The Return of the King: LeBron James ponders a return to Cleveland

Ontario

LeBron James

Let the name roll through your head, and say it out loud a couple of times.

Now count the emotions that you feel.

You hate him. That’s probably the first thing that comes to the forefront. The hometown kid (from Akron) left, and did so in such an egregious way, that you never wanted to see him again. Then that production in Miami the next night, covered in all its glory by ESPN. Ugh. You hate him.

You love him. LeBron brought glory to the Cleveland Cavaliers that had never been reached prior, or since. He was a boy-king who was drafted by the team close to home, and in seven years, was the best player in basketball…right here in Cleveland.

LeBron James is the enigma.

LeBron James is the best player to play in Cleveland, and left.

Now…

…he may come home.

Today I find myself staring directly at 1 Center St., Cleveland, OH, as the Cleveland Cavaliers get ready to either announce the signing of LeBron James as their newest free agent signee, or get ready to spin the PR machine to focus the city on their new star, Andrew Wiggins, and their newly signed, post-LeBron all-star, Kyrie Irving. What will happen is anyone’s guess, but the NBA machinations has paused and taken a big breath…

LeBron is meeting with Pat Riley today…and after…will likely leak out which team he will take his talents to in 2014-2015.

Will he return to the Heat, for which he left the Cavs and played in four NBA finals, two of which he won?

Will he return to the Cavs, for which he took to one NBA finals, and left looking for more?

As Brian Windhorst stated yesterday on ESPN, while there’s much bluster from many local and national media, noone really knows what LeBron is going to do.

Take the percentages and throw them out.

Take the announcements and light them on fire.

There’s only one person who knows what LeBron James is going to do next…and that’s LeBron James.

Let’s take a look at the signs…while we wait on the NBA’s best player to make his decision…again…

The Rosters

It’s just common sense that LeBron James is coming back to the Cleveland Cavaliers…right?

If you look at the Cleveland Cavaliers roster right now, and compare it to the Miami Heat. The Cavaliers have a two-time all-star, and reigning All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving. He’s also won a three-point contest, just in case you forgot. They just drafted Andrew Wiggins, who everyone is comparing to everyone, but who I see as a Scottie Pippen-type. Past those two, the Cavs have solid players in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett, who is as fit as a player could be right now. They also have the potential for three first round picks NEXT year, they will have cap space NEXT YEAR, and they’ll have flexibility for the next two or three years.

That’s if they don’t make any trades…for any stars…which is being speculated.

The Heat roster is vastly different. The only salaries currently on the books are Norris Cole and his $2 million, and Justin Hamilton. The Heat just signed stretch-four Josh McRoberts, and swingman Danny Granger. Should LeBron return, they’ll also sign Dwyane Wade (who they’ll sign anyways) and Chris Bosh. You could also count Ray Allen into the equation, who I think will sign wherever James does, and will likely take as minimum a deal as it would take at this point.

Oh, and there’s that Shabazz Napier fellow, that LeBron loves, and that Miami made a point to draft.

Look, the Heat roster isn’t as bad as many LeBron-to-Cavs homers are making it out to be, but the Cavs roster and maybe more importantly, their roster flexibility, certainly will be more enticing to James heading forward.

The Promise & The Legacy

1You also have to take into account what happened four-years ago, after James made his “decision.”

He didn’t expect the Cleveland backlash. It was obvious.

When James walked off the court after they lost to the Celtics in the 2010 NBA playoffs, he had ripped off his jersey, a sign to many that he was leaving. The decision sent the Cavs and their fans reeling in a manner never seen before. LeBron cares about his legacy, and while the rest of the country was pretty okay with his journey to South Beach, he still has that 2010 blemish on the docket.

Let’s not forget, that in a TV interview, LeBron promised to win a title in Cleveland. Pro athletes say dumb things all the time. I know that. You know that. LeBron knows that. What did he say? “I got a goal, and it’s a huge goal, and that’s to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland, and I won’t stop until I get it.”

But don’t you think that’s in the back of his head? Don’t you think he ponders his legacy…and sees the story that would be created should the Cavaliers reign supreme?

I’m not a sentimental guy, but there’s no way he doesn’t see the closure that this could bring. It’s probably a small part of Decision 2, but it’s there.

