For fans in Cleveland, LeBron James is Anakin Skywalker.
He started as the child prodigy and came to the NBA as the next great Jedi, with an unusual grasp of the force. But he couldn't quite achieve all he wanted—no, he didn't desire the ability to prevent death, he just wanted a title—and he turned to the Dark Side of the Force, joining the Miami Heat.
Darth Vader was born.
He won two titles, yes, but twice he failed to win a title despite reaching the NBA Finals (which just so happens to be the number of times the Death Star was destroyed in the movies). But another young Jedi, Kyrie Irving, may just be beckoning him back to the Light Side of the Force. Will LeBron be able to break free from the Emperor, aka Pat Riley?
It sure looks like it.
Star Wars metaphors aside, it is looking shockingly likely that LeBron will return to Cleveland. Who would have ever thought that possible after Cleveland fans burned his jersey after he left for Miami, or owner Dan Gilbert wrote the saltiest of salty letters?
But here we are. The Heat got old fast, the Cavs have a young, exciting core and the money to pay LeBron the max and suddenly, a return home for King James seems possible.
Likely, even, if Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops is to be believed:
That is my latest intelligence, and it comes from the same league source who told me Monday that he felt there was a 75 percent chance James returns to his original NBA team.
One of the reasons the Cavs suddenly seem like front-runners to land LeBron is that the team recently traded several assets to clear out cap space, according to Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
The Cavaliers traded Sergey Karasev and Jarrett Jack to the Brooklyn Nets and sent Tyler Zeller and a future first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics, a person familiar with the three-team trade told USA Today Sports. Marcus Thornton also was sent from Brooklyn to Boston.
The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the deal until the free agency moratorium period ends on July 10.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports has more on how that math works for LeBron and Cleveland:
With eight guaranteed contracts now (and four minimum cap holds), Cavs have, by my math, a $22m slot. LeBron's max is $20.7m.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) July 9, 2014
Clearing out players who would be contributors for cap space certainly appears to be a move made with the intention of signing LeBron. But not so fast, says Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
Cavs planned to make version of this trade regardless of LeBron plans, sources say. Should not be indication any LeBron decision reached.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 9, 2014
And we still don't even know if LeBron is going to spurn Miami, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports points out:
Among GM's, there's still belief LeBron James walks into Pat Riley meeting, lays out his 1-2 year max contract proposal and stays w/ Heat.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 9, 2014
Still, there is enough buzz about what the Cavs are up to that suggests the team thinks they have a real shot at landing LeBron. If they bring the King aboard, who will join his court?
According to ESPN, familiar faces could be coming along for the ride:
After shedding nearly $22 million in cap space in a proposed three-team trade, the Cleveland Cavaliers are also pursuing free agent shooting guard Ray Allen and forward Mike Miller, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.
The cap-clearing maneuvers would primarily allow the Cavs to make a max offer to LeBron James, but Allen and/or Miller also could join Cleveland under team-friendly deals.
Allen and Miller are good friends with LeBron, having played with him for two and three seasons, respectively, with the Miami Heat.
And that might not be all. Speculation abounds that the Cavs could make a serious play for Kevin Love to join LeBron. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated certainly thinks Cleveland has a chance to pull something of that nature off:
BOS wants Kevin Love, but could find itself in a dogfight with Cleveland, who still have a chip BOS can't match: No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) July 9, 2014
The Andrew Wiggins clan isn't hearing the same thing, however, according to Amick:
Re: possibility of Cavs landing Kevin Love to further entice LeBron, the Andrew Wiggins camp doesn't believe he's being considered as piece.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 9, 2014
So much is up in the air right now, as the basketball world waits for King James to make his move. Remember, Cleveland is in as much of a holding pattern as any other team.
But they do seem to have contingency plans in place. Marc Stein of ESPN lays out one such plan:
Hearing Cavs have strong interest in Rockets RFA Chandler Parsons if LeBron elects to stay to Miami. Parsons said to be next-in-line target— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 9, 2014
Wojnarowski has more on another:
For Cavaliers, there are no assurances on LeBron James -- and Plan B remains free agent Trevor Ariza into part of space, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 9, 2014
And so we wait. The entire basketball world hinges on what LeBron James will do. Any little hint, any little inclination from the King's camp of his decision will send the NBA spiraling into a frenzy. And so, while we wait for hints, the man himself is keeping things under wraps. The following is about the extent of what we're getting from LeBron these days.
Not much to go on there.
So what will Anakin Skywalker do? Will he, in one final act, renounce the Dark Side and return to Cleveland? Or will he turn this metaphor on its head and stay with Miami, burning his hometown for a second time in the process?
Cleveland fans are hoping—nay, praying—it's the former. But this isn't Hollywood, it's the NBA—a happy ending is far from a guarantee in this story.