LeBron James wrote an essay to SI.com basically letting them know that he was returning home to Cleveland. In this essay, he explained why he made his decision, why he announced the decision the way he had, and how this decision was very different from the one he made four years ago. This decision came to a surprise to many. A heartbreak for Pat Riley and Heat Owner Mickey Arison (and of the Miami Heat fan base), but a sigh of relief and hope for Dan Gilbert and the city of Cleveland.
The main question arising after this breaking turn of events is “will LeBron win a championship in Cleveland?” Cleveland has not had a championship of any kind from any professional sports team in 50 years. Since James’ departure, the Cavs carried a 97-215, no playoff appearances, and overall has had the worst franchise of the league. James promised before to win a championship for the city during his first stint with the Cavaliers, and got very close in 2007 before being swept out of the finals by the San Antonio Spurs, but ultimately, he didn’t deliver on his promise. He was smart enough to not make that promise again, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic.” LeBron’s return instantly puts them in a position to become a championship contender in the years ahead, but a contender is all they will be, as wining a championship with this team will not be an easy feat. More than likely, it will not happen at all. And I think LeBron James, in his heart of hearts, knows it’s a slim chance he’ll do it too. The bigger question should be is does he really need to?
Cleveland has a solid young core in place: Kyrie Irving (22-year old point guard and 2x all star who recently signed a long term extension), Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Anthony Bennett, and the new addition of Andrew Wiggins provide some serious upside to a building team. James even mentioned this in his essay saying, “I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, and I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.” However, a well as they rebound, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao don’t provide enough of an offense. Also notice how he didn’t mention Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, in his statement. This could be because he may be on his way to Minnesota in a deal for Kevin Love. Acquiring Kevin Love to play with the Cavs would only make the Cavs more of a contender. But don’t think that Minnesota is going to just give up Love for Wiggins. It’s a strong possibility that getting Love will also mean possibly losing Waiters and/or Thompson as well as a draft pick. Minnesota would rather take their chances with Love opting out next year than make a bold bargain. This causes a problem to the core of the Cavaliers and will create more of a set back for a championship than a progression.
In a weak Eastern Conference where the Cavs could make it to the ECF, there are still other core groups that could contest them for a chance to play in the final i.e. the Indiana Pacers. The Chicago Bulls are very much a threat if they so happen to land Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose is playing at an elite level again (both of which are in the same division with Cleveland). Either way, none of these teams are at the talent level of teams in the Western Conference. Kevin Durant continues to get better and if the Oklahoma City Thunder can get Gasol, they’ll be the favorite for next year. Of course the Spurs are still the Spurs and will always be a threat. The bottom of the Western Conference elite is even still a problem for the best of the East; The Clippers, Warriors, and Rockets all have a better chance to win a championship than Cleveland. The Cavs just don’t have the post-season experience and by the time they do, who knows if teams like the Lakers, Memphis and even Phoenix (who looked pretty good last season) hasn’t risen to become contenders again themselves.
This move to Cleveland was about closure for LeBron James. He actually doesn’t even have to win a championship in Cleveland for his legacy to stay in tact. It’s already sealed. There is no question about whether or not James has solidified himself amongst the best players in the game. Four MVPS (two in back to back seasons) will do that for you. And there is a strong possibility he will accumulate another. He no longer has the pressure of being a ringless leader either. He won two out of four straight appearances. This move was about closure. About being the “savior” of Cleveland. He wants to be the guy that “fixed” Cleveland. Coming back now allows him to do that with a clear conscience.
He’s been in the league 11 years, not to mention the Olympics and USA basketball. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a person, meaning: LeBron wants to retire a Cavalier. At 29 years old and playing that much basketball, he knows it cant and won’t last forever. By returning while he’s still in his prime, he helps to develop Kyrie Irving into a phenomenal athlete, he brings a sense of winning back to a winless city, and he reestablishes himself as a leader and role model in the Cleveland and Akron community. Now that James has learned how to win and matured more, he’s going home to take his hometown to new heights and will forever be the face of the Cavaliers, and he doesn’t need a championship to do that.