Don't blame Cavs for sitting LeBron

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Presumably, the NBA approves pre-season games in neutral site venues as a means to -- in the words of commissioner David Stern -- "expand the brand."

That is, to give fans who normally can't drive to games in Philadelphia or to Denver a chance to see the stars live.

But more and more, the NBA pre-season has turned into a fiasco, and the Raptors game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y. on Wednesday night was a perfect example.

The fans who bought tickets in Rochester wanted to see Cavs star LeBron James. But they didn't. Despite chants of "We want LeBron!," Cleveland coach Mike Brown nailed his James to the bench, even though he wasn't hurt.

Today, Brown and James are Public Enemies No.1 and No. 2 in western New York. And they shouldn't be.

The NBA should take the blame.

It's a given that head coaches will not play their star players in every pre-season game. The idea of pre-season is to give the organization an idea of what they have, and where everyone will eventually play. It used to be that the pre-season schedule in every professional sport was also about getting the players in top shape for the regular season. But no more. Players spend much of the off-season training hard and are generally close to game shape by the time the regular season begins. Given that, the last thing a coach wants is to burn out his best players before the regular season.

The NBA has to know this, and when they give the green light to back-to-back pre-season games for Cleveland (Tuesday in Cleveland and Wednesday in Rochester), they should know that LeBron James isn't going to play the second game.

COMMON SENSE

It's just common sense. Brown would be an idiot to play him.

It was the NBA, not the Cavaliers, who ripped off the fans in Rochester.

And Rochester fans weren't the only ones who had their faces rubbed into the mud by the NBA this season. James didn't play in Cleveland's 91-82 win over the Boston Celtics on Oct.13 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.

And on it goes. Fans in Cincinnati aren't NBA Crazy these days after the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets touched down for a pre-season game at U.S. Bank Arena on Wednesday night and Nuggets' star Carmelo Anthony didn't play.

Believe me, there are more examples.

The NBA has to stop approving pre-season games in neutral sites. If LeBron James doesn't play a pre-season game at home, it's not a big deal. The Quicken Loans Arena faithful get to see King James play 41 times a year.

But if the Cavs journey to Rochester and James doesn't play, understandably, there's a lot of unhappy people.

Neutral site games rarely seem to work out for anyone, especially for the fans. And its the fans the game is supposed to be about.

At least that's what the honchos at the NBA head office say.

Remember that public relations nightmare in St. John's, Nfld., three years ago?

The Raptors were scheduled to play the Cavaliers on Oct. 23, 2003 at Mile One Stadium in St. John's. But the game was cancelled just minutes before it was supposed to begin because of moisture on the court.

Raptors GM Glen Grunwald then grabbed a microphone and promised the disappointed fans at Mile One Arena that the Raptors would return within two years for another pre-season game. General Douglas MacArthur he is not. The Raptors still haven't returned, and may never.

The team, apparently, would like to, but a source with the organization said that it's very difficult to get another NBA team to agree to a game in far off St. John's.

In the name of expanding the brand, the NBA has lost fans all over middle America and small-town Canada.

It's time to get rid of neutral site games and if the NBA wants to make amends, offer every fan who attended the Raptors-Cavaliers game on Wednesday night their money back.


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