During the past week, we've seen Dwight Howard booed in Orlando, Carmelo Anthony jeered in Denver, Raymond Felton derided in Portland.
All as expected. In the NBA, you can't go home again.
LeBron James, of course, knows that as well as anyone, based on the vitriol he endured in his first game back in Cleveland on Dec. 2, 2010 after his July 2010 Big Three departure to the Heat from the Cavaliers.
Yet last season, when James made his third return, in the Heat's only visit to Quicken Loans Arena during the lockout-shortened schedule, the Akron native curiously said of possibly one day playing again for his close-to-hometown team, "I think it would be great. It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. . . . I don't rule that out in any sense. If I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me."
Wednesday night, we'll see, when the Heat make the first of two appearances this season in Cleveland.
Much has changed since that December 2010 antipathy. Foremost, with each passing day, James' 2014 opt-out draws closer. Plus, in the offseason, he moved from the powerful CAA agency that helped broker the Heat's Big Three revival to an agency opened by longtime friend Rich Paul -- Cleveland-based Rich Paul.
So what might Wednesday be like: Continued rage over a franchise devastated by "The Decision"? Or an embrace of what might one day be again?
For that we went to the sources, namely Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto and Cleveland ESPN Radio host Kenny Roda.
"Look," Pluto said this past week in a phone interview, "he's not going to get a standing ovation from anyone. But I think some people will be quiet or sort of warmly applauding. Of course, you always hear the nutcases, the loudest. But it won't be anything like the hostile thing the first time around."
Roda, also interviewed by phone this past week, largely agreed.
"It will not be like it was when the first time he came back, which was just pure hatred," he said. "With the potential of LeBron opting out of his contract in 2014 and him possibly coming back, I expect there to be a mixture of boos from the people who no matter what say, 'I don't want him back,' but there are others who I think have moved on and realized how good he is and that if he were added to this team as a free agent, he could maybe finish what he originally started."
That, of course, leads to the question of where those expectations stand, how reasonable they are about a return ticket from South Florida to Northeast Ohio.
"I'm actually trying to temper it," Pluto said, "just because, I want to know: Who had a clue, a year and a half before free agency, the last time? While some thought he would leave, who knew he'd go to Miami?
"And the last thing the franchise or the fans can do is sit there with your breath held and your fingers crossed and your eyes closed chanting LeBron's name."
For Roda, it means having to temper the volatility that is talk radio.
"There are a lot people who think it's a very good possibility and we have to remind them that the Cavs will not be the only team, if he does opt out, that will be going after him," he said. "But there's also a good chance that he doesn't return here to Cleveland, so the Cavaliers had better have a Plan B. Because the last time they didn't have a Plan B and they're still trying to dig out of it."
This past week, the message to Dwight, Carmelo and even Raymond Felton was clear, "Good riddance!" But Wednesday in Cleveland?
"I expect it to be a mixture of some boos," Roda said, "but more applause."
Yet another case of LeBron being able to change the game.
In the lane
THE RAY WAY: When the New England Patriots last week lost Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos in NFL free-agency, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers likened it to his team losing free-agent guard and franchise mainstay Ray Allen to the Heat last July. "We lost Ray, it feels like, the same way they lost Wes," Rivers told reporters before Wednesday's victory over the Toronto Raptors. "You wanted him and you did everything you could, and somehow they go somewhere else. Just like we wanted Ray to stay, I know they wanted Wes to stay." Monday marks Allen's second visit back to TD Garden since leaving. "It just sometimes doesn't work out," Rivers continued. "There's too many other people involved. Once you get into free agency, a lot of other people get involved with decision making that are outside of winning and losing. It makes it tough." Actually, in Allen's case, it was opting for winning over significantly more money, unlike Welker, who opted for more than the Patriots offered.
SOONER RATHER: Rivers then went on his radio show on Boston's WEEI and made a case for the advantages of facing the Heat sooner rather than later in the playoffs. The Celtics fell to the Heat 4-3 in last season's Eastern Conference finals. "You don't want them for the first round, obviously," Rivers said. "But Kevin (Garnett), Paul (Pierce), JET (Jason Terry) will be fresher in the second round than the third round, so you can look at it either way." The Celtics could face the Heat as early as the first round as the No. 8 seed in the East, or in the second round if they open as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Either way, Rivers is duly impressed. "I think people forget the year after we won (the 2008 NBA championship), we won 18 in a row, before Kevin went down. We were on that same kind of roll, as well. I understand it. It's hard to do. It really is hard to do."
EYE TEST: The worst address these days? That would be No. 8 in the East, as first-round fodder for the Heat. "Oh yeah, I'm looking at the standings," Hawks center Al Horford was candid enough to offer up to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I'm looking at them every day. I'm very aware of what is going on. . . . We are aware. Even if guys say they are not looking, that's not true. We are aware. We are looking." The Hawks went 0-4 against the Heat this season.
KNIGHT SHIFT: A week ago, we questioned Brandon Knight's future as an undersized shooting guard alongside Jose Calderon with the Detroit Pistons. But after he stood in against DeAndre Jordan's dunk for the ages last Sunday, we'll never doubt his courage. "When I step on the court, I don't take people dunking six, seven or eight times and not attempting to stop it. It's personal to me," Knight told the Detroit News the next night. "Where I'm from and where I grew up, you just don't let that happen." He's from Fort Lauderdale, a product of Pine Crest. "For me, you're gonna get dunked on. . . . I've worked too hard to have my confidence broken over one play."
THE NUMBER'S GAME
Heat home record (.822 winning percentage) since start of Big Three era in 2010-11. The Heat are on a 15-game home winning streak, with the home schedule resuming Friday against the Pistons.
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