LeBron James may make a decision sometime today about where he is going to play basketball next year. Yet could this decision be the final decision to close the books on James’ time with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Before free agency took a turn when Rich Paul took a meeting with the Cavs, many thought James would take a short term contract with the Heat while getting to see how the young Cavs develop. After all the hoopla is that even an option? Lets take a look at some factors:
We will get this one out of the way first. Yes Cleveland will be unhappy about him spurning them again. Yes fans will do some dumb things following this decision, even if he chooses to come back. The national media will say he made a wise choice, especially now that The Letter is back in the narrative. If he looks to return to Cleveland after leaving once and spurning them this year the national media will accept it and the local media will be excited about his possible return. The fans will feel jilted but winning tends to solve everything.
Yet the biggest issue for James then will be that he would be a mercenary. He would look like the Phil Jackson of players. Jackson always had a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, etc on his teams. His rings are still very impressive but he never was overly successful without the most dominate team. LeBron would look the same way. Went to Miami to play with the best team. Spurned the Cavs until Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett showed they could be stars and then returns to “take the team to the next level.” Mercenary narrative would be fully engaged.
Even more problematic for a James return would be the Cavs salary cap situation. This year they have the cap space to sign James and add a few pieces. Next year and the years that follow the cap doesn’t look as rosy. Next year Irving’s max extension kicks in taking up a huge amount of their cap. They will also need to work out an extension with Tristan Thompson if they want to keep him around. Dion Waiters will be due a deal a year later. They will also most likely use cap space on a free agent or two this summer if James doesn’t return. Trevor Ariza or Lance Stephenson from free agency or another player through trades could greatly impact any space to sign James. So while their is cap space now, there may not be later.
This is a two sided coin. If James isn’t willing to return now because of The Letter and Dan Gilbert why would he be willing to forgive him later. On the other hand why would the Cavs ever go down this road again. James will most likely take his time, as he has the right to do, if and when he is a free agent again. Doing so would put the Cavs in a lurch again. Already this off-season they lost out on the chance to sign Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parson because of their James pursuit. While nothing says they would of been able to sign those two there are consequences for waiting. If not now can either James or the Cavs allow this type of process again?
It is my opinion that whatever team James signs with this year is likely his team for the next 5 to 8 years. If he signs with the Heat the only return I see likely is very late in his career as he looks to try to ingratiate himself back to the Cleveland faithful. He has to know that today’s (hopefully) decision will decide his future for much longer then the contract will state.
What do you think if he signs with Miami today?