What If LeBron James Never Left Cleveland?

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What If LeBron James Never Left Cleveland?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Miami Heat's LeBron James

Fredro Starr, aka Fred Scruggs, a leading member of the rap group Onyx, released his first solo album in February of 2001.

Included on that LP, from the artist who also collaborated on the smash hit Slam in 1993, was a song titled What If.

While posing a series of open-ended questions related to sports and pop culture, Starr first asks, "What if [Michael] Jordan never had Scottie [Pippen]?"

He goes on to later inquire, referencing a shot Patrick Ewing missed during the 1995 Eastern Conference Playoffs as a member of the New York Knicks, "What if Ewing would've dunked it instead of fading away?"

Twelve years later, if Starr were to release a remix of his underground classic, he might also wonder aloud about the Miami Heat's LeBron James

Specifically, what if LeBron James never left Cleveland?

Besides helping the Miami Heat win at least one championship, while forcing the Cleveland Cavaliers to a three-year mark of 64-166 since his departure in 2010, James' decision had a rippling effect across the league.  

If this alternate NBA universe were described by Starr today, he might do so by also asking the following questions about Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant.

 

1. Would Kyrie Irving be playing for the Los Angeles Clippers?

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
NBA's Commissioner David Stern announces Kyrie Irving as No. 1 selection in 2011.

If LeBron James never left Cleveland, the Cavaliers would have not traded former All-Star Mo Williams to the Los Angeles Clippers.

In return, the Cavs would not have acquired an unprotected lottery pick by taking on the contract of an aging Baron Davis that was later used to select Kyrie Irving first overall. 

The Clippers, in all likelihood, would've taken Irving first after winning the lottery.

The franchise was already being built around Blake Griffin at the time, making the possible selection of Derrick Williams, who went second in the 2011 draft, a contrast of team need. 

This scenario, then, could have also impacted the future of Chris Paul.

Could Irving be starting at point guard for the Clippers with CP3 playing elsewhere? Or would he have been included in the package that was eventually sent to the New Orleans Hornets in the deal for Paul?


2. Would James be the player he is now without Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James Career Averages

Just as Fredro Starr wondered what Michael Jordan would've been like without Scottie Pippen, what if LeBron James never teamed up with Dwyane Wade in 2010?

Based on his production in 2012-13, it seems likely that James could win an NBA championship with almost any playoff team he's put on.

Furthermore, when you look at James' regular season averages during his first seven years without Wade compared to his last three in Miami, the numbers highlighted in the chart above are strikingly similar.

What appears to be different about James this year is that he seems to be playing more loose and confident than he ever has now that he's free from the burden of never having won an NBA championship.

Could James have won the 2012 NBA title in Cleveland without Wade? It's obviously impossible to say. One thing we do know, however, is that he lost the 2007 finals without Wade before doing the same in 2011 as his teammate.


3. Would Dwight Howard have been content to stay in Orlando if James never left Cleveland?

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Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard

If LeBron James would have made staying loyal to your small market franchise the cool thing to do in 2010, would Dwight Howard have followed suit by staying with the Orlando Magic?

In this alternate NBA universe where the world's best player dictates trends throughout the league, this hypothetical is at least worth considering.

As opposed to Carmelo Anthony, for example, who appeared certain he wanted a trade from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks, Howard seemed to struggle with his demands for a trade from Orlando.

Maybe Howard thought he needed to build his personal brand in a similar way to how James was building his in pushing for the deal that ultimately shipped him to Los Angeles? Or then again, maybe not.


4. Would Kevin Durant have led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 2012 NBA Championship?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant during 2012 NBA Finals.

If LeBron James did not join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden may have been too much for any team to overcome in 2012. 

As it played out, the Thunder did enough to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals series against Miami's Big Three before being swept by the Heat in the next four games.

But if James were playing in Cleveland, while Wade and Bosh were teamed up in Miami, could either of those franchises have outlasted Durant and company last season?

If the Thunder won, would Durant be considered the league's preeminent superstar right now instead of James as a result?

Just like Fredro Starr never found answers to all his questions, we'll never find answers to any of these either.

What we do know, however, is that the NBA universe would look much differently than it does today if James had never left Cleveland.

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