clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fear the Roundtable: Talking LeBron James’ return to Cleveland

And what does J.R. Smith’s exit mean for how we remember the 2016 title team?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Be sure to share you responses below too.

What are you feeling heading into LeBron’s return? Are you excited about it?

Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): It’ll be nice to see the Q alive for maybe the first time all year, as long as it isn’t like his last return. It’s not going to be fun when the Cavs are absolutely wrecked by the Lakers and LeBron drops 50 points or something. But I am glad this is happening fairly early in the season and not later on — let’s just get this game done and move on and think about Zion.

David Zavac (@DavidZavac): Excited doesn’t really feel like the right word. I hope people don’t boo him, obviously, but I’m not sure the Cavs owe him a full-fledged hero’s welcome either. The tribute video they plan on is necessary and good. He should get a nice ovation when his name is called. After that, he plays for the other team. There will come a time, whether it’s in a couple years to end his career or in eight years for the 10-year title reunion, or whenever his jersey is retired, to really celebrate him. Eventually there will be a statue. For now, the objectives of the Cavs and LeBron are not entwined.

Justin Rowan (@cavsanada): I’m a little nervous, as we know it only takes one or two people being idiots for that to be projected onto the whole fan base. Personally I’d like to see him get the hero’s welcome, cheers when he touches the ball etc. While I feel like his exit was calculated and some of the dysfunction has something to do with him, he obviously contributed far more positive than negative and gave the franchise a second chance they didn’t deserve. I wish the Cavs were a little more healthy for this game, but luck hasn’t exactly been on their side this year.

Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): I’m dreading it, mostly for the fact that I’m not super interested in watching the entire country see just how hideous the Cavs situation is. It’s sort of like your parents. You’re good to make fun of them, but all the sudden if somebody else does, you’re ready to burn stuff down. Ultimately, the retconning of history that LeBron will do, that this game will accentuate, is what I’m looking forward to the least. I’m not particularly sad or wistful about his exit like I was the first time — I just prefer my 20-point beatdowns in the comfort of Fox Sports Ohio.

What is your favorite non-2016 Finals memory from LeBron’s second stint with the Cavs?

CM: This game-winner, and all of the weirdness surrounding it, will always stick out to me:

Seeing this happen live might top it, though:

DZ: When the Cavs won Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals to take a 2-1 lead over the Warriors, despite missing Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, it just felt like you were never going to see a player at that level ever again. I mean, it was just monstrous what he was doing. And I don’t remember if it was that game, or one of the games at home in sweeping the Hawks in the ECF, but he just collapsed on the court at the final buzzer. You knew he was giving it his all. You could tell what succeeding in Cleveland meant to him. So, I don’t remember what game it was when he went to the court like that, but I’ll just remember feeling his exhaustion as he went down. For LeBron, who is generally superhuman, it was a rare moment of humanity.

JR: When LeBron and Kyrie went off against the Spurs. That game was such an unlikely result and it seemed to really ignite a fire within the two players that ultimately resulted in the title. While things were obviously not great under the surface, I think their relationship is a little more complicated than what we’ve been allowed to see. Both players are profoundly weird in their own ways and some of the moments they shared as teammates on the court were so raw and special that it’s hard to believe there was only disdain between them.

CR: The Eastern Conference steamrolls were always so satisfying in the postseason. We spent so much time speculating as to how good these Cavs teams were, and outside of year four, we really got to see what a fully engaged war machine looked like. They demoralized the Pacers, Hawks and Raptors for three straight years. Those teams entered each series knowing that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell at a victory. If I had to boil it down to a moment? The Kyrie off-the-backboard oop to LeBron, and LeBron spinning the ball in his hands against Serge Ibaka in 2017. Peak disrespect.

How would you rate how the Cavs have handled their post-LeBron reality?

CM: It’s been a disaster. They don’t like anyone using the word rebuild despite it clearly being a rebuild. And even though they tried to prepare, they sort of didn’t. Losing LeBron was probably always going to be a cratering reality, though.

DZ: The less that is said the better. I’ll only note that the Cavs were reportedly preparing for life without James from the moment they won the 2016 Finals. Given their head start, this is particularly disconcerting.

