The Return of the King: LeBron Heads To The Cleveland Cavaliers

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Four years ago unrestricted free agent LeBron James sat with freelance sportscaster Jim Gray for the The Decision, a grueling 75-minute-long special aired live on ESPN, in which LeBron revealed the team he’d be playing for in the coming season.

That night on July 8, 2010, more people watched James announce that he would “take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat” than anything else running concurrently on cable television.

The broadcast reportedly raised $6 million for charity, but that got lost in the uproar over what was seen as a tortuous and cruel way of breaking the disappointing news to fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers. James grew up in nearby Akron, Ohio, and had been a member of the Cavs from 2003 to 2010. Many argued that although James had a right to move on—to chase the championship he so desperately craved—the delivery was all wrong.

The Decision would—fairly or unfairly—tarnish James’ reputation for the next few seasons.

Fast forward four years, two MVP awards and two championships later. James has once again made a momentous decision that has dramatically altered the NBA landscape. On July 11, with the assistance of Lee Jenkins, James announced in Sports Illustrated that he would be returning to Cleveland—taking his talents back to the south shore of Lake Erie.

 

Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr/Creative Commons


James signed a two-year, $42 million deal with Cavaliers. It’s likely that James will extend that deal after 2016, when the NBA’s new television deal kicks in and the salary cap increases.

Just a few weeks previous, the NBA world was set afire by news of James’ decision to opt out of the final two years of his contract with Miami. Many believed that James’ decision was made to give Heat president Pat Riley a chance to re-tool the Heat’s roster and give their star man more support on the court—in the recent NBA Finals James, for the most part, was left to battle the Spurs on his own.

But as the days wore on, rumours began swirling that James was, in fact, open to the possibility of moving on, regardless of what Riley managed to do with the Heat’s roster. Rumblings were also heard that James was open to the idea of returning to Cleveland—to right the wrongs of 2010, and to bring a championship to an economically-battered city in need of a sporting success story.

 

Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr/Creative Commons


The major barrier to LeBron returning to Cleveland was, of course, his relationship, or rather non-relationship, with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert infamously published a vitriolic letter addressed to Cavs fans—but clearly aimed at James—after LeBron’s decision to move to Miami. The letter referred to James’ decision to move on as a “cowardly betrayal.” It also guaranteed that the Cavaliers would win a championship before the “self-titled former ‘king’ wins one.”

Gilbert has since said that he let his emotions get the better of him and wholeheartedly regrets writing the letter. But James took his stinging words to heart and hadn’t spoken to Gilbert in four years. When Rich Paul, LeBron’s agent, let the Cavaliers know that his client was interested in returning home, Gilbert flew to Miami on his private plane to meet man-to-man and make amends.

James and Gilbert reportedly met for four hours and both admitted to wishing they had done things differently four years ago. The acrimony was put behind them, and LeBron made up his mind; the King would return home to the place of his birth, to the place he had spent the last four summers.

This time there was no fanfare, no ESPN special—just a well-written, heartfelt essay in Sports Illustrated speaking of James’ desire to bring a championship to North-Eastern Ohio.

 

Photo: Local 10 News, Miami


LeBron’s decision to return to the Cavaliers has major ramifications across the league. The team that he left behind, the Miami Heat—a team that have made the NBA Finals for the past four seasons—are quite clearly no longer the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Chris Bosh, somewhat surprisingly, given the fact that it was rumoured he’d accept the Houston Rockets’ offer of a max deal if LeBron moved on, signed a five-year max with the Heat. With Bosh on the team, Dwyane Wade’s certain to re-sign. With the newly-acquired Luol Deng, the Heat still have the makings of a team that will go for a high playoff seed. But they are no longer the cream of the crop. Their engine is no longer there.

LeBron’s new team—or his new-old team—the Cavaliers, are now a serious threat to come out of the East. It’s no slam dunk, however. James undoubtedly joins a team rich on young talent, which includes the likes of the newly-signed Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins. But this is a team that struggled immensely last season, and one which had major chemistry issues—Irving clearly wasn’t happy, and he and Waiters reportedly feuded incessantly.

But James’ decision to return to Cleveland has opened up a new wrinkle.

Kevin Love, who’s set to become a free agent after the coming season and wants out of Minnesota as soon as possible, is said to be very interested in joining the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers had put themselves in the hunt for Love’s signature previously, but the league’s best power forward had no interest in signing an extension in Cleveland past 2015. Things have now changed. With James on board, Love would surely sign a longterm deal in Cleveland.

 

A Cavaliers team built around Irving, James and Love would be favourites to reach the NBA Finals and could possibly win it all, depending on the role players the team is able to acquire. But to acquire Love in the first place, the Cavs would certainly have to part ways with Andrew Wiggins, and possibly more. The Cavs have stated that they have no interest in including Wiggins in any deal for Love, but it seems very unlikely that the Timberwolves would trade their star man if the young Canadian isn’t part of the package.

The Cavaliers reluctance to part ways with Wiggins is understandable—in a few years he may be a better player than Love. Right now he isn’t, however, and if the Cavs want to win now and take advantage of James’ prime, trading Wiggins for Love seems like the sensible thing to do.

Whatever the front office decides to do going forward, these are the kind of decisions that the team and its fans are ecstatic to have to make. The Cavs lost the face of their franchise four years ago, and have wallowed in the lottery standings in each of the four seasons since. In the space of a few crazy days, the Cavs have gone from a laughingstock to a serious contender that millions of basketball fans will be watching next season.

The King has returned to Cleveland, and he has brought hope.
 
 
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