Thoughts on the Minute Chance of LeBron's Return to Cleveland
I have a confession: I've gotten over “The Decision.” That’s not to say that I agreed with the way LeBron James went about his free agency in 2010 or that I wasn’t majorly pissed off when he decided to announce his free agency plans on TV or that I haven’t cheered against Miami every single year. It’s not to say that I didn’t want him to stay in Cleveland or that I didn’t feel like I had just been punched in the gut when he left or that I didn’t viciously boo the TV at the bar every time LeBron was on screen during the first post-LeBron Cavs vs. Heat matchup. When it comes down to it, LeBron left Cleveland for a better team in Miami in 2010 in order to win a title. If “The Decision” is the worst thing that LeBron James ever does throughout his career, then he’s ahead of the pack in terms of professional athlete role models. He’s never been involved in any off-the-court (or on-the-court for that matter) scuffles. He’s never entrenched himself in press conference wars with players trying to get under his skin (looking at you, Lance Stephenson). He’s worked hard and has said all the right things in terms of what it takes to be a champion throughout his entire career.
He’s refrained from outbursts and media silence all while being the target of more trolling and undue criticism than anyone that I’ve ever seen perform on the largest of stages. All the “he’s no MJ because of his 2-3 record in The Finals” talk is garbage. He may not be Michael Jordan, but it has NOTHING to do with his level of play in big games. Just look at these elimination game statistics! In 2007 when the Cavs lost to the Spurs, LeBron was a one-man show – no offense to Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes (or no offense from them...HEY-O!). He underwhelmed in the 2011 loss to the Mavericks only to win back-to-back Finals MVPs in 2012 and 2013. In this most recent NBA Finals, Miami as a whole looked overmatched. Chris Bosh disappeared at times, Dwyane Wade looked slow and broken, and the bench may have well not existed. LeBron, however, averaged 28.2 points 7.8 rebound and 4.0 assists per game in the finals. Technology has yet to advance to the point where one player can play all five positions on the court for 48 full minutes (pick up the slack, science!). The Heat looked awful in the Finals. In fact, the 2014 Heat had a worse showing in the finals than the 2007 Cavs! I don’t care how good MJ was; I doubt he would have won those finals in 2007 and 2014 with LeBron’s supporting cast.
Since that fateful night of July 8, 2010 I have always believed that LeBron would someday return to Cleveland, but not anytime soon. It would be more like a homecoming in the twilight of his career so he could retire a Cavalier rather than a man, I feel bad for what I did a couple years ago so let’s give this another try. In the scenario I pictured, he’d still be able to contribute to the team, but not in the dominant manner we’re used to seeing - more of a dropping the hammer down rather than throwing it. Some people believe (or at least suggest so there is something to debate for the next couple weeks) that LeBron’s return to Cleveland will happen sooner – this year or next year.
Now there are Cleveland fans out there who claim that they don’t want James back because of how he left us in 2010. Those people are what I call “liars.” We cheer for a city that hasn’t seen a championship since 1964. LeBron is the best basketball player in the world. We cheer for a football team whose owner may have knowingly screwed some smaller trucking companies out of millions of dollars. See above as to why LeBron is not a bad person, swallow your pride, and accept him lovingly with open arms if he should choose to come back.
Despite the debates, rumors, and child schooling decisions (“I’ve decided to let my children sharpen their talents in Bath Township”), I still don’t think it’s very likely that James returns to Cleveland this offseason. I’d put it at a 7.5% chance IF at least the following criteria are fulfilled:
- 1. Miami loses the 2014 NBA Finals (DONE!). Had Miami won, they could have had the opportunity to do what MJ and Kobe Bryant never accomplished – four-peat. There was no way the Big Three would break up with that on the line. Luckily, it’s a moot point. Bonus points: Not only did Miami lose, but they were thoroughly beaten by a vastly superior team. The Spurs provided a diagram for teams to follow if they don’t want to spend big bucks on star power (part of that diagram is masterful drafting which is much easier said than done). Not that the beating cheapens what Miami accomplished the previous years, but it highlighted significant flaws in their team. The way they are currently constructed is not a recipe for success. All of their money is tied up in James, Wade, and Bosh with very little left to bring in the kind of bench help they would need to compete. The Big Three and others on the team would all have to take significantly less money in order to fix this problem. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s highly unlikely that all parties leave millions on the table and that Miami gets significantly better. And no, adding Carmelo Anthony to the current Heat team does not make them better than the Spurs.
- 2. The Cavs trade for a proven All-Star caliber player like Kevin Love.
- 3. In trading for a Kevin Love-type player, the Cavs keep Kyrie Irving and the first overall pick in next week’s draft.
*These three points are the minimum that I see needing to happen to even have a slight chance to tempt Akron’s native son to return home. I’m sure the coaching staff and bench / role players will factor into LeBron’s Decision 2.0 as well as Gilbert and James burying any leftover hatchet from Gilbert's comic sans letter .
Those last two points will take some savvy, risky, and aggressive general managing. Can David “Gunslinger” Griffin (patent pending on the nickname) pull something like this off? While it may be difficult to get a player of Love’s caliber and keep the two most powerful assets the Cavs have, I don’t think it would be impossible. Cleveland has some young talent locked up for a few years and some extra future draft choices at their disposal. Love has said he does not intend to stay in Minnesota beyond this year which could take away some of the Wolves’ demanding power. A couple young players and a future first rounder for a rental may be too good for Minnesota to pass up…
But back to LeBron. When he left in 2010, he left for a team immediately poised to contend for a championship. Currently, there are other teams better poised for such a run than the Cavs. However, a team with Irving and Love along with the first overall pick in the draft offers immediate contention with long-term potential. Cleveland bias and hopeful thinking aside, a current Irving / Love / James Big Three would be more effective than a James / Bosh / Wade combo. Hitting a home run in the draft could make that a Big Four in the coming years. (I would also hope that this talent and core would be enough to convince Love to remain on the Cavs in this wildly entertaining so probably completely false scenario).
I say again, I don’t think what I described above is very likely. Miami has the inside track at keeping LeBron’s talents down south and Houston is probably going to make a strong push with an already solid team. My other dark horse team I’m watching is the LA Clippers. While it will all depend on the swiftness of Sterling’s ousting and the removal of his fingerprints from the franchise, they have a great coach in Doc Rivers, a great friend of LeBron and Point Guard in Chris Paul, and a great Kia salesman / creationist(?) / high-flyer in Blake Griffin. However, an earlier-than-expected Cleveland homecoming is not completely out of the question.
It’s time that fans forgive a poorly thought-out and isolated act of an otherwise admirable human being. With an aggressive team-building strategy and maybe a little help from Don Draper, there is a small chance that fans may have to do just that.