LeBron James, wishing he was still in Cleveland?
Isn't this supposed to be the time for celebration still?
Shouldn't we still be reveling in the Miami Heat winning a second consecutive title?
Should we not be in awe of LeBron James going off for 37 points and hitting the dagger jumper in Game 7 of the NBA Finals?
No? It's more LeBron speculation again? This is always fun. It's always a blast to speculate on things that we have no control over.
We only did it for two years before LeBron's move to Miami and here we are again, contemplating what he's going to do even though he has no idea what he's going to do, either.
There was reason to believe that, you know, winning two NBA championships, two league MVP's and two Finals MVP's over the past two seasons would quell the criticism and speculation talk that is constantly encasing LeBron.
Instead, we're a month removed from him winning a title and we're now speaking of something that's going to happen a year from now.
Fine. We'll play this game.
Even though there's still an entire 2013-14 regular and postseason to play, we'll attempt to find reasons as to why LeBron may go here or there. The majority of the NBA populous was wrong when predicting where he'd go in 2010, most people thought New York or Cleveland, but we'll speculate because it's the argument-inducing thing to do.
At the moment, LeBron is most likely still resting his worn, beaten body after one of the most arduous and toughest years of his career. He set career-highs in overall and three-point shooting percentage, had the third-highest PER in NBA history, led a 27-game winning streak, led Miami to a franchise-record 66 wins and set a career-high in rebounds per game.
And that was all before the postseason started. James' Heat would go 16-7 in the playoffs, capped off by back-to-back series wins that came down to a Game 7. The Heat are now 3-0 in Game 7's since the 'Big Three' was formed.
Even before LeBron gets back on the court and begins to write another chapter in the illuminated manuscript that is his illustrious career, we're going to wonder where he's going to play.
The situation he's currently in, however, presents the greatest opportunity to accomplish what LeBron really wants to do. Some may claim he may want a max deal, but it seems like a contract is the least of LeBron's worries since he led the NBA in endorsement money last season.
A team where he's the sole star again? He's not the sole star on Miami, but he has still found a way to be overwhelmingly better than his All-Star teammates.
A younger team? Sorry, but veteran-laden teams win titles.
We'll entertain this idea of LeBron leaving, for Cleveland of all places, but also offer reasoning as to why LeBron is going to be soaking up the future in Miami after the summer of 2014 comes in with a bang and out with a whimper.
Let's compare the front office work of the Cleveland Cavaliers from LeBron James' drafting to his departure in 2010 to the Miami Heat's over the past three years.
The Cavs allowed Carlos Boozer to sign with the Utah Jazz in 2004 after an impressive sophomore campaign in Cleveland where he averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds. They failed to bring in a single bona fide All-Star to accompany James (Mo Williams became an All-Star because of LeBron) and failed to complete a trade that would have sent J.J. Hickson to the Phoenix Suns for Amar'e Stoudemire.
LeBron's most effective teammates in Cleveland included a shooter in Williams, who shot 33 percent from beyond the arc in the 2010 playoffs, a 34-year-old Antawn Jamison and a 37-year-old Shaquille O'Neal.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes were once considered secondary scoring options, including on the 2007 Cavaliers team that advanced to the first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Cleveland is the main topic of this 'Where's LeBron going now?' saga because there are a number of hopefuls out there who believe if James were to leave Miami, he would make a return back to Cleveland.
You know? To right his past wrongs, or something deep, spiritual and inane along those lines.
Compare Cleveland's front office work to what Miami has done in the past three years. While LeBron suffered in Cleveland with role players disguised as All-Stars for seven years, James has been gifted the opportunity to play with perennial All-Stars and legitimate future Hall-of-Famers.
Cleveland couldn't recruit a single big-name free agent to play alongside LeBron in Cleveland. In Miami, he has All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers taking paycuts not only because his team has the greatest chance of winning a title, but because playing with LeBron is an opportunity that many players, young and old, want to experience.
How is it that one organization has been able to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time, compared to another franchise that had twice the amount of time to create a championship foundation?
Having Pat Riley, for one. He's the one who drafted Dwyane Wade in 2003, who kept Wade in the deal that brought in Shaquille O'Neal, who helped bring Miami its first championship and proved the legitimacy of Wade as a force to be reckoned with.
