremony, chatting and laughing with former GM Chris Grant was startling. Grant was fired only a month ago, yet here he was again in the back hallways of Quicken Loans Arena chatting in a room with James, Danny Ferry and Jim Paxson. Never again will you see that.
3. James watched the game’s first half from a suite behind the Knicks’ bench, while his close friend Maverick Carter sat courtside. After the ceremony, he posed for pictures with Daniel Gibson, former assistant coach Melvin Hunt and Delonte West. Yes, Delonte West.
4. When he left the floor, James saw the “Access Cavaliers” crew backstage and started doing an interview near the Cavs banner – but the Cavs staff saw it and quickly shut it down. Under the circumstances, it was clearly the right call.
5. Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ ceremony was terrific. The 3-D projector used to turn the entire court into a movie screen was incredible to watch, although there are no plans to incorporate it into future intros. It’s simply not cost effective. Ilgauskas’ speech was precisely what you’d expect: genuine, straight from the heart and pure Z. He said he wrote it himself at his house. But the funniest part to me was nearly 20 years after drafting him, Wayne Embry still can’t pronounce his last name. Embry kept calling him “Ilgaukas” throughout his speech. Close enough.
6. By the way, there was a game tonight, a fairly important one. But the Cavs didn’t show up in the first half and didn’t really perform in the fourth quarter, either. They’re now tied with the Knicks for 10th place in the East, a game behind the Pistons and 3.5 games behind the Hawks, who can’t stop losing, either.
7. At this rate, 35 wins could get the eighth seed, but I still can’t find a way to get the Cavs to 35 wins. This weekend was another huge blown opportunity. They’ve played four games in March and lost them all, but the real March tests are still to come: three games on the West Coast next, followed by three home games against the Heat, Thunder and Rockets.
8. Even a 2-4 record in those six is probably a best-case scenario, which puts the Cavs at 26-44, meaning they’d have to go 9-3 the rest of the way. I just don’t see it. The night that changed everything for me was the Jan. 22 loss to the Bulls. Until then, I believed the Cavs could and would make the playoffs. But when they had Luol Deng and still lost to the Bulls, I walked out of the arena convinced this wasn’t a playoff team. Other than the win at Oklahoma City, I haven’t seen much to change my mind.
9. Trying to put a bow on this night is incredibly difficult, and I apologize if I let anyone down with Final Thoughts tonight. To be completely transparent, this has easily been the most difficult season for me to cover this team and the buildup to tonight was tough, too. Will LeBron return? Won’t he? Are the Cavs serious players for him in free agency either this summer or next? Do they have a legitimate chance? Why was Chris Grant fired? What role did he play in bringing LeBron back for this night?
10. Pick a number. I can talk to three, four, five or six people with intricate knowledge on those topics and get three, four, five or six versions of the same story – and none of them really match. So how do we find the truth? It’s very, very difficult. I’ve done my best for four years to seek the truth, write the truth and ignore the noise. I haven’t gotten them all right, but it’s not from a lack of trying or trying to stir up more noise or nonsense – there is enough of that in this industry already.
11. Finding the truth in this business is getting more and more difficult. Just remember that as we move forward into what is sure to be a wild summer. I’ll talk to you from Phoenix.