With the NBA season starting tonight, you’ve probably noticed we’ve been pumping out enough preview content to bury even Hasheem Thabeet. Over the past week, we’ve been taking a look at the 10 biggest storylines of the 2013-14 season. Today, let’s talk about a potential “Decision 2.0.”
*** *** ***
The closer we get to the summer of 2014 the more we begin to think about “The Decision.”
“I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
As LeBron James uttered those infamous words to the world on live television, I couldn’t do anything but smile. It was a natural reaction by a basketball fan that wanted nothing but a shake-up in the NBA. Yet “The Decision” brought so much more.
King James was now public enemy number one. Cavaliers fans and many other NBA fans were disgusted by him. LeBron knew exactly what he was doing, though. His best option to win a championship as soon as possible wasn’t in Cleveland. It was in Miami, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. No one in Cleveland was as good as those guys and everyone knew it.
But the critics were able to have their fun with James for the next year. LeBron failed miserably (according to his standards) in his first NBA Finals appearance in Miami, leaving Dwyane Wade to do all the work. Unfortunately for LeBron’s legacy, the championship did not come and his decision no longer looked so appetizing.
In the next season, LeBron put away his critics’ doubts, looking like a much stronger player, grabbing his first ring as well as the Finals MVP. For any of the doubters left, he defeated the Spurs in the 2013 Finals and came up big several times, including a huge three-pointer in the closing minutes of Game 7.
LeBron was dominant in the 2013 NBA Finals; the only problem was that the rest of the team didn’t show up for most of the series. LeBron even mentioned in a press conference that he felt like he had to play like he did in Cleveland:
“Yeah, I kind of just went back to my Cleveland days at that point and just said, hey, let’s try to make more plays and be more of a scoring threat as well, and just try to figure out a way that I can â€‘â€‘ I don’t know, just see if the guys would just follow me, and just lead them the best way I could.”
This comment made every talking head in America overanalyze what LeBron meant. Miami looked like they were old and slow for a chunk of the Finals last season, which made everyone think LeBron would consider calling it quits in South Beach when he becomes a free agent next summer. Then the hypotheticals started to roll in. The most popular, of course, was LeBron’s return to Cleveland.
LeBron won’t let us know what he’s thinking so I’m going to break down the three hottest suitors for LeBron James’ Decision 2.0.
The most likely scenario â€“ also the most boring â€“ is that LeBron stays in Miami and continues to put up championship banners. Most people predict James will win another championship this season, but after that it becomes less clear. The main reason many believe James will move on is because of the declining play of his partner in crime, Dwyane Wade. Personally, I can’t see James going anywhere else. He and everyone else in the world saw all the controversy stirred up by him leaving Cleveland, so why wouldn’t he choose to stay in Miami and prove that he can be loyal?
If LeBron stayed in Miami he would have two years left on his contract. He has an early termination clause for the 2014-2015 season for $20.6 million. In 2015-2016, he has a player option and could make $22.1 million. According to Hoopshype.com, the Heat has $73 million on the books, not leaving much room to sign strong talent. So for LeBron to stay, Wade must show improvement and the contributing players have to step up in key moments. LeBron is the best players in the world, but even he needs help.
The most intriguing thing about Miami for James, besides the weather, is that he has the potential to win three more championships on his current contract, making it five in a row. Staying in Miami could do wonders for his legacy.
The chance LeBron stays in Miami: 70 percent
Los Angeles Lakers
Another of the most talked about suitors for LeBron is the Los Angeles Lakers. Teaming up with Kobe Bryant, a top 10 player of all time, is intriguing for anyone. Playing in Los Angeles for the most storied franchise in NBA history is even better. Kobe knows what it takes to get it done and so does LeBron. The two of them together would be scary. Even if Kobe’s health is declining, his attitude and will to win is unmatched. The only thing the Black Mamba cares about at this point in his career is a sixth ring.
Not only would Kobe re-sign if the Lakers acquired LeBron, but with only $12.6 million on the books for 2014-2015, L.A. could sign another top-tier player to go down low and make them a championship contender.
The two major problems in this scenario would be one, if Bryant were unwilling to lower his salary. Then a max contract for an elite player wouldn’t be likely. The second is, well, THERE IS NO WAY HE WOULD EVER PLAY IN L.A. Even if financially speaking it were the best place to sign and be surrounded with incredible talent, this would hurt LeBron’s legacy more than ever. If you thought him going to Miami was bad, just wait and see if he ever jumped shipped to join the Lakers. As one of the most loved and hated franchises in all of professional sports, LeBron would look like a sellout. The argument against LeBron as one of the greatest to ever play would be that he only joined teams where there was already a championship-caliber superstar on the team.
The chance LeBron goes to Los Angeles: 4 percent
Lastly, the Cavaliers make the list. This is by far the most intriguing option of all and the one I would be most on board with. First off all, it works financially. The Cavs only have $30 million on the books for the 2014-2015 season because of all the team options they have set up. The one team option they will obviously exercise is Kyrie Irving, the star player of the Cavs and the main selling point for LeBron’s return. Kyrie is a star and has the potential to be the best point guard in the NBA. Outside of other star point guards, there isn’t a player in the Association that wouldn’t love to play with Kyrie. He is a true point guard and an even better scorer, especially with the game on the line. At 21 years young, he is better than anyone LeBron played with during his Cleveland days.
Also on the roster is Andrew Bynum and if he were able to stay healthy and perform at a similar level as he did in 2011-2012, then talent-wise, you could make an argument that Cleveland would be the better suitor for James in a year. The only problem is if James and the ownership of the Cavaliers are willing to reconcile what happened in 2010.
It seems like a good scenario for his legacy as well. James would return to Cleveland and bring the city a championship it has longed for, at the same time solidifying his spot among the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Sure, it’s not the same as it would’ve been if he stayed but LeBron sucking up his pride and heading north to take care of unfinished business would be the storyline of the decade.
The chance LeBron returns to Cleveland: 25 percent
The Rest Of The Field
C’mon, you know we had to throw a bone to the New Yorkers, right?
The chance LeBron goes anywhere else: 1 percent
Will LeBron stay in Miami for the long haul?
Follow Gabe on Twitter at @gabe_bain.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.