Riley's business expertise and Wade's on-court play laid the groundwork for how their franchise is meant to be run. Even in their darkest hours, the 2007-08 season, the franchise only needed one horrific year before bouncing back and becoming a playoff team once again.
You could say Wade's relationship with LeBron and Chris also played a significant role, but I'm still waiting for Chris Paul to play with his buddies in New York.
LeBron made the decision to play in a well-managed franchise and it's paid off in dividends. He has teammates that he can depend on, and that includes during the postseason where his former Cavalier teammates used to hang him out to dry.
Instead of having to score 25 consecutive points in a fourth quarter just to give his team a chance to make the NBA Finals, he now has Allen saving NBA Finals for him and Shane Battier having series-long streaks of immaculate shooting.
And LeBron's going to leave this behind? All-Stars taking paycuts, two league MVP's, two NBA championships and two Final MVP's in the past two years alone? LeBron has received nearly everything he has hoped for since joining the Heat, and possibly then some, since he once thought winning the league MVP again was out of the question.
Plus, don't forget how LeBron was characterized by Cleveland when he left. The fans were obviously displeased with LeBron's choice to leave the city, but it was also enabled by James' former boss, Dan Gilbert.
Understood 'The Decision' was rough. Really, it was poorly executed and LeBron has admitted to it being so. However, James was also the sole reason why Cleveland was a relevant franchise for the first time in two decades.
For him to get lambasted by the boss of the franchise he put on the NBA map for the first time since the Mark Price days is an insult to his career work with the team. That includes the trip to the Finals, the historic postseason performances, the national attention, the games on Christmas, the regular season win totals and actually giving the city of Cleveland a team worth believing in.
When LeBron left, though, he was nothing more than the "SELF-TITLED FORMER KING".
All James did for the franchise of Cleveland was perform a "cowardly betrayal", but at least he was taking his personal "curse" down to Miami and would have to live with a "dreaded spell" and "bad karma" until he made right by Cleveland.
Gilbert demonized LeBron, the superstar who turned Cleveland from a middling, cellar-dweller into a full-fledged championship contender for multiple seasons, and played on the emotions of his franchise's fanbase to make it seem as if James was a traitor who performed absolutely no service to the Cavaliers.
He completely deflected all of the blame off of the front office, despite their incompetence in their efforts to bring in an All-Star. Instead, he threw the entire burden on LeBron and when he failed, it was nobody's fault but his.
Things aren't run like that in Miami. There's no name-calling and threats of voodoo from the owner. It's strictly business in the Heat organization. They were aware they had to bring in the right pieces to get LeBron to where he needed to be.
While Gilbert promised his fans a championship, Riley's promise of bringing James the hardware he truly wanted has already come true. Twice.
What you may or may not notice about the Miami Heat is that they are a reserved, confined organization.
There haven't been any rumblings over potential front office moves and we have yet to hear of a single player raising any sort of complaint. And that's really something considering there are a number of players on the Heat bench that receive little to no playing time, but could possibly be playing 20 minutes or more per game on different teams.
This is an organization you're not going to find creating any quote-worthy material worth hearing about.
Have you heard a single murmur or groan from any player complaining about their role on this team? No. You don't hear anything because each player on the Heat roster has been chosen due to their willingness to take on whatever role that gives the roster as a whole the best chance of winning.
The key to becoming the dynasty that Riley and the Heat envision is for each player to be comfortable where they are. Each player has to know, recognize and embrace their role and that includes those at the end of the bench. Even a player who receives few minutes may have to step up when they are called on.
Take Mike Miller as a prime example. He hardly played in the regular season and postseason, but he started the last four games of the NBA Finals. Miller embraced his role as a bit role player in the regular season because he was aware that an opportunity like this would come along.
The individuals on this team create something more. This is a family.
A key characteristic of a family is making sacrifices. You sacrifice your personal time, patience and finances for your family.
What has every last player on the Heat done since 2010? Sacrifice.
They sacrificed lucrative deals to play with other teams. They sacrificed fat stat columns. They sacrificed consistent minutes on the floor. They sacrificed being an individual and becoming part of a family.
