I waited as long as I could, and gathered as much information as possible. In the end, after all the ups and downs, all the interviews I've done, all the criticism I have taken for my Wine and Gold-colored opinions I am ready to let you know what I think will happen sometime between 9:00 and 10:00PM tonight.
LeBron James stay in Cleveland.
There are several reason for this, but most importantly to James, his people, and his endorsers is Cleveland is the softest landing spot for him and LBJ23, LeBron's Nike-backed brand.
If LeBron's brand is going to approach anything close to what Michael Jordan's has accomplished he needs to maintain a certain level of popularity. The brand needs to also have an identity. Going to Miami, playing second-fiddle to a team that is still not championship ready, along with being the 3rd-highest paid player on the roster does not do a brand or reputation good. That's just reality.
Really, can you see LeBron tossing chalk before a game on Wade's court? Me neither. Playing with the Heat would be too much like an All-Star game. D-Wade gets a couple shots, then LeBron takes a few, then 3 or 4 possessions feeding the ball to Chris Bosh. That's great in an exhibition game, but it will not work over the course of an 82-game season and 20+ playoff games.
LeBron has also had to get the feeling that leaving now, in this manner, would do irreparable damage to his hometown image. People can debate the justification for it, but it's simply a fact. Art Modell, now 85 years old, owned the Cleveland Browns for 35+ years when he moved the team to Baltimore. Now, 15 years later, Modell still has not stepped foot in Cleveland - even with a new Browns team having been here for over a decade. Cleveland fans do not forgive and never forget. As much as LeBron would like to separate Akron from Cleveland, he cannot. This decision will affect the entire region, including his beloved hometown. Perhaps now, after going through the recruiting process for the first time in his life, he is realizing just what kind of impact he has - both on Cleveland and Akron.
Lastly, and perhaps least importantly to LeBron, is the financial decision he'd be making. Leaving $30 million on the table to go to Dwyane Wade's team just doesn't make sense. Mark Cuban and countless other NBA execs feel the same way. LeBron wants to be known as a smart, savvy business man. This is not a smart or savvy move, regardless if it might appear that way. It reeks of desperation, and in the end - with the way LeBron played at the end of the Boston series, would appear as if LeBron wasn't strong enough to take on the challenge of winning a championship.
Of course I could be wrong about all of the above. Perhaps the persona we have all become used to - "King James", "The Chosen One", "Loyalty" and "Family" tattooed on his body, perhaps all of that is a creation of marketing people and Nike. Maybe we really are seeing the real LeBron now, for the first time in his life. Maybe he has no desire to be "The Man", preferring to defer to someone else. Hell, maybe LeBron only has fun on the court if he is playing with his boys - like an Open Gym session.
My guess is that isn't the case.
Sometime, around 3 hours from now, LeBron James is going to announce to the world where he will play basketball next season and beyond. My guess now as it has been for the last three years?
LeBron James will sign a 3-year deal to stay with the Cavaliers.