Tyronn Lue

1Let’s start with the Cavs and their hunt for a head coach. Tyronn was a top candidate from the start, and while he’s an up-and-coming coach, it was hard to see what he brought to the table that was different than Byron Scott or Mike Brown.

Of course, Lue and James are good friends.

According to a newspaper in Omaha, NE, James and Lue became friends throughout Lue’s playing days. He’s always been a popular player among teammates, and was known as an excessively smart player, who got the most of his teammates.

In 2007, the University of Nebraska organized a fund-raiser for alumni, including Lue. It coincided with the Cavs playing in the finals against the Spurs, and Lue didn’t want to miss his friend’s first trip to NBA’s pinnacle. James booked a private plane for Lue, who was then able to fly to game 3, then to Lincoln for the event, and then back to Cleveland for game 4. According to the article, Lue’s mansion in Las Vegas is a hangout for James.

Hmmmm…where is LeBron today?

I’d heard Chris Broussard mumbling about the relationship between the two players, but until I saw that article, I didn’t realize how close they actually were.

David Griffin wanted David Blatt, that was clear, but the Cavs and Dan Gilbert made a gaudy offer for Lue as well. He’s now one of the highest paid assistants in the NBA, and while he will assuredly help out Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins going forward, there was clearly another message being sent from Gilbert to LeBron.

The Wife and Kids

1LeBron was married last offseason, and it’s been reported that his wife wants to return home. Now, I don’t know that I would have bought that kind of second-hand reporting…until I saw the report that his kids Bryce Maximus and LeBron Jr. would be returning home to attend school in Akron, so that they could ultimately attend St. Vincent St. Mary’s. When his wife followed up with a “Home Sweet Home” post and a picture of Akron, I started to lend some credence, even though his wife later backed off, talking about their summer return, as opposed to a full-time return.

I don’t buy it.

I think it was something more.

There is a lot of other circumstantial evidence that would suggest that LeBron is, at the very least, thinking about a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I’ll get to all of that, but not before I address the elephant in the room.

Dan Gilbert & the Comic Sans letter

Gilbert absolutely destroyed LeBron James after he left in 2010 with that famous comic sans letter. I’m not going to get into the semantics of it other than to say that clearly, Gilbert and James weren’t pals after that day.

That has to be fixed before LeBron would ever return.

I believe that it has.

Let’s start with the Zydrunas Ilgauskas weekend, in which Big Z saw his number retired, and invited all of his friends to attend. One of those friends was LeBron James. Gilbert and the Cavs were careful to schedule his night on a night in which the Miami Heat were off so that James could attend. James was welcomed with open arms, and while Gilbert likely didn’t meet with James for any reason then…for the simple fear of tampering, the Cavs were able to showcase to LeBron that bygones were bygones.

1There was LeBron in a private box. There was LeBron posting instagrams of his Cavs days with Zydrunas, including that famous shot hugging Big Z. There was LeBron, staying in the background, respecting his friend.

It’s hard to believe that didn’t touch a nerve for James, who clearly things about those things.

On top of that, the Cavaliers removed the Comic Sans letter in which all hard feelings were rooted in. It had been posted for four years, and disappeared this past Sunday. The Cavs stated that they were “just closing a loophole they didn’t know existed.”

This is my, staring at the screen, with a ‘yeah, right’ look on my face.

That’s garbage, and you and I know that.

Now past all of that, have Gilbert and James met? That’s hard to say, but I have to believe that over the span of the past couple of weeks the two have, at the very least, had channels talk. We already know that the Cavs pitched LeBron James agent Rich Paul, but there’s no doubt that Gilbert and James have met in some form or fashion.

There was the wonder of the “Gilbert Plane 2014” excursion, in which Gilbert’s plane headed to South Beach with Gilbert Zydrunas Ilgauskas who freakin’ knows. There likely was something to that flight, but I don’t have the patience or the wherewithal to root through the internet to try and figure that out. It really got to the point to ridiculous. I’m on vacation in Florida as we speak, and when I tweeted that out, I received multiple private messages asking me if I knew of LeBron-Cavs information.

I’m just IN Florida.

It’s a big state.

But I digress…

The plane supposedly went to Fort Lauderdale, and then back to Michigan. I don’t know what any of that means, but it happened, and I saw it on twitter, and others actually tracked the plane (which was creepy), and I’m not talking about it (creepy too).