It's not easy for these guys, either. There are few NBA players who would be content with just watching games and riding coattails to win a championship. NBA players want to play because they feel they can provide something.
They're all aware they can provide, which is why they stay ready for the call to perform.
Once again, we're talking about future Hall-of-Famers, All-Stars and players who have racked up over $100 million in contract earnings over their careers.
Think it's easy to manage that many egos? It's not. Nothing about the past three years has been anything close to easy.
What the Heat have done with this influx of stars has been incredible. If you take your eyes off LeBron and your ears off of ESPN's never-ending speculation coverage, you'll notice that the Heat roster is full of players and names you may have once considered selfish or egotistical.
The family doesn't permit those traits within the locker room. Winning makes everything fun, but winning with your friends and family is one of the greatest feelings any athlete could experience.
That's what LeBron has done over the past three years. He's winning and he's having fun, without being immature.
Once again, it just seems difficult to believe that LeBron would want to leave that behind.
Also, Harlem Shake videos.
This is the primary reason why LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers and joined the Miami Heat.
"What is to win something worthwhile?" Correct for $200.
It's not that difficult a question to answer. LeBron didn't leave Cleveland because he's a malicious villain who steals ice cream from children and kicks puppies.
He left Cleveland because he didn't want to sign a five-year deal with a team that had brought him to one NBA Finals, a forgettable one at that, in seven years.
What was going to suddenly change? Were the Cavaliers just waiting to see how much they could trust LeBron before going out and getting role players that would help him win a title?
The Miami Heat, who had signed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a few days prior to 'The Decision', had the foundation for a championship-caliber roster. LeBron noticed, role players flocked to Miami and the Heat have now won two championships in as many years.
I would say they are two wins short of a three-peat, but I'm not sure LeBron becomes the player he is today without losing and getting humbled in the 2011 Finals.
The well-rounded, high-percentage scorer he is today has a great deal to do with James failing against Dallas. He didn't have a consistent primary scoring method other than isolating at the top of the key.
As a result of that loss, James began to take his game into the post, decreased the amount of three-pointers he takes (5.1 attempts per game in his final season with Cleveland to 3.3 attempts this past season), and paid closer attention to where his shots on the floor were coming from.
In the past three years, LeBron's shooting percentage has gone from 51, to 53, to a shade under 57 percent. Sometimes it takes a humbling experience like losing in the manner LeBron did in those Finals to completely change the way you've portrayed the game you've been playing your life.
LeBron is becoming a smarter and more mature person and player. He learns from his mistakes and he's now a two-time NBA champion because of it. He wanted to win titles in Miami and he got exactly that.
If you're going to judge him on the "Not one, not two, blah blah blah" statement, then you're going to be disappointed. This isn't the 1960's. There are a lot of great players and teams out there.
What LeBron has done, however, is complete his goal of winning a title.
He left his former team, knowing the criticism he would take simply for leaving, to win a championship and he's done just that, against quality teams to boot.
He's getting the help he needs, too. LeBron's put on some incredible Finals performances, but he wouldn't be where he is today without the help of teammates like Wade, Bosh, Allen, Battier, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, etc.
Once again, sorry to disappoint the critic. Apparently it takes an actual team to win 16 postseason games and not just one player. Don't forget that Michael Jordan didn't hit the shot to put the Phoenix Suns away, nor did he block Kevin Johnson's floater that would have pushed the series to Game 7.
It takes a team effort to win a title, which is why the San Antonio Spurs were such healthy competition for the Heat; because they are a team that knows what it takes to win a title.
Three consecutive Final appearances and two championships to show for it is actually impressive, no matter how you may attempt to diminish it. Also, when you consider that this Heat team was, and still is, basically considered an experiment, it makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
Once again, the Heat are favorites to win the NBA title, for obvious reasons. They just beat a San Antonio Spurs team that may represent one of the greatest teams to not win the title, and this came after two intensely physical series with Indiana and Chicago.
This team is battle-tested at every stage of the game. There has been no task too daunting for LeBron and the Heat. It's created a brilliant resolve for each and every player on this Heat team, leaving them ready for anything and capable of performing at the highest of stages.
