March 22, 2013
If you don't think some Cavaliers fans are a little bit over the top about the slim possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland in 2014, you didn't see the shirt of the guy who ran on the court in the fourth quarter Wednesday night of the Heat's dramatic win in Cleveland. The fool disrupted the game before he was hauled off in handcuffs, all while wearing a T-shirt saying:
"LeBron 2014 Come Back."
After the game LeBron told reporters the guy said he missed him and asked him to come back.
Let's put aside the fact that running on the court mid-game may not be the best way to convince a player your idea is a good one, this guy is a tip of a Cleveland iceberg. There is a real sense there - and in some other circles around the NBA - that this could happen.
LeBron didn't quell that speculation Wednesday at shootaround when he refused to discuss it altogether. Here's the quote, via Brian Windhorst at ESPN.
"My only focus now is to win another championship, I can't worry about speculation or rumors," James said recently when the subject was raised. "What we're doing on the floor right now is what it's all about. We're playing good ball right now. We're trying to win a championship."
If you know anything about how over-zealous fans think, you know that not talking about it means you are tacitly confirming everything they are thinking.
Does a game like Wednesday then give the Cleveland fans more hope? In their minds you bet it does. Sure, LeBron got booed a little, but he saw that the Cavs have a good core of hard working players, right? He realizes he can win here, right?
No. Not to throw cold water on the shooter on the grassy knoll theory, but no. The reality is the Miami Heat remain far and away the leaders in the 2014 LeBron sweepstakes. Everyone else is grasping at straws.
It's not hard to draw up the LeBron returns to Cleveland scenarios. Even regular Miami Heat beat writers like our friend Ira Winderman writing for NBC will help you connect the dots - LeBron can opt out in 2014, the Cavaliers have 2014 cap space, LeBron said he would consider coming back one day, his new agent/manager is based in Cleveland and LeBron spoke highly of Kyrie Irving at All-Star weekend.
All that can't be a coincidence, right? It's not like every coach and player in the NBA speaks highly of Kyrie Irving… oh, wait, yes they do. It's not like LeBron's new agent is both from Cleveland and has another client there (Tristan Thompson), so he would likely locate there anyway. It's not like a bunch of teams have 2014 cap space, including the Lakers. It's not like… oh, you get the idea.
LeBron is almost certainly going to opt out in 2014 - he will want the security of a longer five-year deal (and he can get more money, if he so chooses). Money is not a big factor - Lebron is a max player, he can get that or take less if he chooses, and he can get it anywhere (plus he makes far more off the court in endorsements anyway).
What he will do is make a decision based on his legacy and winning titles (which go hand-in-hand). The win streak they are on will be part of that Heat legacy.
So would jumping ship to another team, leaving another fan base angry, really help him with that legacy? While you can make a case it will be hard with the salary cap for Miami to surround LeBron with the same talent he has enjoyed so far. Of course, those same rules apply to other teams as well. Plus, convincing guys to come to South Beach for less money and to win rings is not all that hard.
Most importantly, do you really think LeBron is leaving his buddy Dwyane Wade, especially if they win another title or two here in the next couple years? With LeBron's newfound maturity may be a sense of loyalty. To his friends, to the organization that got him rings.
But we are jumping the gun here. LeBron has to decide what to do by June 30, 2014, what to do. He doesn't fully know what he will do then (things can change). Although next season he's going to have to address this in a more concrete way than "I'm not going to talk about it." Otherwise the distraction will be too big.
Bigger than crazy guys running on the court. But that's where we are now.