As the party began in San Antonio on Sunday night, a dejected LeBron James walked off the court without a third championship. As he sat at the podium for his postgame press conference, he deflected questions about his future. "I will deal with my summer when it gets to that point," he said. "Me and my team will sit down and deal with it."
Four years ago, after a very tough second round series in which the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics, LeBron said, "Me and my team, we have a game plan that we'll execute and we'll see where we're at."
That game plan involved a live special on ESPN that earned LeBron the scorn of fans in Cleveland, and around the country. I'm sure his team learned from the backlash, and they will have a slightly different game plan this time around.
The fascinating question, of course, will revolve around where he ends up. Will he pick up his player option for one more season in Miami? Will he agree to a longer extension with the Heat? Or will he seek greener pastures elsewhere?
Many Cavs fans are sick of the speculation. That's understandable. After LeBron spurned the city in 2010, we were given a short amount of time to be angry before getting immediately hit with rumors that he might come back someday. And for at least the last two years, every move made by the organization has been viewed in the context of what it will mean in terms of trying to get LeBron to come back. Some of that is the organization's own fault; some of it is the result of the media's tendency toward certain narratives. Either way, it's been exhausting, and I've done my best to ignore it.
But we can't ignore it anymore. The fact is, LeBron's second unrestricted free agency is potentially upon us, and there is a chance that he will choose to return to the franchise that drafted him.
Some dismiss the idea as a pipe dream. I do not, simply because so many people who theoretically have some insight into his thinking have said that it is a real possibility. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith -- who broke the story that LeBron was planning to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami back in 2010 -- said that Cleveland was a possible destination for LeBron on Brian Windhorst's podcast in April. For his part, Windhorst was the one who started these rumors back in January of 2012 when he said, "I'm not saying it's happening in 2014, but before it's all over, LeBron will play [for] Cleveland." It may not be likely, but it's quite clearly a possibility.
And if LeBron were to make the choice to come back and play near his hometown, it would instantly make Cleveland a contender in the East. Pairing Kyrie Irving with LeBron would give the Cavs the best duo in the conference, and David Griffin would have plenty of assets at his disposal to surround that duo with a very strong supporting cast.
There would certainly be a faction of fans who would not welcome him back. However, Cavs fans want to win, and I think most of us would be excited by the prospect of instantly having a contender to root for. That is, if it were to actually end up happening.
Four years ago, LeBron had to choose between his loyalty to the Cavs, or the chance to string together titles with Wade and Bosh. This time, the appeal of Miami may have faded somewhat as Wade has aged, but I would not underestimate Pat Riley's ability to reinvent his team. And "loyalty" may now be on the side of the Heat as well. When it's all said and done, it seems most likely that LeBron will stay right where he is.
The biggest lesson from 2010, though, is that it is foolish to try to predict what he will do. We know that he will not be constrained by our expectations. There has to be a part of him that is intrigued by the idea of returning home to become the conquering hero. He has to know that immortality awaits the man who can deliver Cleveland its first professional sports title in 50 years. And that is why there is at least a chance.