In the past 24 hours, different NBA insiders have reported both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat are confident in their abilities to sign LeBron James to a contract. One thing we can say for sure: only one team will be correct.
Breaking it down in terms of a public perception standpoint and from the team that gives LeBron the chance to continue winning NBA championships, both have their pluses and minuses. A homecoming would be quite the story for LeBron and Cleveland, and I have no doubt the lovely people of Ohio would welcome him back to town with open arms. As for Miami, I think Pat Riley has the ability to re-create the Heat’s roster, though it’s hard to see it being at a championship level without some careful maneuvering.
Let’s make the case.
Reports indicate LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, met with the Cavaliers last week about a possible return to the Buckeye State. Sentiment from within the Cavs organization is that there is a sense of confidence it can actually happen, just as it has been quietly rumored in recent years (with the exception of Junes when the Heat are hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophies).
The Cavs are not one All-Star away from being a title contender, but in the Eastern Conference they could certainly be in the top four with LeBron back in the fold. And what’s more enticing is that with LeBron and such a young crop of talent, it could be that way for the foreseeable future.
The starting lineup could be LeBron, Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Anderson Varejao, and either Anthony Bennett or Tristan Thompson pending the No. 1 overall pick from 2013’s development. That’s a starting five of four former first-round picks, and as of today, only LeBron and Varejao are older than 23.
During the draft process, Wiggins was considered the prospect with the highest ceiling. Irving is a proven commodity already, and has been the Cavaliers’ best player even without a lot of talent around him. And whether Bennett develops into a top-tier power forward remains to be seen, but at worst being a strong defender and capable rebounder would be enough for such a talent-rich lineup.
And from the PR viewpoint, LeBron returning to Cleveland to spark the Cavaliers to put The Decision deep in the back of fans’ minds. If he can deliver a title, too, it’ll become ancient history.
The 2014 version of the Heat was a far cry from the team that won back-to-back titles the years prior. Dwyane Wade was a shell of his former self, not only struggling to get on the court but to contribute when healthy. Chris Bosh was still a valued member of the Big Three, but he has become a 3-pointer shooter, leading to him disappearing from the action all too frequently.
It became LeBron’s team — in the sense that it was the 2005 Cavaliers all over again, where at times it looked like the rest of the team watching LeBron do everything by himself.
The much-celebrated role players of year’s past — Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers — were non-factors in the NBA Finals. Only Norris Cole is under contract, but 2014 draft pick Shabazz Napier will soon join him in that regard. It seems inevitable the Heat will re-sign Wade, which in basketball sense might not make the most sense but is a way to reward arguably the franchise’s best player.
The determining contract here could be Bosh’s. Bosh reportedly holds a four-year, max deal from the Houston Rockets, and if he accepts that he could create enough financial flexibility for the Heat to find better players to lure LeBron back to town. However, Bosh wants to continue playing with LeBron — for good reason — and is a better complementary piece to James than Wade is at this stage in his career.
But if Bosh heads to Houston, the Heat can add some depth with the money they would have had to spend on re-signing Bosh. Among the free agents they have been linked to: Marvin Williams, Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng. It’s my opinion, though, they need to sign all of those players — and more — in order to make it worth their — and LeBron’s — while.
Returning to Miami has its risks, but also its rewards. James must trust that Riley can be the excellent recruiter he has been made out to be, and get the right pieces around him to make the Heat contenders for the rest of LeBron’s next deal.