It's time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to focus on other targets.
Continuing to hope for LeBron James is an exercise in futility. It's a pipe dream, and even that is being generous, as there's little to no chance that the reigning MVP actually returns to his old stomping grounds.
Well, he will return.
Just wearing a different uniform and intending to do everything possible to destroy them that night. Kind of like he plans on doing in South Beach on Dec. 14. Just as he did on Nov. 27 when he and the Miami Heat traveled to Quicken Loans Arena and left with a 95-84 victory.
LeBron may have spent the first seven seasons of his career in a Cleveland jersey. That doesn't mean he wants to don those threads again, especially after winning back-to-back championships in red and black.
Remember, right after "The Decision," this happened:
That's something you can't exactly recover from. Flickering flames are typically comforting, but not in this instance.
There's no bigger insult than taking a jersey—presumably one that was bought with hard-earned money—and setting fire to it. The jersey isn't going to be salvageable, and neither is the city's reputation with the player in question. Even if it isn't fair to allow the actions of a few represent the mentality of an entire city's population, that's what inevitably happens.
Dissenting opinions are both easier to express and louder than anything else. The one person in a crowded movie theater who stands up and screams can trump the rest of the silent audience.
Fortunately, we've moved past such extreme actions.
Though I'd wager LeBron will never forget seeing such images on SportsCenter, he doesn't seem like the type to hold a multiyear grudge. That can no longer be the sole reason we count out a return to Cleveland.
There's one more action that occurred right after the infamous choice to take his talents to South Beach that still matters, though:
The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.
If only I could print that quote in Comic Sans, the same font Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert used in his open letter. You know, the same one that guaranteed the Cavs would win a title before LeBron.
So much for that.
LeBron could act like Jay Z, brushing this off like it's nothing more than dirt on his shoulder, but only if Gilbert were no longer in charge of the franchise. But he's still sitting in his office and calling the shots for Cleveland.
Fortunately, those shots are getting smarter.
During LeBron's most recent visit to his hometown, he was greeted by a relatively friendly crowd. It was a crowd that, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, "raised $50,000 to put up billboards and passed out several thousand 'Come Home LeBron' T-shirts."
While it's unknown whether or not Gilbert had a hand in that decision by the fans, he didn't put his foot down. He didn't squash the attempt to appeal to LeBron, and that's a step in the right direction.
But it's still not enough.
LeBron's ultimate goal is to win championships. As he told ESPN's Michael Wallace in September, "My concern is putting our team in a position to win another championship. That's my only goal, that's my only mind frame right now."
If that's his "only goal" and his "only mind frame" after winning two titles, what makes us think that will change after the 2013-14 season? Even if he successfully completes a three-peat, then he has to try beating Michael Jordan, not just tying him.
He's not going to win a championship in Cleveland.
Aside from the history of sports in that beleaguered city, the Cavaliers aren't set up to win a title anytime soon, especially with Kyrie Irving struggling during his third professional season. Even if we assume Uncle Drew gets back on track and ascends up the point guard leaderboard until he's at or near the top, there aren't enough surrounding pieces.
LeBron would be subjecting himself to the same situation he was mired in during his first go-around, as the Cleveland front office hasn't shown that it can make the right decisions. Take a look at the first-round draft picks in the past five years if you want proof:
- 2008, No. 19: J.J. Hickson (journeyman who has emerged as a low-level starter for a different team)
- 2009, No. 30: Christian Eyenga (who?)
- 2011, No. 1: Irving (panning out nicely, but he's underwhelming this year in a big way)
- 2011, No. 4: Tristan Thompson (solid role player, but failing to improve in his third year)
- 2012, No. 4: Dion Waiters (highly overrated volume shooter)
- 2012, No. 24: Jared Cunningham (immediately traded for Tyler Zeller, who is averaging just over seven minutes per game as a second-year player)
- 2013, No. 1: Anthony Bennett (on pace to become the worst top pick of all time)
- 2013, No. 19: Sergey Karasev (has yet to crack the rotation)
That's a draft history filled with mistakes and underwhelming players.
It's tough to call anyone other than Irving a success. While you could make an argument for either Waiters or Thompson, they were both reaches at the time and haven't lived up to the expectations associated with No. 4 picks.
Not at all.
This would be fine if Cleveland had put together a solid roster, one comprised of great free-agent pickups and players who had been traded for. But that's not exactly the case, and if the team couldn't field a successful roster around LeBron last time, why can it this time?
According to ShamSports.com, the Cavs have $63,415,432 committed for the 2014-15 season, but that's not really the right number. The majority of the roster is working with non-guaranteed contracts, and the Cavs could open up enough money to sign LeBron and another eight-figure free agent.
But where's the motivation for LeBron? As B/R's Josh Martin wrote while making the argument for LeBron returning, "Why would he leave behind a team and an organization for and with whom he's worked so hard to construct the fragile edifice of a potential dynasty?"
Does he want to play alongside Irving, another great free agent and spare parts? He'd be relying on the Cavs management to build a contender around him, something they couldn't do before he departed for Miami.
On top of that, Irving's stock is falling in NBA circles. He hasn't been able to carry this Cleveland team, something that was expected of him entering the year. Without him looking like an unquestionable franchise player—shooting percentages hovering around 40 percent tend to shake that tag a bit—there's even less motivation for LeBron to break the status quo.
As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Things in Miami aren't broken, and there's no guarantee the same can be said in Cleveland. The risk is not worth the reward here, if I may use another cliche.
LeBron may not end up staying with the Heat, but he'll ultimately make his free-agent decision based on which situation offers him the most potential for another championship. There's a lot of uncertainty when dealing with this topic, but one thing is clear.
It won't be Cleveland.