The Cleveland Cavaliers 2014 free agency period is now one of the most talked about since the summer of 2010, the summer of the Decision. With the commitment to get back to winning ways, the Cavs road back to the playoffs is filled with promise. The drafting of Andrew Wiggins and the re-signing of Kyrie Irving give the Cavs the much needed edge to bring positive attention back to the franchise and become a serious landing spot for veteran free agents.
However, there is something about this Cavs free agency period that seems similar to 2010. That something is: LeBron James.
With the announcement of James opting out of the last two years of his contract with the Miami Heat to test the free agent market, the Cavs are reportedly pursuing James once more. What was thought to be by many fans and media as a long shot to ever hear LeBron and the Cavs mentioned positively in the same sentence, especially how everything ended in the summer of 2010, this possibility has drummed up the chatter of speculation about a conceivable return of James.
The return of LeBron James to Cleveland and donning the Wine and Gold again would bring a positive impact like no other to both James and the Cavs franchise. For James, it would be a story of legacy redemption and returning home to where it all started. He was never able to bring a Championship to Cleveland during the first go around. He would have an opportunity to make good on that promise. He also would be the key veteran piece to get Cleveland immediately contending for the playoffs again. The trickle down affect would be a fan base buzzing and excited about the Cavs again. It would be the story of the year.
Or will it be a story at all? Are the Cavs setting themselves up to be on the receiving end of disappointment once again?
Although speculating the positives of a return are exciting, the flip side of a coin reveals another story and a list of concerns that the Cavs organization and Cavs fans should take into consideration:
- Is this turning into Decision 2.0? The free agency period is now reaching day 7 and James has not moved forward on his decision to stay with the Miami Heat. Although many teams are interested in him (Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers), the process is taking on a similar route as 2010. Teams such as the Cavaliers could be in danger of missing out on other key veteran free agents if LeBron does not make a decision soon. The Cavs cannot afford to make that mistake again. If James is all in with restructuring his contract with the Miami Heat to include max money and had intended to stay with the Heat from the start, then he essentially held teams up in free agency just like 2010 from pursuing other free agents that could fill their needs and make the moves they needed to make. Not an impression you want to leave with teams more than once.
- Cavs Cap Space. The Cavs have one of the most healthy cap spaces in the league. However, signing James to a max contract could potentially affect big free agent signings down the road. The Cavs have a talented core of young players that they are building upon and establishing consistency. Bringing James in on a max contract with no room later on to add other big veteran free agents will put the Cavs in the same position as before. They can’t be in position again to not be able to provide help James may need should the core players not be enough. It would also mean adjusting the core player roster to make room for a veteran player. Will James have the patience to work with the Cavs organization to get the roster where it needs to be?
- Heat Roster Moves. Miami Heat Team President Pat Riley is doing everything he can to keep James with the Heat. With the roster improvements by trading for Shabazz Napier from Charlotte in the NBA Draft. Couple that, with the addition of Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, moves are being made to surround LeBron and improve the roster to contend for another Championship. McRoberts is a shooting and passing threat option at the power forward position that James can utilize. McRoberts size, at 6’10”, is an additional perk that Miami needed. Granger, a former All-Star with the Indiana Pacers, brings veteran presence and 3 pt shooting ability. While two other key pieces, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, have not moved forward on re-signing with the Heat, the moves Riley is making and the eventual restructured contract amount, may be just enough for James to stay.
Unfortunately, the desire to be back in Ohio and playing for the Cavs is going to have to be deep for James. Pressure to win a Championship in Cleveland will be more intense that what he experienced when he went to the Heat. He has a fan base to earn trust from again. Is he willing to take the hard road? Otherwise, he stays in Miami. The answer is coming soon. The answer may not be what the Cavs organization and fans want to hear.