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LeBron James doesn't have the option of becoming a free agent until the summer of 2014, but that hasn't stopped speculation that his time in Miami may end before he has the chance to deliver the eight championships he promised after being traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Los Angeles could be in prime position to make a run at James, as will at least another half dozen teams, but persistent reports link the Cavs to the Akron native.
My three years at Ohio State were three of the greatest years in the history of Cavaliers basketball, and it was almost all on the back of LeBron James. My freshman year saw the Cavaliers ride James and Daniel Gibson past the Detroit Pistons and reach what looked like the first of many trips to the NBA Finals. Sophomore year, Cleveland made the big trade to bring in Delonte West, Ben Wallace, and Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith. A lifeless team jettisoned Larry Hughes and instantly became one of the best teams in the NBA. It took a Herculean effort by Paul Pierce for the eventual champion Boston Celtics to knock out Cleveland in Game 7. My last year was a blur, as I raced to graduate a year early, and the Cavaliers added Mo Williams and won 66 games. A title never felt inevitable, or assured. The Celtics and Lakers were going to be tough. And then the Cavaliers were blindsided. Dwight Howard made Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao look slow and small, respectively, and Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus and Rashard Lewis decided to make every three pointer they ever took. LeBron James played magnificently; he did everything he possibly could have done, and the supporting cast just couldn't get the stops, and just couldn't hit the shots. Nothing felt right ever again.
The next season was on its face a successful one. Cleveland won a ton of games, there were crazy sideline antics, everyone was having fun, Mo Williams seemed to have his swagger back. But there were other things going on. In a move that screamed desperation even at the time, the Cavs brought in Shaquille O'Neal to try and match up with Dwight Howard. Delonte West was arrested for gun possession near his home in D.C. And of course, everyone wanted to know what LeBron James was going to do. Would he go to New York? The Clippers had space and assets. Chicago had Derrick Rose. And LeBron James, larger than life basketball player, perhaps the most talented guy to ever pick up a ball, the perfect basketball specimen, well, he couldn't really stay in little Cleveland could he?
That last year, and the realization that no, he wasn't going to stay in little Cleveland, made the previous three seasons hard to appreciate. I can remember how I felt watching LeBron go toe-to-toe in Boston with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Pierce, but it isn't much different than how excited I was watching Dion Waiters keep the Cavaliers in it against the Sacramento Kings the other night.
And now the speculation of LeBron is back. Writer Brian Windhorst notes that Miami fans can never appreciate what they have in James the way that Cleveland did. He quotes Dwyane Wade reminiscing over the days before LeBron when he got all the shots he wanted. Jason Lloyd writes about the Cavaliers desperately trying to make the team attractive enough for James to come in 2014. Cavaliers fans talking about how LeBron will want to win in Cleveland for his legacy to be complete. Cavaliers fans saying that LeBron, once again, is the team's only hope at an NBA title. This isn't to say that those things are not true. Maybe the core of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and whatever comes our way this June won't be good enough. The Cavs can follow the Oklahoma City Model, or the Detroit Pistons model, or the Denver Nuggets model, and it may not matter. LeBron James is the best player in the world. He can guard four positions. His athleticism may have ticked down a bit, which simply means that he is now merely a freak and not otherworldly. Outside of maybe free throw shooting, there isn't a weakness to his game. Cavaliers fans would be crazy to not want a player like that.
No one has ever accused the fine fans of Cleveland of following their teams in a healthy way. The winters are cold, the teams are abusive, and the fans abuse alcohol. There isn't much to do besides stay in with the wife and turn on the Cavs game, or head to the corner bar to watch the Indians, or head to the Muni Lot at 7 am Sunday morning to get ready to watch Jake Delhomme, or Jeff Garcia, or Colt McCoy. The years change, the players change, the fans don't. So here we are again, waiting on LeBron James again. With a front office that may or may not be making roster decisions based on LeBron James. When James played for Cleveland, the team was so anxious to speed up the winning and convince him to stay that they severely hurt the team's ability to have sustained success. Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Larry Hughes, and Jiri Welsch are players whose Cleveland stories speak for themselves. Perhaps that isn't what is at stake here. Maybe the team thinks other 2014 free agents are worth it too. But the idea that a front office so badly burned by a player is willing to toss aside entire seasons to welcome that same player back seems backwards.
If LeBron James wants to come back to Cleveland, fine. If the Cavaliers want to sign LeBron James, or trade for LeBron James, fine. But after years of being told by the national media that Cleveland wasn't good enough to keep James, and after three years of losing because James thought they were right I don't think it is right for Cavaliers fans to have to think about him for one second. And if you think its fun to speculate about, and you do think LeBron is the only chance to raise a championship banner in the Q, more power to you. But I didn't like the first Decision, and I am not going to rely on the second Decision leading to a diametrically opposite result.