LeBron James did it. He finally accomplished his lifelong goal, a city's lifelong dream and brought a championship back to Cleveland, Ohio. His future should be simple from here on out. Yet nothing with LeBron James is ever simple.
It started before Game 7, before James' incredible fourth quarter, Kyrie Irving's go-ahead 3 in Steph Curry's ocular cavity, James' epic chase-down block or clinching free throw. In a column in advance of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that there is a sense that if James were to win the title Sunday, he might consider departing his beloved Northeast Ohio, despite his emphatic love for the area. From The Vertical:
One more victory, one more magnificent night at Oracle Arena, and James will get to run off with his buddies again somewhere warm. Miami. Los Angeles. Wherever. There's a restlessness about James that craves the next big move, the next power play. Franchises are on watch again, believing nothing's forever in Northeast Ohio. Sooner or later, there's a belief that James comes into play again, a line of thinking that his inner circle has done nothing to dissuade. As for James himself, well, he has gone so far as to publicly describe an end-of-career scenario that doesn't include Cleveland.
Part of it, yes, along with those one-year contracts, is a way to mess with owner Dan Gilbert. James has great fondness for coach Ty Lue and respect for general manager David Griffin, but he'll never embrace Gilbert - only perform despite him.
Yes, James could come back to Cleveland and defend a potential Cavaliers title in 2017 and proceed to join the run of superstar pals in free agency: Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. They can wait one more year for Carmelo Anthony in 2018. Or, Golden State wins Game 7, and maybe James gives Cleveland the championship in 2017 - and makes his move then.
Cleveland can't hold him to his Sports Illustrated letter, his promises of becoming something noble and lasting. It wanted a title, and he's close to delivering one. James becomes untouchable with a Cavaliers title. Fifty-two years without a pro sports championship here, and Cleveland can only tell him: Thank you, and goodbye again.
Then the morning after winning the championship, Stephen A. Smith told ESPN's Mike and Mike that he'd heard the Heat and Lakers were on a list of potential suitors for James that he might consider.
"From what I've been told, the Lakers and Heat are possiblities as a destination for LeBron James this summer."— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) June 20, 2016
- Stephen A. Smith
ESPN's Brian Windhorst, who is about as close as a reporter to James and his inner circle as anyone, having covered him since James was in high school, said on the Lowe Post Podcast Tuesday that he doesn't see LeBron returning to Miami given the cold relationship between James and the Heat.
"I definitely think by the way going forward with LeBron's contract options, you can scratch the Miami Heat off."
So that kind of lays the groundwork of what the reporting has been saying about the possibility of James leaving. This isn't one isolated report or source, it's something that has been floating around the airwaves for a not-long while. But what does it mean, what are his options and why would he stay or go?
Let's look at the options.
Why LeBron would join the Heat: James loves the city of Miami, still. One of James' best friends, Dwyane Wade, is still there. He could probably work through whatever awkwardness there is with Erik Spoelstra or anyone in the actual team unit. Miami has replenished the coffers with good players and would have a ready-made contender.
James spends time in-season every year in Miami. He has a comfort there, and that should matter. He had probably the most fun of his career there, even if the Cavs' title this year was the most rewarding and he was closer with teammates this year. Returning would also be helping Wade out with Chris Bosh's uncertain status.
Why he won't: Riley took shots at James on his way out the door. James has also been there. It would be going back, and deciding to make your vacation home your regular home. Miami's got some good weapons on the team, but Bosh's situation certainly casts a shadow on championship viability, given that James signing there would preclude re-signing Hassan Whiteside given that Miami doesn't own his Bird rights.. Owner Micky Arison approved the move to release Mike Miller which upset James going into the 2013-14 season. Then when James made his decision to leave for home,
James felt like he needed Miami in 2010, whether he did or not. (He did.) He does not now.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Why LeBron would join the Lakers: Kobe's gone. There's an opportunity now to take control of one of the greatest franchises in sports history and lead them back to the promised land. Two wins in Miami cemented his own legacy, the win in Cleveland makes him a legend and a hero. Winning a title with the Lakers would put him in another stratosphere of popularity, as incredible as that sounds given his stunning star power. There's a narrative about the Lakers (and Celtics) that rides over everything in basketball.
James doesn't really need that, though. He's not suffering for fame and marketability. However, there are several sides of the very shadowed image of James the public is allowed to see. One is the family man, married to his high school sweetheart with three darling kids. That's the "kid from Akron," a simple guy who likes simple things, and is relatable and most likable. Then there's the basketball mind, a sports super-genius and sorry, I'm not exaggerating. That's who he is, able to recite from memory nearly every play in every game he's ever had. A relentless worker who trains to put that mutant body of his in the best position possible.
