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Report: LeBron Not a Lock to Remain in Cleveland
Saturday, March 5
According to The Big Lead's Ty Duffy (via Luke Kerr-Dineen of USA Today), ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN Radio's Jorge & Izzy that those close to King James don't believe a return to Cleveland is a foregone conclusion:
What everybody who's close to him continuously reminds me of is: 'don't you dare take LeBron for granted or think he's trapped into staying in Cleveland just because he came back. Don't put it past him that he'll get so annoyed that he'll leave again if he feels like he's being taken for granted, ran into the ground and, essentially, misused.
Per Kerr-Dineen, Smith then said on ESPN's First Take (starting at the 11-minute mark) that he doesn't expect LeBron to opt out, at least until the Cavs win a title: "I will tell you this: LeBron never once promised to retire a Cleveland Cavalier. His mission is to come back and deliver a championship to the city of Cleveland, I don't see him departing before that happens unless he believes there's no hope or something else happens with [team owner] Dan Gilbert."
The Cavaliers are currently first in the Eastern Conference with a record of 43-17, and they are the odds-on favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
According to Spotrac.com, LeBron has a player option worth just over $24 million next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2017.
The 31-year-old star is having another excellent season with averages of 24.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, but he has seemingly gone through some ups and downs since the Cavs fell to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals last year.
Head coach David Blatt was replaced by Tyronn Lue midseason despite his team sporting the best record in the Eastern Conference, and there are constant reports regarding the apparently rocky relationship between James and Kevin Love.
James already left Cleveland once when he signed with the Miami Heat in 2010 and went on to win a pair of championships.
He has expressed his commitment to helping the Cavs win a championship ever since his return, but the fact that LeBron has given himself a potential out in his contract means that nothing is guaranteed.
Cleveland will be hard-pressed to defeat the Warriors in the NBA Finals should a rematch occur, and if it falls just short for the second year in a row, then it will be fair to wonder if the Cavs will ever be able to overtake them.
The Cavaliers have the benefit of being the dominant team in the Eastern Conference despite the Toronto Raptors seemingly starting to close the gap, though, which means there may be no better options on the table for King James.
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