The Miami Heat have made it to the Final Four of the NBA. LeBron James is 4 wins away from getting to the NBA Finals for the 4th time in a row since he arrived in Miami following the fateful decision to leave Cleveland. For years it has seemed like James has loomed over the Cleveland Cavaliers and all of their decisions. The Cavs have had 1 legitimate starting level small forward since James left, Luol Deng, and he was only on the Cavs for about half of last season. The Cavs have positioned their salary cap so that they could sign James to a max contract.
Many believe that the Cavs have had a plan all along to try to build a team that could bring James back. They got lucky to get to draft Kyrie Irving with a pick acquired along with the Baron Davis contract. They drafted Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller bypassing a number of possible small forwards along the way. Waiters was compared to a poor man’s Dwayne Wade, you know James’ teammate in Miami. Thompson was a defender, rebounder and energy guy similar to James favorite teammate in Cleveland, Anderson Varejao. Zeller was a open floor runner and pick and pop player who could develop into a partner for James similar to Zydrunas Ilgauskas and his shooting would open up the floor for James drives. Sergey Karasev and Anthony Bennett were to provide more shooting to space the floor and Carrick Felix provides the up tempo offensive player and hard nosed defender that could be a great bench player.
Yet for all the focus on how the Cavaliers have focused on James, is it possible that Cleveland looms over him? Is it possible that the idea of returning as the prodigal son, not because of ego but because of a feeling of responsibility, weighs heavy on James shoulders? The obvious narrative is “No. He only cares about himself.” Yet is that narrative only through the negative glasses of a scorned fan base? Does James feel the desire to finish what he started in Cleveland? Could it be that his decision has been eating at him for years and that has driven him to complete his goals in Miami so that he can return “home” and change that narrative?
Michael Rosenberg did a great piece on SI that brings up many points that could lead to the thought that for both James and Cleveland each other loom. The entire article is worth a read but the following two paragraphs end the story:
If James simply picks up his option, rather than sign an extension, that means he can be a free agent in 2015, and then he can pick up another option and be a free agent in 2016. That gives Cleveland at least one more year to create a team that can lure him back. It’s a long shot, certainly. But James would know who the coach is, and as bad as the Cavs look right now, fortunes can change fast in the NBA. What if Cleveland makes one or two good trades, hires the right coach, uses its lottery pick wisely and earns the No. 5 seed in the East next year? Wouldn’t that be enticing to James?
In order to do that, though, Cleveland needs to keep Irving, keep him happy and build a team around him that makes sense — and, just as importantly, keep cap space open for next summer, or the summer after that, which obviously would impede the rebuilding process. At some point, the Cavs probably need to move on and run the team without worrying about why James left or whether he will ever come back. But some relationships linger long after they end.
It is important to remember that James is a person. A person who has said that he plans to live in Akron when he retires. A person who is focused on the number of championships he can win. A person who has shown that he can be impacted by how people view him. A person who has grown both as a player and a human in the past 4 years. On the next page is a list of a few reasons James returning to the Cavs is a possibility in the next 2 to 3 years, and not just when he hits the twilight of his career as many have mentioned.