Four years later, LeBron may be coming home -COLUMN-
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 12:00 AM
Last week marked four years since LeBron James held an ESPN special to announce he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and taking his talents to South Beach.
Now, after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, including two championships, King James is back on the open market and the circus has begun again. At least one report has the Cavs as the favorite to land free agency’s biggest prize, four years after they watched him walk away.
Apparently, the gambling public also thinks the Cavs are the front-runners. Las Vegas officials say there have been more bets placed on the Cavs to win the 2015 NBA title than any other team. So many wagers have been placed, in fact, that the odds that had begun at 60-1 are now down to 10-1 on Cleveland.
James has never ruled out a return to the franchise that drafted him despite the venomous backlash he got for leaving town in the first place. Throughout the basketball-watching world, LeBron became an instant villain, mostly for the public spectacle that was his “Decision” special.
The public backlash has faded over the past few years. Even Cavs fans - those that are left - don’t seem to hold much lingering anger anymore. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who penned a scathing open letter to fans, ripping James for quitting on the franchise. Despite all that, James has been open in the past about coming back to Cleveland.
After opting out of his contract with Miami, the Cavs once again have LeBron’s ear. They didn’t do enough to surround him with talent during his first stint with the franchise, but despite all the losing, the Cavs probably have a better roster than a LeBron-less Heat team.
On sheer talent alone, this Cavs team is probably better than the last one James played with.
If LeBron were to go back to Cleveland, he would instantly change his public image. Sure, to Heat fans he’d be a turn-coat who bolted town, but he was never theirs anyway. The Akron product always belonged to Northeast Ohio and by going home, he’d win back all the fans he’d lost and probably gain a lot more.
But I don’t think the decision this year will be based on LeBron’s concern for his public image - the one four years ago sure wasn’t, though I doubt he expected the reaction he got.
This time, he certainly has a better idea of what to expect from that standpoint. If nothing else, I’d guess he’s learned what not to do when announcing your next contract. I doubt Jim Gray will be on retainer this summer.
No, this free agent decision will be made with the idea of putting himself in the best position to win multiple NBA titles. “Not two, not three, not four…,” as he said in Miami. The series against the Spurs showed how many holes the Heat roster has. Without James, it’s doubtful Miami would even sniff the playoffs. In that way, it’s almost as if the Heat and the Cavs have switched places.
Miami is re-tooling as well, and is hoping they have done enough to convince James to stay. Cleveland is hoping that sentiment, and a significantly improved roster, will bring him home.
My money, along with all those know-it-alls in Vegas, is on James coming back to Cleveland.