LeBron should be in, not Carter

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

LeBron is LeGone.

So is he still LeGitimate?

LeBron James widely is acclaimed as the best young player in the NBA, if not a lock to become the best player in league history, if you believe the hype of some prematurely excited publications.

But for all LeBron James has accomplished at the tender age of 20, for all the wealth and the highlights and the commercials of varying quality (those Sprite ads are horrible), he still has not made the playoffs.

The fate of James and his Cleveland Cavaliers was sealed last night when Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets erased a huge deficit and then held on to beat the Celtics 102-93 in Boston.

The Nets controlled their own fate with regard to the eighth and final playoff position in the East. So when the Nets won, the Cavs' 104-95 victory against the Raptors in the regular-season finale at the Air Canada Centre --which was in the books mere minutes before the Nets game ended -- was rendered meaningless.

James posted a triple-double, with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. But what do personal stats mean when your season has been terminated by a nose? Again?

The Cavs finished one game shy of the playoffs last season, when James was a rookie. This season the Cavs had the same record as the Nets, but lost out on a tiebreaker. What's next, a coin-toss? Pick a card, any card? The flexed arm hang?

The NBA cannot be happy about this turn of events. The anointed one missing the playoffs for the second year in a row was not in the divine plan, no matter who the Pope is.

True, there is a decent consolation prize for the suits in New York, since James' exclusion from the post-season party guaranteed the inclusion of a certain conveniently rejuvenated player who used to play for the Raptors and wears No. 15.

Carter can be dynamite, but LeBron is the league's future. The NBA has to find a way to rig things to get the next big thing into the playoffs, and soon.

Say what you want about the Raptors' ineptitude, but they never have had a season where they were supposed to be good but turned out bad. Normally, after another rocky campaign, you look at the roster, shake your head and say, "Well, that figures."

But the Cavs not only were supposed to be good this season, they actually were good for a long time. As late as Feb. 24, they were 10 games above .500. They were in contention to win the Central Division and, failing that, seemed a good bet to earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The rise of new and volatile Cavs owner Dan Gilbert destabilized the atmosphere in Cleveland. Coach Paul Silas was fired, replaced by original Raptors coach Brendan Malone. And general manager Jim Paxson's death warrant is awaiting Gilbert's signature.

What's more, guard Jeff McInnis became an increasingly destructive force as the season progressed. After playing only six minutes in the Cavs' game on Tuesday, he didn't make the trip to Toronto. He was listed as having something called "viral syndrome," which is suspicious, to say the least.

"I don't look at this season as being a frustrating season," said James, either exhibiting extreme patience or lying through his teeth..

But can you view this season as a successful season?

"Uh, I don't know," James said. "Our main goal during training camp was to get into the playoffs. I don't want to say (the season) was a failure, but it's something we have to think about."

Well, you might not want to say the season was a failure, LeBron, so we'll say if for you: From a team perspective, it was.

"I'm the leader of this team," James said. "If we didn't make the playoffs, that's on me."

LeBron is out. Vince is in.

The league has to deal with it. And so does Toronto.


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