Just four years ago LeBron James made a decision that would alter the course of his basketball career and NBA history. Fleeing the city of Cleveland for the glamour of South Beach, as “King James” signed with the Miami Heat. LeBron joined forces with an already proven winner, a former NBA finals MVP in Dwayne Wade, and a perennial all-star in Chris Bosh. The trio, known as “The Big Three,” embarked on a quest for a championship. Meanwhile in Cleveland, fans were not moved by LeBron James, feeling that the former Cavaliers star should have returned. It is unclear whether James is seriously considering rejoining Cleveland but there are a multitude of reasons why this is more than likely a mere pipe dream for a Cavaliers fan. Although LeBron may be eying the dysfunctional Cavaliers as an option, he has a lot of scenarios that would appear to be more logical.
Four years later LeBron is back in the driver’s seat of another NBA shifting move. Various reports confirmed Tuesday that the four-time MVP will “opt out” of his contract with the Heat. Although the move is not a complete shock, it does raise speculation that James is considering “taking his talents” elsewhere. Realistically every team wishes to obtain LeBron. However few teams have the necessary resources.
One rumor that continues to perpetuate is that James plans to resign with the Cavaliers. James reached the NBA finals in 2007 with his original team, but repeatedly came up short of an NBA title in subsequent years. With only a timid Mo Williams, and later an already aging Antawn Jamison as scoring help from his from his front office, LeBron felt compelled to team with other stars to cement his legacy. After four straight finals appearances with the Heat and two championships, it is difficult for one to believe LeBron is planning on leaving Miami to rebuild. Some analysts believe the versatile forward feels guilty for airing his 2010 LeBron James: The Decision special on ESPN. The nationally televised special in which James announced his move to sign with the Heat, quickly transformed him “from hometown hero to villain, not only in Cleveland but across the NBA.”
On paper the Cleveland Cavaliers team looks a lot better than it did when LeBron left. Former number one overall pick Kyrie Irving has become an all-star point guard, and won the all-star game MVP this season for the east. Dion Waiters is considered a young developing talent and “combo guard.” Pairing the two guards alongside James has the potential to be quite entertaining. With an all -star already in place for the Cavaliers, this may be a reason why LeBron would look to return to his former Cavaliers team.
However, entertaining and championship caliber chemistry are mutually exclusive terms. Irving is currently the Cavalier’s franchise player. His contract runs through this season and he will become a restricted free agent in 2015. Irving is eligible for a max offer this summer. However, there seems to be a conflict because the Cavaliers may be unwilling to offer the two time all-star a five year deal. Despite averaging over 20 points and 6 assists, the Cavaliers have heard many rumblings that Irving “wants out” of Cleveland. This uncertainty makes it easy for the Cavs front office to view “maxing out” Irving as an unwise investment. Five years and around $90 – $100 million is a heavy commitment for a 22 year-old player who still needs to “mature.”
Even more of a distraction for James may be a potential repeat of the Kevin Love crisis currently happening in Minnesota, possibly rearing its ugly head in Cleveland. Love was unhappy with not being offered a five-year max deal and is all but gone to free agency next summer. The Timberwolves are now in the precarious position of having to field low value trade offers for their best player, before he signs with a new team next season.
The Cavaliers have had an incredible amount of luck in the position in which they have drafted in the NBA draft. Thursday’s draft will net them their third number one pick in the last four seasons. With Joel Embiid’s questionable injury history, the franchise is likely to pick the superstar “upside” potential in Andrew Wiggins, or the more “NBA ready” player in Jabari Parker. A potential core of a developing Wiggins, who is a superb athlete, James, and a “gifted” scoring point guard in Irving are not a bad option for building a contender.
However, there are certainly teams with more talent and fully developed pieces that have means to attain James. The Houston Rockets can be in the running for LeBron. However it is no simple task to “unload” the $15 million “poison pill” salaries they back loaded on contracts to acquire Jeremy Lin and Omar Asik. The Rockets would still be able to keep all-stars James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the their talented wingman, Chandler Parsons, to compliment LeBron.
The Los Angeles Clippers can offer LeBron a chance to play with his close friend and the “godfather” of his son, Chris Paul. In addition to having what many league analysts view as the NBA’s “best point guard,” power forward Blake Griffin finished third behind James and Durant in MVP voting last year. Clippers head coach, Doc Rivers also reportedly has a very “close relationship” with James. There is a lot of mutual “respect” between Rivers and James, stemming from their habitual Celtics and Cavaliers playoff matches. The Clippers would need to make a trade or two to clear cap space but the moves can be certainly be made.
The Cleveland Cavaliers should not be so quick to question why, if Lebron James decides against a return. Not only does their back court of Irving and Waiters have major “locker room” drama, but reports have surfaced this summer that Waiters is likely the odd man out. The explosive guard does not offer the perimeter shooting or pick and roll skills to justify keeping him around. Since Irving is still the centerpiece of the team, Waiters is seen more as the Cavs “biggest trade chip”. Fellow lottery pick Tristan Thompson is also on the trading block. Adding in a rookie Euroleague import at head coach in David Blatt, and novice General Manager in David Griffin and there is a lot more ambiguity for James than anything else.
James may be disappointed with the Heat’s Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs. However, “exercising his early termination rights” may simply be a message to the team’s general manager, Pat Riley. The Heat’s lack of bench depth, and inconsistent supporting role players badly “exposed” the squad. Perhaps this is simply a case of a superstar urging his front office to get him adequate help. Dwayne Wade’s tender knees are not getting any better. Chris Bosh although highly skilled as a “stretch five” is better suited as a third option alongside LeBron than the secondary since the 6’11” big man tends live on the perimeter.
Nevertheless, the Heat have been in the Finals every season “The Big Three” has played together. It would be a complete mystery to understand why the 10 time all-star would want to abandon another chance at contention for a possible rebuild with the his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. King James left to be crowned and win now, leaving would require a destination that gives him the best chance to do so. When LeBron left Cleveland he put himself in the position to play for an immediate contender. He did not just leave for a glimmer into history or a hope for the future, which appears to be all the Cavaliers are offering him.
Commentary by Brandon Wright