When LeBron James takes the court at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday night, I truly hope he's met with applause.
Sure, he'll be doing so as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, taking on a Cleveland Cavaliers team he left this past summer. Still, I expect him to be received warmly, mostly due to his efforts in winning the city of Cleveland's first championship since 1964.
He should also receive a warm welcome because, frankly, I doubt anyone can blame him for leaving in the first place. Not only were the Cavs unraveling before his departure, he'll now get a front row seat to the disaster they've become since he skipped town.
By now, everyone knows the colossal missteps the Cavs made during James' final year with the team. Owner Dan Gilbert let David Griffin go, despite the fact the former GM made several moves which helped Cleveland win a title. Gilbert pushed the trade of Kyrie Irving, despite getting a lottery pick and a broken Isaiah Thomas back in return. The front office refused to trade said pick last year, all despite knowing the Cavs likely had one last shot to try for another championship.
Come this past summer, James had to know Cleveland wasn't going to topple the Golden State Warriors. Or the Boston Celtics. Or the Toronto Raptors.
He also knew those running the team had done so much in the span of one year to severely damage his trust. They took advantage of the fact he was under contract through 2018, feeling less pressure to avoid the disastrous missteps mentioned above.
As you can see, James certainly wasn’t in the wrong when choosing to head for greener pastures. If this wasn't clear then, it sure as hell is now.
The front office he deemed untrustworthy hasn't changed one bit, selling those James left behind on the idea the Cavs could still contend without him. There was heavy insistence that no tanking would occur this season, that the goal was to continue gunning for the playoffs.
Three games into the season, we learned not only was this impossible, it was also never the front office's plan to begin with. Cleveland is easily the worst team in the NBA, and it appears this is intentional. Naturally, many players on the roster are airing their frustrations about being lied to.
For example. when James takes the court against the Cavs, he won't see old friend J.R. Smith. After venting over being duped by the higher-ups, Smith will now be stepping away from the team while waiting for an eventual trade.
Even without Smith, James will still return to Cleveland to realize his concerns about the Cavs' roster were valid.
Toe surgery has sidelined Kevin Love for over a month. The vets are being deprioritized. The young players Cleveland hoped to build around have been woefully inconsistent. Though rookie Collin Sexton is improving, he's still miles away from becoming an All-Star caliber point guard.
Maybe James still could've dragged this Cavs roster to the Finals were he still here, just as he did with the misshapen mess that was last year's team.
That said, knowing how much effort such a feat would require, and knowing how little patience he already had with team ownership, it's clear he took the right route this summer.
As a result, you can't hold this move against James. Absolutely nothing which gave him cause for concern at the time has changed. The team is aimless, the front office is catching heat for lying to players and is now trading one of them after he spoke out about it.
At the time, the one aspect of James’ departure which rubbed me the wrong way was his willingness to make a long-term commitment to an unfinished Lakers team. He gave L.A. far more trust than he did with Cleveland, which I couldn’t help but be frustrated about.
I get it now. You should to. As a result, there’s no sense in giving him any grief when he returns to play a team undergoing an implosion he appears to have seen coming from a mile away.