LeBron's exit from Cleveland was, well, messy.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, meanwhile, posted a letter to fans on the team’s website containing the following excerpt, per ESPN.com (note the angry caps lock):
You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.
You have given so much and deserve so much more.
In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:
‘I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE’
You can take it to the bank.
Hopefully no fans actually took stock in that guarantee, because LeBron has since won two titles. During the same four-year time frame, Cleveland hasn't reached the playoffs.
Is it possible, however, that the entire hullabaloo could soon be water under the bridge?
Could it actually be time for LBJ to seriously consider a return to his home state, despite the vitriol that grew there?
It's not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Avenues for Return
While Miami should still be considered the favorite to retain LeBron via free agency, reports suggest that a return to Cleveland isn’t out of the question.
Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote the following:
At the urging of LeBron James’ agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are pursuing a maximum contract salary slot to bring back the free-agent superstar, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Rich Paul, the president of Klutch Sports, has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in strong position to lure James from the Miami Heat, sources told Yahoo Sports.
For years, Paul has confided to people that bringing back James to Cleveland has been something of a mission for him, and he’s encouraging Cavaliers officials to offer no restraint in the recruitment of James, sources said.
James is said to want “no less than the maximum salary,” per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst. Cleveland doesn’t have an opening to extend a max offer sheet LeBron’s way, but it appears to be working on a remedy for the situation.
According to a tweet from Wojnarowski, the Cavs are angling to free up necessary space:
Shedding Jarrett Jack’s salary from the books is paramount, but it only helps Cleveland if a third team is willing to take on Marcus Thornton’s contract from the Brooklyn Nets.
Of course, even if that happens, the Cavaliers would still need to unload more. Wojnarowski reports that 2013 first-round pick Sergey Karasev is a name that has been made available.
While anyone not named "Kyrie Irving" could potentially be on the trade block to free up cash, Wojnarowski also reported via Twitter that veteran big man Anderson Varejao—a former teammate of LeBron's—has been deemed untouchable.
The Brazilian center has reportedly already spoken with James about the possibility of a return, per The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer.
Getting the cap space needed to appease James is one notable obstacle. Another factor will be whether Gilbert can bury the hatchet with his former No. 1 overall pick.
Windhorst pointed out what may be the first step toward an apology via Twitter:
The narrative of Gilbert’s removed letter has joined swirling rumors that the Cavs owner was en route to south Florida on his private jet. Gilbert denied the claim from 92.3 The Fan’s Joe Lull, but it was later reported that former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was on the plane, per CBS Cleveland’s Daryl Ruiter.
Is this part of an elaborate recruiting pitch?
NJ.com’s Eliot Shorr-Parks reports that nothing has been confirmed but adds, “It is not difficult to connect the dots.”
Ultimately, a man-to-man, face-to-face, heart-to-heart talk between Gilbert and James must take place. Before those two can hash things out and clear the air between them, a triumphant return will be put on the back burner.
Still, the biggest issue for James during his tenure with the Cavs was the supporting cast. His best teammate during seven years with Cleveland was a tossup among Big Z, Varejao and Mo Williams.
At the very least, depth of talent won’t be an issue this time around.
Thanks in large part to netting three No. 1 overall picks over a four-year span, the Cavaliers have an influx of young talent.
Kyrie Irving is obviously the marquee member of Cleveland’s roster. The All-Star starter agreed to accept a $90 million max contract extension with the Cavs earlier this offseason, per ESPN.com.
His beautiful ball-handling skills will be on display for years to come.
Dion Waiters—the No. 4 overall pick in 2012—has shown flashes of being an electric scorer in the mold of a young Dwyane Wade. Consistency has been an issue, but he’s just 22 years old.
While the talented backcourt is the team’s biggest asset, No. 1 overall picks Anthony Bennett and incoming rookie Andrew Wiggins have a varying array of skills they can bring to the table.
Bennett had an abysmal rookie campaign, but that can be tied in part to Mike Brown’s offensive system and a lack of playing time. He notched two double-doubles during February when allotted more minutes. With a glass-half-full outlook, the UNLV product can’t possibly be less productive than he was a year ago.
It also can't be understated that he'll be playing alongside Team Canada buddies Tristan Thompson and Wiggins. The latter has already said, "I’m just excited. You know, the chemistry is already there with those guys. I played with them already. So I think big things are to come," per BasketballInsiders.com.
The comfort level should work wonders for Bennett's lacking confidence.
Speaking of Wiggins, he was unarguably a top-three prospect coming out of college. He has a chance to make multiple All-Star teams if he reaches his lofty potential.
A small-ball lineup including Irving, Waiters, Wiggins and James sports a lethal dose of offensive firepower. Any of those four guys has the ability to attack the basket with fervor. That attribute would force even the most valiant rim protectors in the Association to up their game.
New head coach David Blatt—who was voted the 2013-14 Euroleague Basketball Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year by his peers, per Cleveland.com—would feel like a mad scientist running those four athletes out on a nightly basis.
Of course, while the Cavaliers roster is loaded with young talent, that’s also a drawback.
James wants to win on the highest stage now. He’ll turn 30 later this year, so there’s little reason to believe he’ll want to join a squad a few developmental years away from championship aspirations.
As Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal put it:
Cleveland may be emerging as an increasingly competitive destination, but the team isn’t ready to win right away. Plus, the duo of David Blatt and David Griffin is an inexperienced one, at least when it comes to their current NBA gigs as head coach and general manager, respectively.
Keep in mind, Irving—though a two-time All-Star—has nary a minute of postseason experience.
James would be an ideal mentor for Cleveland’s youngsters, but that’s likely not a role he's ready to embrace at this point of his illustrious career.
Is a Reunion Conceivable?
If James’ agent, Rich Paul, is truly angling for his client to return, then putting stock in that outcome isn’t foolhardy.
James still owns a home in his native Akron, and his wife Savannah made it clear she considers Ohio home—causing a stir through Instagram in the process.
Returning to Cleveland—much less coming back and guiding the Cavs to a championship—would smooth over any remaining rift between LBJ and the Cleveland faithful.
Nevertheless, LeBron is going to make the best decision for him based on winning.
Sure, going back to Cleveland may silence naysayers that harp on his legacy. Nobody could accuse him of stacking the deck by joining an inexperienced roster.
Ultimately, though, James’ fate lies in the capable hands of Heat president Pat Riley.
The four-time MVP has reportedly planned to meet with Miami’s headman, per Windhorst. If Riles can put forth a cohesive blueprint to enhance the talent surrounding LeBron, then James has no reason not to trust the man who already helped orchestrate two titles and four straight NBA Finals trips.
Even though Riley has an impressive winning resume, though, seeing LBJ suit up in a Cavs jersey again seems more plausible now than ever before.
If nothing else, it's an option the Ohio native could (and should) ponder.