The idea of coming home to finish your career in the place where it all began is admirable. You’re deciding to make your life a complete circle by bringing back all of the skills you’ve learned in other areas and applying them in a place where you have ties that go beyond the name of the company you work for. This is the area where you grew up in. Your childhood memories, good or bad, were created here. Anyone who has ever debated about continuing their job in a city that isn’t around where they grew up can relate to the decision LeBron James went through. Do I leave the area that I’ve grown up in and become a better person and head back to the place where I started this journey?
Where the common folk and LeBron James can’t relate is figuring out the option that gives you the best chance to win your third ring.
LeBron is smart enough to understand that this is the best possible time for the city of Cleveland to witness their first NBA title. By shooting back up North to Ohio, The King has slammed down his scepter and shifted the entire perspective of the Eastern Conference.
For the past four years, the Miami Heat was the only real championship threat in the East. The conference has been full of pretenders and past their prime trios who needed to be put down for the last half of a decade. Think about all of the teams that LeBron, Wade and Bosh vanquished during their reign among the top of the East. The up and coming Pacers, who opened and closed their title window during the four years LeBron was in South Beach. The Pacers stepped in right after the Boston group of Garnett, Pierce, Allen + Rondo gave Miami their best shot. The Knicks evolved from the remains of Isiah Thomas’ awful run in New York into the Amare Stoudemire show before Melo came home to the Big Apple.
The team that should have been Miami’s biggest rival during this time period, was forced to put their title push on pause and wait for their superstar to get healthy, but thanks to The Decision 2.0, they now have the most to gain in terms of immediate basketball success.
That’s right, the biggest winner in LeBron’s return home to Cleveland is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls missed out on two peak years from Derrick Rose and still somehow became a thorn in Miami’s side. With the addition of Pau Gasol, the Bulls need to be recognized as the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Heat, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Hawks, Nets (maybe?) and Hornets all have the ability to make a first or second round series interesting with the Bulls or Cavs, but if Chicago is firing at all cylinders (aka Derrick Rose stays healthy) they have the deepest roster from top to bottom in the East.
Obviously this last paragraph changes if the Timberwolves and Cavs can come to some sort of agreement for Kevin Love. Then all bets are off, but I’ll get to Love later on, let’s keep this focused on LeBron for now.
After reading LeBron’s letter that was organized by SI’s Lee Jenkins, it’s easy to understand the thought process behind James’ decision to head back to Cleveland. He wants to bring success to an area that has been tortured by sports for five decades. Based off of the humbleness LeBron has shown in the public light, it seems safe to say he understands how lucky he is to be in this position. He’s the most recognizable figure in all of American sports.
LeBron knows how important he is to the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio. By heading back to the Cavaliers, LeBron has made Cleveland a potential destination for big name free agents with an owner who is currently trying to rebuild the downtown area in Detroit. Dan Gilbert is a business man; he monetarily understood how big it was for one of his brands to have the most popular athlete in American sports back under its umbrella. It was time to put the pettiness aside and get a deal done to bring Akron’s son home.
The buildup to James’ decision was flat out ridiculous, it was a soap opera in nature and like the soaps, LeBron’s choice to stay as quiet as possible wound up being just as interesting as watching him make his choice at a Boys and Girls Club in Connecticut. We couldn’t get enough, except for Brian Windhorst, I think he tapped out during his 95th appearance in two weeks on SportsCenter.
We all just wanted an answer because we couldn’t stand the curiosity. We need to be fed information as quickly as possible and it became torturous to watch free agency come to a screeching halt until LeBron finally decided to come home in the form of a letter.
Ah yes, LeBron’s letter. I thought the approach to this story was excellent. Sports Illustrated has taken this approach before and it has worked in the past with great success, but there was an interesting moment when you first noticed that Andrew Wiggins’ name wasn’t anywhere to be found. Almost immediately the speculation began to circle if this was a clue to the Cavs’ future plans to land Kevin Love. Perhaps bringing Love to Cleveland was something that was mentioned during LeBron’s meeting with Gilbert and the Cavs front office. You would imagine there was quite a bit pitched to James in terms of life beyond these next two seasons.
And look it is quite a bit of fun to play fantasy basketball and imagine what it would be like for Love to lineup next to LeBron and Kyrie. Love would likely be enough to put the Cavs over the top in the East (assuming health, which is super risky with Irving), but the T’Wolves could decide to play hardball and make Love wait an entire season before giving him the opportunity to team up with LeBron, Kyrie and Wiggins. If the Cavs have the strength to hold onto Wiggins, it’ll be the difference in being a favorite to get out of the East and being a favorite to win a championship.
Getting rid of Wiggins would be harmful for many reasons. The main one being that it’s going to be extremely difficult to replicate the type of production Wiggins could put up for the amount of money he’s going to get paid. Wiggins can immediately step in and improve the Cavaliers on the defensive side of the ball. He has an offensive game and will grow as a scorer, but for right now he has to become the guy whose sole purpose in a series against the Spurs is to neutralize Kawhi Leonard.
If the Cavs do indeed hold onto Wiggins, they run the risk of a couple different scenarios happening. One, the Timberwolves replicate the what the Trail Blazers did last season (make LaMarcus Aldridge happy and get past the first round) and Love decides that he likes the direction of the organization and flips his opinion. Two, the Warriors pony up, include Klay Thompson in a deal for Love, who decides that he can see himself succeeding in the Bay Area with Stephen Curry. If Andrew Bogut could actually stay healthy in the playoffs (just once, maybe?) the Warriors are super fascinating. Love’s ability to spread the floor would open up an entirely new dimension for Curry to distribute the ball.
Three, Love waits and joins LeBron, Kyrie and Wiggins to form a super team that wasn’t possible in Miami due to the advanced aging of Dwyane Wade. Miami was also never going to have the opportunity to bring in a young number one overall pick into the fold. The Cavs have three of those commodities and has the room to bring in a star free agent.
The more you think about the Cavs, the easier it is to see why LeBron made the right basketball decision. Yes his return home ended up being the right decision from a PR stand point for the Cavs, LeBron and the NBA as a whole, but think about how much harder his decision gets if the Cavs have the 12th pick in this year’s draft.
Also think about how much different this scenario could be if Wade was still a top-15 player. There wouldn’t nearly be as much incentive to leave if an in his prime Bosh and a just past his peak Wade were still firing at all cylinders. The Heat were three wins away from winning their third straight championship and then the wheels came off. The mileage caught up to them.
When I ran the numbers to see how many games Kyrie and Wade have played over the last three years, I was stunned at how similar the two are:
Kyrie: 230 possible games, 181 regular season games, 79 percent
Wade: 295 possible games, 171 regular season games, 65 postseason games, 80 percent
Even with Wade’s abundance of vacation days this past season, he’s still played in a higher percentage of games than Irving has in his first three years in the league. Kyrie still has the benefit of the doubt (for most) and has time to adjust and grow in the NBA. Those days for Wade are long gone. He needs to evolve his game in the post-LeBron period in Miami.
Kyrie Irving is 22 years old, entering his fourth season in the NBA and is still years away from hitting his prime.
Dwyane Wade is 32 years old, living on borrowed time as a shooting guard and entering potentially the last bit of relevant basketball he’ll play in his career.
Who would you rather continue your career with?
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