A lot’s changed in the nearly four years since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
While the Miami Heat look to put the finishing touches on the franchise’s fourth championship this June, the Cleveland Cavaliers are being faced with the prospect of another top talent bolting for greener pastures.
But while the wounds wrought by King James’ league-shaking gambit may have mended around the edges, there’s only one thing that would allow for full healing—a prodigal return by one of Ohio's finest sons.
Not surprisingly, LeBron was forced to entertain such speculation ahead of his team’s Tuesday showdown in Cleveland. From the Associated Press’ Tom Withers and Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
LeBron, on a possible Cav return, "For me to take my mind somewhere else when I know what's on its way [postseason] is almost impossible."— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 18, 2014
Anyone expecting a bit more candor hasn’t been around these NBA parts too long.
Other reporters, including the Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser, found subtler ways of addressing the subject:
Does LeBron want his 23 retired in CLE? "That's not for me to be concerned about. At the end of the day, all pro athletes dream about it."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) March 18, 2014
If we're going solely by the merits of accomplishment and team success, LeBron's Cleveland legacy is pretty tough to top, as Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes highlighted Monday.
Individual achievements aside, the Cavaliers enjoyed unparalleled team success with James at the helm. Four of the organization's seven winningest seasons came during James' tenure, and the top two single-season win totals (66 in 2008-09 and 61 in 2009-10) are both directly attributable to LBJ's dominance.
It’s worth noting that, during the recent jersey retirement of longtime center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James—though in attendance—was not included in the group of Cavaliers legends assembled on the floor for the ceremony.
Would LeBron’s jersey eventually be retired even if he doesn’t go back to Cleveland? We’d like to think time—and, in the case of the city itself, a championship—would heal all wounds.
Then again, perhaps the Cavs will make such an honor specifically contingent on said return.
This could all be moot, of course, as the New York Daily News’ Mitch Lawrence made clear in a piece penned just prior to Ilgauskas’ big night:
For one thing, Cleveland doesn’t have Pat Riley, or anyone close, to present James with a viable blueprint for winning championships. As far as the Cavs’ roster goes, and whether James would view that as a reason to return, it’s obviously not what everyone thought it would be when the Cavs were picked in many quarters to make the playoffs this season. Even Kyrie Irving has shown some warts, in the same season he was selected MVP of the All-Star Game. He’s now largely viewed as a great talent who still needs to show that he can make players around him better.
Is it conceivable that LeBron—imbued with equal parts humility and the confidence only the best basketball player on the planet can possess—shocks the world this summer?
He’s done it once before.