Kenny Roda posted a tweet stating that Gilbert and James have mended fences, and while I’m sure that the specifics of that are vague, I would be willing to bet that it’s true.

Nike

1LeBron James had several meetings in Las Vegas, but I also need to interject that Dwyane Wade has been with LeBron for much of his trip to Vegas. They have worked out together, and they have eaten dinner together. All of this has been reported on twitter, so take that for what it’s worth, but it was confirmed by a reporter, as well as the owner of the restaurant.

With that said…

LeBron had three hours of meetings yesterday, and I believe those meetings were mostly with Nike. Through that, there has been speculation that Nike has purchased billboards throughout Cleveland announcing LeBron’s return (I don’t buy it), and that they were showcasing all of his new gear, which is centered around a wine and gold theme.

I didn’t buy any of that either, until I saw a picture of the Nike banquet that was held in Las Vegas, until I saw the picture, which you are looking at right now. I know that you can argue semantics with regards to nightclub colors, but…that certainly looks like wine & gold, does it not?

Okay, I know what you are thinking: “So what, it’s Nike, and they might like those colors for this banquet. It has nothing to do with LeBron James, and just with trendy Nike and cool colors.”

Yeah?

Not sure about the colors?

Check out the basketball on the table. LeBron James.

Connect or don’t connect…but I just did.

Again, this is circumstantial, but it sure does feel important.

Friends

New Jersey Nets v Cleveland CavaliersLeBron James has a lot of people that he considers friends, and they are important to him. James will do anything with his friends, and while the picture to the right isn’t anything I’d like to see in Cleveland any time soon, he used to showcase his “buddy-ness” on the court.

I don’t know that any of that matters, but friends have been popping up in this discussion all week long.

There’s LeBron relationship with Anderson Varejao, who is the last remaining Cavaliers’ player from the James days. Varejao and LeBron spoke in depth during Z’s number retirement ceremony, or at another point in the season. According to Andy, LeBron stated that they would “talk about that later.”

Now, I don’t have an instagram account, and I don’t know how to root around an instagram account, but rumors were abound that LeBron followed Anderson Varejao’s Instagram account the day that he opted out of his Miami contract.

I’m not going to lie, but that sounds ridiculous saying it out loud. Still, it’s there, and I suppose you can look into that all you want.

Boobie Gibson has also been tweeting Cavs pics of LeBron, saying thanks, and while I don’t think there’s much connection there (unless he’s hoping for a job), it doesn’t hurt.

You can’d discount his friendships with Bosh and especially Wade though, and the fact that Wade is essentially with LeBron right now can’t be overlooked. Of course, I’ve seen a million interviews in which Wade has stated that he’s support LeBron in any way, and I do believe that…and will believe it more once this Riley pitch is over.

Wade’s career is winding down, and who knows what part he’ll play in all of this going forward.

The Reality

It’s down to Miami and Cleveland.

If he stays in Miami, nothing changes for LeBron other than his family will likely be in Akron during the season while going to school. I’m sure that’s a big deal, but not as big a deal as one would make it out to be. There are these things called computers and airplanes, and while that isn’t as good as living at home with your family, it can work. That may be a big deal, but I don’t know that it’s as big as you would think.

If he goes back to Cleveland, he goes back to his old team. People keep talking about LeBron the mercenary, but if he stays or returns, he just won’t be looked at in that manner…by most people.

1Who is favored here?

I still say Miami on paper.

You can talk roster.

You can talk money.

You can talk about whatever you want, but Pat Riley and the Miami Mafia have a proven track record of winning. They’ve been in the league since 1988, and in 26 seasons, they’ve made the playoffs in 18 of those 26 years. Most of those years were under Riley, who coached the team from 1995-2003, then again from 2005-2008. He won a title there as a coach in 2006 before LeBron, then assembled the team that LeBron currently plays on when he became the President.

There’s not a person in the NBA that players likely respect more, other than perhaps Phil Jackson.

LeBron will be meeting with Miami today, with Riley, Heat owner Micky Arison, coach Eric Spoelstra and Wade, and their presentation will likely be a good one.

But how good can it be?