Even if the Heat come up short next year, Miami will still have two All-Stars and a band of quality role players accompanying James to pick up the slack, as they have helped done over the past three seasons.
If LeBron James were to depart from the Miami Heat, his predetermined destination, as determined by those who know little of his life, would be Cleveland.
As stated before, righting wrongs and all of that other sappy stuff plays a part in that belief. But seeing as James left Cleveland once before already, it would be quite the sight to see LeBron win a few titles in Miami only to grow weary of winning and then take his chances on a completely different Cleveland team.
Cleveland has been gifted with several bounces gone their way in the lottery. They received the number one and four picks in 2011, the number four pick in 2012 and most recently the number one pick (seriously) again. As a result, they've built up a solid team through the draft, heralded by Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, who will make his debut this season.
Suddenly, the Cavaliers have a desirable roster to play with. Throw in a healthy Andrew Bynum and you have a team that's probably going to end up making the postseason. They won't be a championship threat, but they've made great strides since winning 19 games the year after LeBron went to heat it up in Miami.
The main reason why there is speculation of LeBron leaving is due to the health and aging process of Dwyane Wade. The 31-year-old Wade has limped into the Finals these past two years, dealing with nagging knee injuries that have ended up forcing a heavier burden on LeBron and the rest of the team.
Wade recently averaged a mere 16 points on 46 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game in the past postseason. Those are the lowest numbers of his postseason career, even lower than his rookie season numbers.
Naturally, everyone assumes Wade is done for, even though he's still putting together stretches like he did in the final four games of the NBA Finals, where he scored at least 23 points in all but one game.
I've learned from watching Wade that although he may appear lackadaisical at moments, he still comes through when needed most.
He had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the Game 7 clincher against San Antonio, 32 points, six rebounds, six steals and four assists in a crucial Game 4 road win in the same series and dropped 21 points and nine rebounds in the Game 7 clincher of the previous series against Indiana.
There are times where you worry about Wade, but he constantly comes through when needed. He also had a strong 18 points, six assists and five rebounds in the Game 5 clincher against Chicago; a game where LeBron struggled with his shot.
The biggest knock on Wade's game has been his proneness to injuries. But how is it any different from what Kyrie Irving has been through, missing 54 games in first two NBA seasons and an injury-plagued year in college? Andrew Bynum, too, only has one season of more than 65 games played in an eight-year career.
The only difference is LeBron's going from playing with people he's established close friendships with, to a nearly foreign environment in terms of the roster and coaching staff. Yeah, Kyrie is young, but couldn't injuries this early in his career foreshadow a career that will be plagued with injuries?
Oh, and let's just keep forgetting that Chris Bosh exists.
He's only coming off the best shooting year of his career. If there's a bigger role he could fill with the Heat, he, like everyone else on the Heat roster, would step into that position.
The main reason why LeBron isn't leaving Miami is simply because of the publicity and unnecessary attention it would bring to his life. He'll deal with criticism, including claims that he used up Miami for its talent only to bolt for a younger team, even if that younger team is the one he originally scorned.
LeBron has enjoyed the low profile he's taken on, at least off-court, because he still draws plenty of attention for what he does on the court. A departure back to Cleveland would only draw criticism and bring back memories of 2010 when LeBron was looked at as a quitter or traitor.
As for the talk of Cleveland being his hometown and whatnot, he already played there. For seven years. What more does he owe the city and franchise? He gave seven extraordinary, historic years of basketball to that city.
Even if they don't have a championship to show for it, they have memories of watching the best basketball ever played by someone in a Cleveland uniform.
LeBron is doing what he came to Miami to do: win championships. He's not going to leave that behind because his two All-Star teammates are aging on a yearly basis. He was aware when joining the team that it takes the Earth 365 days to revolve around the Sun and that Wade and Bosh would get older.
The criticism on Wade has been blown up. We'll hear plenty about his injuries and unbalanced play, but won't hear how incredible he was during Miami's 27-game winning streak or that he just shot a career-high 52 percent from the field.
Wade has become the perfect complement to LeBron. Does that happen with a young Kyrie Irving? Does he tell LeBron, "Sure you can be the primary option. I know it's the best years of my basketball career I'm sacrificing here, but go on ahead?"
