This whole thing would make sense now, right? The Prodigal Son returns home, battle-tested, wiser, ready to lead.
Didn't we do this already? Didn't LeBron James already dash the hopes of Clevelanders everywhere? Didn't he flee a plum situation in the jewel of Cuyahoga County (win one championship, live forever) and go to some exotic, beach-y town, one with an abundance of satin shirts and margaritas and a total lack of basketball enthusiasm?
Look. I know what ESPN has been saying. I know what Twitter has been saying. I know what ESPN has been saying on Twitter. But someone needs to say this: stop it.
Stop telling Clevelanders that LeBron James might return and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land.
Even if he will.
So. Yeah. Here's what I'm saying.
As a blogger and journalist: I respect LeBron James. He's an ascendant talent. The guy definitely has a place on the Rushmore of NBA-legends. If he decides to come back to Cleveland, it would have all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster or fairy tale bedtime story. You could tuck your kids in at night while telling them the modern version of the Prodigal Son. As a human being, I would love that moment and most of the moments that follow.
If he joined the Cavs' roster, they would become immediate title contenders. Irving would be elevated to warranted All-Star status. Wiggins would have a mentor and role model (and no need to immediately cultivate that Alpha Dog quality). Waiters would probably be moved for cap space/a rim protecting big man. Everyone else could find their niche.
It might be a dream scenario and in a very real way his story arc would make sense. LeBron would be living out the monomyth, the hero's journey. (In this analogy, Wade and Pat Riley are the "Woman as temptress" section.)
But I also have friends that are invested in this team. They were cheering for the Cavs before LBJ, during LBJ and after LBJ (god help them). My partner on this blog told me he's having dreams about James' return. I have friends that are getting anxiety attacks, friends that are obsessively glued into Twitter. I see daily posts from acquaintances who are busily acting like scorned exes on social media.
"Oh...I mean, it would be cool if he came back...but like, whatever if he doesn't. I'm cool either way."
These are the same people that will carry his banner in the parade announcing his return. The same people that will boo until their throats pop bloody leaks like an overflowing dam if he goes anywhere else.
And here's the problem. For the next 48 hours or longer, the media feeding frenzy circling around the bloody entrails of James' impending Decision 2.0 will be frantic and source-less. Knowing what's real and what's not will be difficult to parse out even for the people wearing glossy Media credentials. You'd almost be better sitting on the pine and catching up on Mad Men.
However, if you're a masochist, here's what we know and what we can assume to be true:
If James wants to win championships there are other teams that are better equipped right now (read: any team in the Western Conference). If he wants to continue his legacy as "the Heatles", then he goes back to Miami.
Cleveland basically has the hometown appeal going for it. There are some extremely interesting young pieces on the roster: Irving, Wiggins, and hell, apparently even Tristan Thompson intrigues James. There are also three first round draft picks next year and some tradeable assets. Not to mention that they can make enough room for a max deal by simply trading away Jack's contract for a non-guaranteed one (Specifically, a 3 way trade between the Cavs, Nets, and Hawks would do it. Jack to the Nets, Thornton to the Hawks plus a pick, and Salmon's non-guaranteed contract to the Cavs).
Cleveland is also located in the Eastern Conference, which is a bigger plus than it might seem on first blush. The extremely weak EC means there is basically a debris free path to the ECF or NBA Finals with James on the roster.
But Irving has never had a winning season as the Alpha Dog. James' current running mates (Wade and Bosh) had some winning seasons pre-Miami. And the Cavs don't have a viable rim protecting big man. Alternatively, they don't have a great big man. Or a really good big man. They do have some adequate big men. David Blatt is brand spanking new to the NBA. He could be the next coming of Red Auerbach or a more gregarious Gregg Popovich. He could also be Tim Floyd. David Griffin is a well-respected GM who is entering his second season at the helm of the team (his first full season). But there are still question marks about his ability to perform.
And then there's Dan Gilbert. Until very, very recently the Cavs website hosted his scolding letter to James from 2010 (in which he promised the Cavs would win a title before LBJ). And Brian Windhorst this morning, on Mike & Mike (the shit I watch for you people), said the turbulent relationship between Gilbert and James would be one of, if not THE, biggest obstacle to James' return. And Gilbert ain't selling the team to lube LBJ's return.
Twitter has been afire with rumors and rampant, mostly unchecked/unverified speculation. Brad will have a post about that sometime this afternoon.
So here we are. That's basically everything we know. Now, to be clear: Miami is in dire straits. Bosh is being aggressively courted by Houston. Wade was on his last legs two years ago and now appears to have less motion in his knees than a Walker. The roster currently consists of rookie Shabazz Napier and role player Norris Cole. There's room for growth in the form of free agents and Pat Riley is a mastermind with a ton of championship rings to back him up.
The Western Conference teams have better overall rosters but play in a much deeper, much tougher conference. We could break them down one-by-one but that's pretty much true for the Mavs, Suns and Rockets (all of whom are in pursuit of James). I don't think LBJ would want to play the Spurs on any stage besides the NBA Finals but maybe I'm wrong.
Which leaves us all (media, bloggers, most GMs, fans, families, people who never gave a shit about this sport to begin with) wondering what happens next. James switching teams is a seismic shift. James staying with his team is a seismic shift. He is the best player on the planet, his teams have appeared in four straight NBA Finals, winning two of them. He could go anywhere. Remember that when you're binge reading the latest Woj-clone tweets. No one knows where this guy is going except him.
But if he does come home, expect a lot more videos like this one.