There are few athletes who can polarize the sports world like NBA superstar LeBron James, and his decision regarding where to play the next several years of his career is holding the rest of the league hostage.
Everyone is waiting for James to make his choice.
With the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and several other organizations vying for the chance to sign James to a contract, the free-agent sweepstakes has consumed most of the basketball conversation since he opted out of his last deal.
Here are the latest rumors surrounding the biggest star in the NBA today.
Is Cleveland a Serious Contender to Land James?
While many fans expected James to stay with Miami, the Cleveland Cavaliers have emerged as a serious contender to land him this offseason. With his roots in Ohio and his history with the franchise, a return to the organization looks to be a realistic option now.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, James’ agent may be laying the groundwork for a return to the Cavaliers:
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.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard also chimed in on the topic of James to Cleveland:
Cleveland has replaced Miami as my frontrunner to land LeBron James...— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
I'm not saying LJ to Cavs is done deal or I know 4 a fact; just my gut feeling based on many conversations I've had around this story...— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
These convos aren't sourced enough 4 me to report as fact. But I've heard enough to believe "the wind is blowing" LJ back home. We'll see...— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
James spent the first seven years of his career with the Cavaliers but was never able to bring home the championship. With the experience he acquired over his tenure with Miami, a return to Cleveland would bring the team much closer to a title.
Add in the players who could potentially try to follow James to Cleveland, such as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or one of the other top stars waiting for LeBron to make his decision, and the Cavaliers could immediately become a serious contender.
With Kyrie Irving at point guard, a young potential star in Andrew Wiggins and a strong group of young players, the possibility of James landing back in Cleveland is an intriguing and realistic option.
Is Pat Riley the Key to James Returning to Miami?
There are many fans who hope LeBron goes back to Cleveland, but Pat Riley and the top executives with the Miami Heat are not among them. Riley is doing everything he can to bring James back to South Beach.
In a report from Sam Amick of USA Today, James and his agent will meet with Riley this week after talking to several top teams in the league about what they had to offer via free agency:
LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul, plan on meeting with Miami Heat president Pat Riley in person early this week, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.
Paul recently had discussions and meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers about the prospect of James joining their respective teams. The specific date, time and location of the meeting are still being discussed.
This is the perfect way to handle the situation for James and his camp. It was clear that Riley wanted him back from day one, but James had the opportunity to test the waters, weigh all of his options and determine what is best for his family's future.
While returning to Miami would likely be ideal for James due to the team’s recent penchant for winning, he has the ability to walk away if he feels that he has a better opportunity to win in another city.
Money won’t be an issue for the Heat, who can offer him more than any other team, but rather it will be the long-term game plan that Riley must sell James on this time.
The team already agreed to terms with Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in free agency, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, so it will be interesting to see if those moves have any impact on James' decision.
Is Chris Bosh Waiting on James’ Decision?
Most eyes may be focused on James and where he will land, but there are many key players waiting on the top free agent before they make their own decisions.
One of the biggest names on hold is Chris Bosh.
According to Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, the Houston Rockets are looking to pull Bosh away from Miami, but the power forward will not sign until James makes his decision:
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com on Sunday that the Rockets -- though they haven't formally been told they are no longer in the running for top free-agent target Carmelo Anthony -- have intensified their pursuit of Bosh over the weekend in the hope that LeBron James will seriously consider leaving the Heat.
Bosh is resolved to wait on James to make a decision before he makes a decision on any other offers, as his preference remains to return to Miami with James, according to a source. However, the longer the process has gone on, the more Bosh has felt compelled to explore "Plan Bs," the source said.
Bosh would be a great complement to the players Houston already has on the roster. With Dwight Howard patrolling the center position and James Harden able to drive to the hoop and attack the lane, Bosh would be free to assume more of the shooting role he was most comfortable with in Miami.
Ideally, he would like to re-sign with James on the Heat and win more championships, but Bosh is smart to keep all of his options open. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until James pulls the trigger on a new deal.
*Stats via NBA.com.