CLEVELAND -- This city's well-known icon, it's most recognized landmark, is gone and the mural that once hung as a proud homage to the local boy who revitalized a city, has been replaced with a modest banner of the skyline under words of pride that speak of the people and to one person:
OUR HOME SINCE 1866. OUR PRIDE FORVER.
Cleveland is still Cleveland without LeBron. The wind still blows off the Lake as if C.C. Sabathia (poor reference?) was throwing a fistful of nails at your face. The team is certainly in ruins, despite owner Dan Gilbert's defiant prediction that the Cavaliers will win a championship before LeBron James does in Miami. Now that the Celtics have traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, we'll give Mr. Gilbert the opportunity to reconsider that prediction.
The Cavs, once the marquee team of the NBA, are now the poster team for putting blind faith in a superstar that refused to sign an extension before he stepped into free agency. They are the reason why Carmelo Anthony is a Knick today rather than next season. While the Cavs endure Life After LeBron with record losing streaks, the Nuggets opened their Post-Melo Era with a resounding victory over the Celtics with the kind of team George Karl loves to coach: one without stars and egos that may rival his own.
Karl took his parting shot at Carmelo, for everyone to hear on TNT's national broadcast, needling the usual criticism of Anthony's game: defense and the desire to get the most out of his talents. "His defensive focus, his demand of himself, is what frustrated us more than anything," Karl said.
Melo smirked when we asked him about it and shook his head. "That's him," he said. "That's George Karl."
He went on to talk about all he accomplished in seven-and-a-half years in Denver, but really, Karl and the Nuggets are already in his rear view mirror. Anthony watched Thursday's game because there are people on that team he cares about. But does he wish things worked out differently? Not on your life.
The same goes for LeBron. Of course he regrets "The Decision." But he doesn't regret the decision. Walking down a slush-covered sidewalk to the Q this afternoon, with the bitter cold and the grey sky, it wasn't difficult to wonder why LeBron would prefer to take his talents, and his flip-flops, to South Beach. We can't wait to take them there, either. The flight is 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. By 11 a.m., we'll be in cargo shorts. By noon, toes will be touching sand.
It's not totally about quality of life. Denver is a great city. But it's not where Carmelo wanted to be anymore. And like LeBron, he was at a point in his career where he had a chance to control his destiny and he did just that. Kevin Garnett offered the warning last spring, when he expressed his regret in feeling too much loyalty with the Minnesota Timberwolves, a franchise that overspent its revenues to build a quality team around him but eventually couldn't keep it up. Suddenly the snow started collecting on the roof of the Target Center, when in years past it would melt from the heat generated inside.
The Q used to be one of the largest, loudest arenas in the league. Now it's cavernous, like the old Izod Center. LeBron left a huge vacancy not only in their lineup, but in the seats. Carmelo's departure, via trade, is merely a transition.
"I don't think it's anywhere compared to the Cleveland situation," Carmelo said. "Them guys have a nice team over there . . . I don't compare the two situations."
They aren't parallel, but they are related. LeBron's move motivated Denver -- and, perhaps, Utah -- to act now.
And the New Oleans Hornets, with Chris Paul already itching last summer, are next.