What can Pat Riley really do while handcuffed to three big time stars that command multi-million dollar contracts? Will they be willing to take a similar hit as the New Jersey Nets, who reportedly will lose $144 million this year after paying nearly $100 million in luxury taxes.

That’s the question.

Nobody thought that Riley could put together “The Big 3.”

The Cavs just can’t match that.

Cleveland is already behind the eight-ball, since they can’t draw free agents like Miami can. Danny Ferry found that out when trying to draw players to Miami to play with LeBron during the original era. Chris Grant took his place, and couldn’t acquire players that fit, even though he acquired assets. Enter David Griffin, who is respected, but in his first year.

Ferry and Grant weren’t bad GM’s, but their tenures here have taken hits. Ferry, for not acquiring the right players, and Grant, for not acquiring the right players. Hmmmm….lol…

When you look at the coaches during LeBron’s tenure, that can certainly be questioned as well. Paul Silas was run out. Brendan Malone was a temp. Mike Brown did a great job, but that is certainly in question, as it appears as though LeBron perhaps compensated for massive offensive deficiencies.

Since LeBron left, Byron Scott was handed a mess, was fired for it, and Mike Brown returned.

Everything that Miami is, Cleveland is not…but…

David Griffin and David Blatt and Tyronn Lue.

This is a group that is universally respected, but of course, new.

Then there is Dan Gilbert.

Micky Arison has two billion more than Gilbert. Of course, when you are talking about $5.9 billion and $3.9 billion, you aren’t really talking about a big difference for an NBA owner.

Gilbert is many, many things, and if you talk to ten Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans, you’ll get ten different thoughts. Many love the letter he sent to LeBron, and many hate the letter. Many think he’s too hands on, and many thank the lucky stars that Cleveland has an owner that wants to be hands on.

He’s a Detroit guy, and some can’t get past the fact that he’s from Michigan.

Whatever.

Gilbert isn’t a guy that’s going to rank with Arison to LeBron, but Gilbert IS a guy that can make headway by reaching an understanding with James going forward.

Still, just in front office alone, Miami is more impressive than the Cavs.

Their promises for the future though simply can’t present a mountain climb.

They’ve reached their pinnacle.

Unless there is something there that I am missing.

Will Wade concede money and become the sixth man. Will Bosh be able to return to that player he was pre-Big 3? Can Miami really work their deals into something that can acquire youth? Can Riley SELL THIS?

Have the Cavs sold their wares, and did they have to do all that much selling? The Cavs have a roster that is on the upswing, and because of the way it’s set up, can add massive pieces with draft picks next year, and add a big contract the next two seasons.

They can sell a dynasty, if not this year, in the following years.

They don’t need Kevin Love, but they can get him. They don’t need Al Horford, but they can get him. You know what…if they wanted…they could add Carmelo, if they got creative.

But they don’t have to.

The Cavs have the pieces, right now, to be special…right now. The conservatives will say that it will take two or three years, but I don’t see it that way.

The Cavs can sell a dynasty. The question is, will LeBron believe it?

But…what if today’s meeting with Riley is to say, “I’m going to Cleveland?” What if LeBron James realized his mistakes in 2010, and isn’t going to let that happen again?

What if indeed.

LeBron James

1LeBron James isn’t 25 anymore.

The 30-year old LBJ is a superstar far beyond what he was four-years ago when he made the decision. In many ways, that fateful July 8th day began a journey in which the high school kid from Akron became the Greatest Player in the world. It hardened him. It made him push harder than he ever had before.

He had something to prove…and he did it.

What does LeBron James care about? We can all assume he cares about his legacy, as he’s said as much. We can all assume that he cares about his family, as he shows as much. We can all assume he cares about his home in Akron, as he lives as much. We can all assume that he cares about winning, because…well…he left.

But…

…what does he want today?

…what does he want for his future?

…what does he want his legacy to be?

Does he want to be the greatest of all time, and if he does, what are his measurements?

Does he want to live up to a quote from several years ago, and bring a title home to Cleveland? Would that legacy propel him more than two or three or four more titles anywhere would?

LeBron likes to mentor youngsters, and the Cavs provide that.

LeBron’s family will be in Akron.

LeBron DOES have unfinished business…

…but that’s what I want his legacy to be?

What does LeBron want?

We.

Are.

All.

Witnesses.

1

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