LeBron has already, willingly, been given the reins in Miami. He doesn't want to go through that trial-and-error process again. He wants to continue being the undisputed number one option without having to go through the process of learning how to play with a new team and new players.
LeBron has learned to play outside of his comfort zone with Miami, but does he want to go completely out of his comfort zone to play with another team?
Even though he's winning more than ever before and still has an arsenal of NBA champions by his side?
Didn't think so.
I despise the legacy talk. It's an annoying, hollow argument that's meant to compare the career paths of completely different players with different games.
"This guy did this, so that means you should do that, too," is the usual argument. It's the argument LeBron's ambitious critics use to diminish his career when compared to the likes of Michael Jordan, who stuck with the Chicago Bulls for duration of his career.
It's a desperate argument, especially when you realize Wilt Chamberlain needed to play with Hal Greer and Jerry West to win his two titles and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five of his six championships only after being traded by the team that drafted him.
It's just a means of creating argument for the sake of argument, as well as degrading the career of arguably the best player to ever play the game.
LeBron James doesn't need his legacy to come full circle with a return to Cleveland or whatever team entices him into playing for them. What he needs to do is worry about his own career and what's best for him. Like he did in 2010, he needs to focus on the move that's going to help him most.
At the moment, it still seems like that's staying with the team that's aided him in winning two NBA championships, two Finals MVP's and two league MVP's.
It's not about loyalty, either.
It's about winning, and no team presents a larger opportunity for winning than his current team , where he can look down the bench and see three future Hall-of-Famers sitting next to each other waiting for his order.
There's also no other team out there with a Team President like Pat Riley. It's always baffled me as to how this Heat team has drawn constant criticism, despite having a roster filled with players who care far more about winning than money.
If Pat Riley wants you on his team, he's going to get you. He wanted Shane Battier and got him. He wanted Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and had them doing press conferences and taking pictures with their brand-new Heat jerseys on the same day.
He wanted three superstars to team up and win a lot of games. He got that too. If Riley wants you, he'll get you. Miami has been strapped for cash the past two years, but they keep making some of the most significant signings of the offseason.
That's what happens when you build a trustworthy and legitimate background and organization; people are willing to take a little less money to hop on. It's gotten to the point where Miami is turning veterans away. Both Chauncey Billups and Samuel Dalembert said they had interest in Miami but received little interest their way.
As long as LeBron has a great front office behind him, he's going to continue getting great support. That support is only going to aid him in his quest to win more titles. Winning titles will only continue to strengthen his resume as the greatest to ever play.
LeBron playing four outstanding, assuming this next season will live up to expectations, years in Miami and then simply getting up and leaving for more money or younger teammates just doesn't sound like the player we've come to know over the past three seasons.
As it was stated before, he's a smarter and more mature person and player. He makes conscious decisions and takes every possible perspective into account when he makes certain decisions. It even reflects his play, as he constantly turns down possible layups to appease a teammate that is wide-open on the three-point line.
Like his game, LeBron is always looking for the smartest play to make. Leaving the team you won back-to-back titles with, which has two legitimate All-Stars, even if one is 31, isn't smart.
I understand anything is possible next year. For all we know, the Heat may not be able to keep up with the size and new-found depth of the Pacers.
Maybe Miami can find ways to limit the usage of the 'Big Three' in the regular season, utilizing them more over the long haul (i.e. postseason), and walk away with another title.
It won't get much more difficult than this past postseason for Miami.
Two brutal series with Chicago and Indiana followed by a San Antonio team that featured record-setting shooting and incredibly timely shots could definitely be a valid excuse for LeBron's struggles in the first few games of the Finals.
Either way, LeBron's not abandoning his team because they failed to support him.
They were there for him when he came up short in 2011, Wade put together a brilliant NBA Finals that went unnoticed, and they've been there for him time and time again over the past two title runs.
One thing that is for sure is that every member of the Heat will still be unified and reaching for the very goal LeBron signed up for.
No team is going to have the same sense of camaraderie he has received with the Heat because no team can build a level of trust that Miami has done with its star players.