There is another side, though. It's the side that founded his marketing firm LMR with his lifelong buddies. It's the one that featured as more than a cameo, an actual performance as himself in Judd Apatow's hit comedy Trainwreck last summer. It's the side that created his own cartoon show based on the Nike characters created for an early-career commercial. It's the side that created his own creative content (TV, film) firm that is currently producing multiple projects. This can't be overstated: James has already established his own firm because he's so interested in being a part of that.
He can obviously do that from Cleveland; he's doing it now. But it is easier to do that in L.A. He can do that more in L.A. He can be more engaged. And there's the Space Jam 2 issue. He deflected the question after a director was attached, but the wide acceptance is that he's starring in it, and in this day and age, it's never one movie. It's a franchise, several films, all banged out one after another.
Are the Lakers a mess? Absolutely. But all that changes if James goes there. He lands, signs his paperworks, says "trade these young guys for these veterans I want, then sign J.R. Smith" and he'll be 2/3 of his way to being a title contender, with no pressure to win immediately. If he goes to L.A., it's not about basketball, though.
It's about expanding his empire into entertainment, trying to make himself into the next Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and building a way to keep funding Boys and Girls Clubs in Northeast Ohio for another 50 years.
Why he won't: The Lakers are a mess. Luke Walton isn't his preferred coach. He can do all that entertainment stuff in the offseason and remotely with a base in Cleveland; again, he's doing it now. He'd always be following Bryant's legacy. He'd be in the same division as the Warriors and Clippers, and the same conference as the Spurs and Thunder.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Why LeBron would join the Clippers: Consider all the same reasons why he would consider the Lakers, minus they are "a mess." James has long admired Doc Rivers, a former player with championship experience who is also now in control of basketball operations. One of his best friends who has never won a title is Chris Paul. He'd have CP3, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan if he engineered a sign-and-trade for Blake Griffin. That move would also give the Cavs Griffin, giving them a star replacement for him on the way out.
The Clippers allow him to enjoy L.A. and compete for a title without the mess involved with the Lakers, or to deal with their history. The Clippers' basketball history remains very bare, and James would define them, especially if he won a title there.
Why he won't: Their uniforms are an atrocity, for starters. Going to the Clippers isn't "cool." It just isn't. The Heat are cool. The Lakers are cool. The Knicks are cool. The Clippers are not.
Joining the Clippers without orchestrating a trade for Griffin is nearly impossible, and that takes away one of the team's best players. James might have to end up playing power forward in that scenario, which isn't what James preferred. Rivers might also want to maintain control, and at this point, James is going to want to be the key decision maker, or at least have the final say, on key decisions.
There's the "play in the West" factor. There's the absence of a necessity to be in L.A. to gain the advantages of living there. There's Paul's age and meniscus issues. There's that lame mascot (though it's not like Cleveland's is any better).
NEW YORK KNICKS
Why LeBron joins the Knicks: He's friends with Carmelo Anthony. Phil Jackson is a legend. New York is cool, and winning there is like the Lakers, it changes what he means to the sport. New York is fun. He gets to enjoy big market privilege without going to the Western Conference. Kristaps Porzingis is good and the Knicks have the cap space to make whatever moves James might want.
Why he won't: I mean, they're the Knicks. You get all the headaches of a large market (with a tougher media) without the weather and laid back fun of Los Angeles. The Knicks never put themselves in that kind of conversation. They don't have anything to offer James that supersedes what the other teams do.
Why LeBron stays home: This is the most likely scenario. He just won the friggin' title. He's on an emotional high right now that he hasn't felt outside of when he got married or the birth of his children. He just became a demigod in Cleveland sports history and will always be "the guy who got them a title and broke the curse." That's him. He loves Northeast Ohio more than almost anything.
He's put down roots there, not just with the team and his family, but with the community. His foundation is doing major work to legitimately make a difference for families with kids just like he was growing up. This is home to him, and he's an emotional dude. That much was evident in how many tears he shed in winning that title. To leave again would be understandable, but no less shocking.
With his career, he's always put basketball first. And while his third title, especially where and how he won it, changes the context of his career needs for his legacy, he's had the opportunity to chase these other opportunities, and declined.
James just reclaimed Mount NBA from Steph Curry and sent him tumbling back down to the plebes. He is the game's most dominant player, and has established an empire in the city and state he loves. He literally has everything he could want from his life right now.
It does not seem likely that he upsets that to try and chase nicer weather. He can buy some snow boots, he can conference in on movie decisions. Oh, by the way, speaking of buying things? He stands to make the most money possible by staying with the Cavaliers.
He won a title, so there's no reason to uproot anything. He doesn't need anything anymore.
Why he won't: This is LeBron James, and after 2010, after 2014, after every twist and turn in his incredible career up to and including the final three games of the 2016 NBA season, one thing has remained true throughout everything.
With LeBron James, you can never really predict what's going to happen next.