JR: Not great Bob. I think things are complicated as Love was never healthy coming into the season, required surgery, and that was always going to recalibrate things. The team has lost several starters, sustained countless other injuries, and blame is being thrown around constantly. I don’t think the communication has been stellar between players and management and that likely comes with fault on both sides. It’s clear that feelings have been hurt, but the dissolving of title teams is very rarely graceful. The Cavs just are bringing their own special flavor of dysfunction to the proceedings.

CR: I’m furious that Justin took “Not Great, Bob.” Uh, they obviously have been a complete disaster in every possible function. I joked plenty about becoming Kings-East. It might somehow be worse than that. This team has fired their coach, their best player is hurt, they’re the worst team in the league on both ends, they’ve managed to piss off every veteran. It’s hard to even know where to start.

Do you watch the Lakers? If not, why? And if so, what is it like to observe him in that different light?

CM: Yes, because I am a masochist who doesn’t sleep enough. It seems so less stressful than what he had with the Cavs in a way that I can’t fully get. And seeing him take his defensive schenagins up a notch is incredible.

DZ: I will. They generally play past my bedtime. When he went to Miami it was really hard for me to watch him; it hurt. Now it’s more of a curiosity. I want him to do well but it’s nice to not be invested in it.

JR: I have watched a few games and followed along with a fair amount of their coverage. Honestly,I find them to be one of the most interesting stories in the NBA because while I understand their process of not wanting to jeopardize their future, the signings around LeBron and the young guys were all such bad fits. Seeing how LeBron reacts in a new situation, how expectations shift and how an organization that’s trying to regain respect around the league handles the pressure cooker of LeBron is truly fascinating. They could have a very different team by February, or by this summer, or have essentially the same team next year and deal with striking out. As a fan of the league in general and as someone that would prefer to see LeBron do well, it’s all incredibly interesting to watch.

CR: Sure! The Lakers are among the most fascinating stories in the league, so it’s hard to avoid it. I can’t say there isn’t a bit of schadenfreude when they don’t play well, but I find myself still rooting for LeBron at an individual level. The implication that most of the decision to leave was preordained and the current pathetic state of the Cavaliers makes it fairly easy to not feel too negatively towards the situation. It’s complicated, basically.

With the J.R. Smith news, does it feel like the 2016 title is farther away than ever?

CM: The NBA is a business and all that, but seeing a member of the 2016 title team have his career with the Cavs end this was is rough and it seems to have ended any goodwill Smith had with the Cavs. I am just going to choose to remember shirtless J.R. and the J.R. who told GQ he’d live in Ohio if weed was legal as opposed to this.

The reason the 2016 title feels so far away to me is that the Cavs suck.

DZ: The nice thing about the steady dissolution of the 2016 Cavs team is that we sort of keep reliving it all the time. We’re going to run out of these players, soon, but for now that team is always having some sort of player pop up in the news with some Cleveland related comment. As long as it’s the only Cleveland title, and as long as the Cavs are the last non-Warriors team to win, it’ll stay fresh.

Now, is the team that goes out on the court anything that makes you remember the 2016 title team? No, no it’s not.

JR: I wouldn’t go that far. The bulk of my stages of grief came with the signing of Durant in Golden State, the end of the David Griffin era, and the departure of Kyrie Irving. At that point it was clear that what comes next is completely removed from the record highs of this franchise. The fact that J.R.’s tenure of the team is ending the way it is just is sad, but ultimately predictable. Rational or not, I have a hard time getting up real negative emotions about any of the key members of the 2016 title team. I’d love to see the starting five have their jerseys in the rafters, no matter how ugly things get at the end.

CR: There are a lot of things that make the title feel farther away than ever. Everything’s miserable. This team hasn’t felt like 2016 since the Kyrie trade. J.R. is old, and given his style and history, it was never going to end beautifully. It’s okay. He’s still a Cleveland legend for what he did in 2016, and it feels like (and I was wrong about this) most fans still love him.

If we had any emotional connection or faith in the current roster or front office, maybe his actions/quotes would rub the wrong way. As it stands — it just feels fairly spot on.