After all the dust had settled on the summer's free-agent bonanza, all the talk centered around the teams that had made major realigning moves on the open market — New York, Chicago and obviously Miami changed the courses of their franchises with big-time moves this July. But what about the losers? Amid all the great expectations for the teams that won, what does the future hold for the teams that lost? Who misses their departed superstar the most — Cleveland, Toronto or Phoenix?
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire were three of the biggest power brokers in the NBA this summer, holding the future of the league in their massive hands. And they steered the game in a new direction, building a superteam in South Beach and restoring hope in the Big Apple. But they left behind three devastated franchises.
Amare was the mighty force that empowered the Suns last season, taking them to 54 wins and a Western Conference finals. Steve Nash was the engineer of the offense, but it was Amare's offensive wizardry that drove the point home, scoring at will when his team needed him most.
Bosh, likewise, carried the Raptors offensively. Not just last season, but throughout the last seven. He leaves Toronto as the Raps' all-time leading scorer, having piled up 10,275 career points. He's the only player in the NBA the last five years to be top-10 in the league in both points and rebounds in back-to-back seasons. He piled up numbers like no one else that's ever played north of the border.
And then there's LeBron. King James was as close to royalty as Cleveland has ever seen. He didn't just carry that franchise in his seven seasons — he was the franchise. He carried the Cavs on his back to an NBA Finals. First he redefined basketball in Cleveland; then he redefined the league at large. By 24, he was the best in the game and it wasn't close. LeBron was Ohio born and bred, and he became a hero in his homeland. It was the perfect NBA success story.
Then it came crashing down for all three franchises.
The Suns will be OK, though. They've still got a solid nucleus intact — Nash, Jason Richardson and the newcomer Hedo Turkoglu will be enough to keep them afloat in the competitive West, although perhaps not a Finals contender.
The Raptors are in trouble without Bosh, but it was time for a change anyway. Rebuilding is in the cards in Toronto — that team needs new leadership, new cohesion and a newfound commitment to defense. They can move on without their old star.
As for the Cavs, they're left with nothing.
Their win totals over the last five years, with LeBron leading the way: 50, 50, 45, 66, 61. It's been five years since they've finished below second in the Central Division.
What can they expect without him? Thirty wins? Maybe less? Even beating out the Pistons to stave off last place will be a challenge. This is a team with no leadership — unless Anderson Varejao or Mo Williams wants to step up and wear the captain's hat — and no chance. Forget it. Stick a fork in the Cavs — they're done.
This is Cleveland, where owner Dan Gilbert was so distraught by LeBron's departure that he banged out an irrationally, almost maniacally bitter letter on "Decision" night, in Comic Sans no less, letting the world know how hard he had taken it.
This is Cleveland, where they burned James jerseys in the streets this summer.
This is Cleveland, and it's nothing without LeBron James.
NESN.com will analyze 25 key NBA questions this September.
Sept. 3: Are the Nets still the worst of the worst ?
Sept. 5: Who has the comeback of the year — Blake Griffin, Greg Oden or Andrew Bogut?
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