There’s a LeBron James-shaped cloud hovering ominously over the Cleveland Cavaliers as they attempt to make another deep postseason run. If it wasn’t apparent heading into the playoffs, it sure as hell is now.
The Cavs are down 0-1 in their opening series with the Indiana Pacers. Should they lose again tonight, they’ll be heading to Indianapolis facing a hole potentially too deep to crawl out of.
The concern about this is significantly exacerbated by the fact this could be James’ final season in Cleveland. As a result, what should be a seen as nothing more than one loss the team can easily overcome is causing a panic within the fan-base nobody expected to endure this early in the postseason.
This is the kind of effect the potential departure of James can have on this team, this city. No matter what happens in this series, his upcoming decision is going to have a heavy impact on everything involved with the Cavs throughout the playoffs.
If you need proof of this, just check the pulse of the Cleveland fan-base now compared to how it was before Game 1.
Heading into Sunday’s contest, everyone seemed to be looking further ahead, wondering how the Cavs would fare against the Toronto Raptors, whether the Eastern Conference Finals would be difficult, or even who the team would meet up with in the final round. While concern about James’ big decision was present, it was merely pushed into the background for the time being.
After Game 1, after witnessing the first threat of this team not being able to accomplish the feat of winning a championship, the mood changed. Callers to local radio have spent the past two days openly discussing where they think James will be playing next year, many under the assumption it won’t be in Cleveland. There was a notable pall on the air, as if losing one postseason game was a death knell to James’ latest tour with the Cavs.
Again, we’re talking about one loss. Yet it caused many to start wondering aloud as to whether or not we’re watching James’ final games in Cleveland.
Of course, the possibility of him leaving this summer is present regardless of how well the Cavs do this postseason. However, it becomes tougher to ignore any time Cleveland’s playoff hopes even slightly appear in doubt. It also forces fans and media pundits alike to drastically hyper-analyze every move made by those around James.
It makes coach Tyronn Lue‘s decisions more questionable. Everyone has been scrutinizing his rotations and game-plans based solely on one playoff contest. Panicked demands for changes in the starting lineups have been made throughout Cleveland, as suddenly everyone knows who should be playing and who should be benched.
James’ impending decision makes the lack of help he received in Game 1 more glaring, as well.
Jeff Green has been taking it in the teeth for missing every one of his shot attempts from Sunday’s contest. Equally under the microscope is Rodney Hood, who seemed overwhelmed by the playoff stage despite having eleven postseason games under his belt. Suddenly, we’re being greeted with a painfully familiar narrative of James simply not having enough help to get the job done in Cleveland.
Essentially, anything which can be seen as greasing the wheels for James’ departure is causing fans to hit the panic button. It’s far easier to disregard the possibility of losing the best player in the NBA when wins keep occurring. When the Cavs are coming up short, suddenly his free agency plans are thrust even further into the spotlight.
Make no mistake, the potential for James fleeing Cleveland again is very real. Barring a championship in June, you could argue the odds don’t favor the Cavs at all. It’s completely understandable for everyone to start panicking about it as we near the season’s finale.
That we’ve already inched a little closer to the finish line far earlier than planned has further highlighted how on edge everyone is about James’ plans. Should the Cavs suddenly find themselves on the brink of elimination, the fear of enduring another breakup will become all too real for Cleveland fans.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook