Cleveland Cavaliers

Bean: Fact is, LeBron took escape route away from Boston

Bean: Fact is, LeBron took escape route away from Boston

Jayson Tatum's Game 7 dunk did not influence LeBron James' decision to leave the Eastern Conference, no matter how much I will continue to say it daily. 

The truth, as we've all realized, is that LeBron's mind was made up long before Tatum boomed him right in the face. 

But while it wasn't about that specific play, it kind of was about Tatum dunks. And Jaylen Brown dunks. And Al Horford dunks. And these heartbreakers:

For as much as we talk about the Celtics having a wide-open path to the NBA Finals now, the truth is they had that anyway if LeBron stayed with Cleveland. The ever-careful superstar had to know his options were to either stay in the East and get smoked by the Celtics or go out West and get smoked by the Warriors. If the results are the same, he might as well experience them in a nicer city. 

James' decision to go to the Lakers clearly wasn't about winning. If it were, he would have explored options like the Celtics, Rockets or taken the 76ers seriously.

His decision to leave the Cavaliers, however, had to at least be partially about winning. Just being home for Cleveland isn't enough; it was the fact that it could be a winner that got LeBron to return in the first place. With it no longer a title contender because of the Celtics' roster, staying in Cleveland was probably no longer worth it for James. 

What's interesting is that the Celtics knew it, too. Jaylen Brown's comments last week about wishing LeBron stayed in Cleveland were bang-on. Now that LeBron's gone, the Celtics' waltz to a Warriors matchup will be accompanied by talk from dumb people that they weren't able to do it when LeBron was in the conference. 

Here's why it's a smart move PR-wise on James' part: If LeBron stayed in the East and got beaten by the Celtics every year, people -- dumb people, but people nonetheless -- would talk about a torch being passed and how James was no longer dominant because he wasn't winning. 

The West presents a different narrative. Do you know what you're considered to be if you lose to the Warriors in the West? A victim. A victim of a super team and a victim of Kevin Durant's cowardice (the dumb people's words, not mine). 

So LeBron made an easy choice to leave Cleveland and the Celtics had to factor into it at least a little. If Kawhi Leonard eventually joins him, perhaps he can see the Celtics in the NBA Finals one of these years. That's a big "if" considering what we just saw Paul George do, but the fact of the matter is that LeBron's road to the finals was blocked whether he was in Cleveland or Los Angeles. 

Did LeBron run away from the Celtics? Not necessarily, but he clearly saw the effect the Celtics would have had on him if he stayed in Cleveland. It wasn't as pretty as L.A. 

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Jaylen Brown wanted LeBron to stay in the Eastern Conference

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Jaylen Brown wanted LeBron to stay in the Eastern Conference

You may be happy LeBron James moved West this offseason -- opening a clear path to the NBA Finals for the Celtics -- but Jaylen Brown isn't.

“To be honest, I wanted him to stay,” Brown said Thursday at a media availability in Las Vegas, as reported by Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal (subscription required). “I was kind of mad, I wanted to be the team to go through him.

"I feel like we could have had it last year, but we fell a little bit short. But I applaud someone doing what’s best for him. He did what’s best for him in that situation. I wanted him to stay in the East. I don’t like when people say, ‘Now that LeBron’s gone, y’all are the favorite.’ That irks me. A lot of us, we feel the same, because we feel that whether he was there or wasn’t there, we were coming out.”

Brown was also asked about restricted free agent Marcus Smart and the potential the Celtics will lose him.

"Marcus, what he brings to the table is second-to-none,” Brown said. “The analytics, all of that, throw that away. What Marcus adds to a team and a franchise, everybody knows. I think [Celtics basketball chief Danny Ainge] knows that. And I feel like something will come and the best situation will happen for both parties. But I would love to play this next year with Marcus Smart, and I feel like everybody feels the same way.”

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Report: LeBron questioned Kyrie over knee injury in 2015

Report: LeBron questioned Kyrie over knee injury in 2015

It seems like with each passing day, the LeBron James-Kyrie Irving relationship looks worse and worse.

Cleveland.com Cavaliers beat writer Joe Vardon went on 92.3 The Fan and revealed James and his advisors felt Irving was being “soft” by sitting out games in the 2015 NBA Playoffs with a knee injury.

“This annoyed LeBron and LeBron’s people to no end,” said Vardon. “They were calling him soft and questioning his toughness, and LeBron was doing it in comments to the media.”

Irving missed two games in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks, returned for the final two contests, and played most of game one of the NBA Finals before breaking his kneecap and missing the rest of the series.

This report comes just days after Vardon joined ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd on Howard Beck’s podcast, “The Full 48,” where the three beat writers revealed stories of James and Irving having previously unknown issues in Cleveland.

Irving was sent to the Celtics following the 2016-17 season after requesting a trade and missed the final 34 games, including playoffs, of Boston’s 2017-18 season due to knee surgery stemming from Irving’s broken kneecap in 2015.