The pressure's on LeBron. All over again, more than ever, maybe worse than ever, the pressure's on LeBron James to win and to win big and to win now. And then again next year. And the next.
And not the point.
The point is LeBron, as it always is. Everything that happens in the NBA comes back to LeBron. He's a one-man Butterfly Effect. You know the Butterfly Effect, right? It says that every action has a trickle-down effect. A butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, and hours later it causes a wave to roll ashore in New York.
In the NBA it's the LeBron Effect. Everything that happens, happens because of him. Free agency was at a standstill for several weeks? Everybody was waiting to see where LeBron would go. Carmelo re-signed with New York? Because he couldn't play with LeBron elsewhere. Chris Bosh stands up Houston? Because Miami had max money to offer, what with LeBron gone.
LeBron goes to Cleveland? All of a sudden, wonderful NBA veterans want to play there.
Kevin Love is traded to Cleveland? Because he wants to play with LeBron, and because LeBron wanted him, and so it happened. LeBron gets what he wants. He's the butterfly and the wave rolling ashore.
And now he's the guy with all the pressure, again, which is normal for him and yet somehow not what we thought he wanted. He went back to Cleveland for all sorts of reasons, personal and noble and wonderful reasons, but there was a niggling school of thought that he went back to Cleveland because he wanted the pressure off. That's how it was framed in some anti-LeBron circles, circles that will always exist because of the way he left Cleveland four years ago, and while I don't agree with those circles -- great as it was, Miami was clearly headed downhill and everyone knew it -- those circles exist.
So does, or did, the theory: LeBron went to Cleveland so he doesn't have to win an NBA title every year or be considered a failure. LeBron helped that theory along in his first-person essay at SI.com when he wrote: "I'm not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010."
LeBron also said, "My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
One trophy in Cleveland. One. That was how he framed his return home, and how he wanted us to frame it as well: Win one title in Cleveland, just one, and your return home was a success. And you know what? Given the roster he was joining, with Kyrie Irving and a whole bunch of young players, even young players as promising as Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins, that made sense.
One title? Sure. By the time Wiggins is ready to be a superstar in his own right, LeBron -- who turns 30 in December -- will be in his early 30s. The clock's ticking. One title in Cleveland, which has never won an NBA title and hasn't won a major team title in any sport in 50 years, since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964, seemed right. And fair.
Until now. Because now, LeBron has Kevin Love. He also has Kyrie Irving. He no longer has Wiggins, but he still has Waiters and Tristan Thompson and the right kind of role player at center in Anderson Varejao.
That's a core that is ready to compete for an NBA title right now, especially coming out of the East, where the Pacers just suffered the gruesome loss of Paul George and where the only other team that seems like a plausible competitor, the Bulls, has the question of Derrick Rose's long-term health. Does he look good now? Sure he does. With Derrick Rose, though, nothing is guaranteed.
With LeBron, pressure is guaranteed. We would have found a way to heap it on him even if the Kevin Love trade hadn't happened: LeBron, you've got Kyrie and Waiters, and besides you're LeBron -- go win a title like Michael Jordan did. But now we're going to heap it on him in a whole new way, like Miami all over again, only minus the cascade of hate.
The hate's not completely gone. There are people who will always hold The (2010) Decision against LeBron, but the torrent of abuse he suffered his first few seasons in Miami, a torrent he has said took him by surprise, won't happen anymore. Most people seem to like what he did when he went back to Cleveland, went home, even managed to do it without a prime-time special.
The overwhelming hatred is gone, but the overwhelming pressure is back. And LeBron did this to himself, even after saying in his SI.com essay that he doesn't expect to win now, that "my patience will get tested. I know that. I'm going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head."
All of that was true before the Love trade, and it's true now. But still, even with a young team and a new coach, the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2014-15 have to reach the NBA Finals. That's a minimum in the East. And once they're in the Finals, well, LeBron's the best player on the planet. Shouldn't he find a way to get it done?
That's what we're going to say now that he has Kevin Love.
Oh, who am I kidding? That's what we were going to say anyway.