Updates from Friday, Aug. 11
Zac Jackson and Sam Amico of Fox Sports provide more details from LeBron James, who spoke about his decision to play in Cleveland:
LeBron: I kinda made my decision over those last 48 hours in Vegas.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 8, 2014
LeBron: I love Kyrie's game. I love the chip on Dion's shoulder.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 8, 2014
LeBron on opt-out in contract: "I don't plan on going anywhere. I don't have the energy to do it again." Says it's a business decision.— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) August 8, 2014
Updates from Wednesday, July 16
He seemed at peace with the decision. We don't have any regrets. He shouldn't have any regrets. It was a historic four-year run. ...
... This league does teach you that it's inevitable that there's constant change and you always have to continue to embrace change, adapt with change. This is a big, monumental change that we didn't necessarily anticipate but you have to respect it because when you're a free agent in this league you have the right to make a decision that's best for you and your family. When he made that decision that was best for his family, where his heart is, all you can do from our side is respond with respect and love.
Updates from Saturday, July 12
NBA.com provides comments from Cavaliers general manager David Griffin in the team's official press release:
We could not be happier to welcome LeBron James home. Yesterday, LeBron, through his essay, told us he wasn't going anywhere except Cleveland and that "Cleveland is where he always believed he would finish his career." These words and commitment put all of us, including LeBron, in the best position to build our franchise the right way and achieve the kind of goals we all know are possible. Expectations will be at the highest levels but no one should expect immediate and automatic success.
LeBron's motivation to return home is clearly fueled by the kind of emotions and ideals that we can and should embrace. The contract and those details are secondary to his commitment to Northeast Ohio and the Cavaliers. It extends well beyond the boundaries of basketball and speak to his love and passion for his family, home, and our fans. He communicated his role and growth as a husband, father, teammate, community leader, and business person. This resonated in a special and personal way for all of us. LeBron put it well when he stated; "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned." We can't wait to get started and look forward to his leadership, on and off the court, for many years to come.
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst has the details surrounding James' new contract:
James has agreed to a two-year, $42.1 million deal with the team with the goal of re-signing with the Cavs before the 2016-17 season when a new television contract is expected to create a large jump in value of the maximum.
As part of the deal, James will have an option to become a free agent next summer but is fully committed to the Cavs long term, sources said.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel provides more information:
No sign and trade for LeBron with Cavaliers. So Cleveland retains top-10 protected 2015 Heat first-rounder from first LeBron move in 2010.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) July 12, 2014
There was no televised special this time around. There was, however, a tracked airplane, an obsession over exotic car transportation and the conspicuously timed removal of an infamous letter. With it came LeBron James' decision to fundamentally shake the core of the NBA again by returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The superstar announced the decision via an exclusive with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It's where I walked. It's where I ran. It's where I cried. It's where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I'm their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now. ...
... When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn't had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
I always believed that I'd return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn't know when. After the season, free agency wasn't even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn't going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.
The four-time league MVP came to an agreement with the Cavs on Friday, ending an 11-day period in which he held the league at a standstill.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert celebrated on Twitter:
Welcome Home @kingjames. I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them.....— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 11, 2014
My 8-year-old: "Daddy, does this mean I can finally wear my Lebron jersey, again?"...Yes it does, son. Yes it does!— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 11, 2014
James, 29, informed the Heat he was exercising his early-termination option on June 24, forgoing the final two years of his deal. After four seasons, each of which ended in an NBA Finals berth and two with James cradling the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the Heat always seemed like decisive favorites for his services. When Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both left $40-plus million on the table to follow suit, it looked like a foregone conclusion.
It turned out to be anything but.
As the days stretched on with silence from James' camp, speculation grew that he could be entertaining other overtures.
Cleveland, James' former NBA home and oft-speculated future destination, again pitched a homecoming. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers explored ways to open the necessary cap space or even trade incumbent superstars to Miami in hopes of luring James. The Suns, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Rockets became so-called finalists, getting meetings with James' agent, Rich Paul.
Adrian Wojnarowski broke down some of Gilbert's meetings with James and Paul:
LeBron James, Dan Gilbert, Rich Paul and Maverick Carter met for 4 hours in Miami last week and talked through it all, Gilbert tells Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 11, 2014
Paul, a childhood friend of James', became a central figure over the last week and a half. He held court in meetings while James was out of the country.
"LeBron is the ultimate recruiter, but he hasn't been any part of this process," a source tied to the Heat's recruiting efforts told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. "The first question they all ask is the same: 'Do I get to hear from LeBron? What's he going to do?'"
Emboldened by the encouragement they received behind the scenes—Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops reported there was a "90 percent" chance James would bolt for Cleveland—the Cavs went into action. They unloaded Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev and Tyler Zeller in a three-way deal to open up max cap space for James on Wednesday. Wojnarowski also reported a renewed pursuit of Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, ostensibly to pair with James.
Meanwhile, Pat Riley went about enacting James' edict to "get better from every facet." Miami came to terms with forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger this week, two players who fit within Erik Spoelstra's spacing-oriented offense.
With Wade and Bosh both aging and only intermittently effective in 2013-14, and with role players failing to come through in the playoffs, James' opt-out was a clear sign he wanted more help.
James was apparently unsatisfied with what he saw.
The Cavaliers know who and what they're getting in James. For all Twitter mockery about cramps in Game 1 of the Finals and hot-take morning debate shows screaming about his legacy, James has been the NBA's best player for more than a half decade and isn't close to relinquishing the title. James now just plays like someone who understands the toll an 82-game regular season can have on one's body.
Kevin Durant won the MVP last season not just because he put up superior individual statistics but because, for the first time in his career, James took obvious plays off. ESPN's real plus-minus metric measured James barely above average on the defensive end. Taking cues from his teammate Wade, James could often be seen lagging behind the play and chirping at the referees.
I am shocked & disappointed in today's news. However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames— Micky Arison (@MickyArison) July 11, 2014
For all the talk of Miami's on/off switch in the Big Three era, San Antonio exposed the folly. The gear that was there defensively the previous two seasons just wasn't. It was replaced with dead legs from a team filled with players exhausted from making NBA history with four straight Finals appearances. The three superstars who came together in July 2010 were not the same in June 2014—not even James.
This Cleveland team is far different than the one he left four years ago. Once a team laden with past-their-prime veterans, James will potentially get to mentor three of the last four No. 1 overall picks—Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. He'll also be working with a first-year NBA coach in David Blatt, who offered his take to Wojnarowski:
Asked Cavs coach David Blatt if he's thrilled for chance to coach James. "That would be understatement of the millennium," he tells Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 11, 2014
Even though he may need more help this time around, LeBron remains the best building block in the league. What some called a "down" season saw James average 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game while shooting a career-high 56.7 percent. Once criticized for his lack of a low-post game, James now might be the NBA's most dynamic force on the block, both as a distributor and a scorer.
As James' game becomes more ground-bound—and it will, as Father Time waits for no one—those skills will be vital, as will his increased comfort beyond the three-point arc. Cleveland is knowingly inking a contract with the version of James who is on the back half on his prime, when things will start to slow down a step or two.
Given that this is LeBron James we're talking about, something tells me there won't be too many tears shed about the age-32 and age-33 years of that deal.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.