Cavs just might get LeBron back

Posted: July 11, 2014

It appears as if Joel Embiid's passionate Twitter pleas asking LeBron James to come to Philadelphia have failed (nice try, kid), so it's time for the NBA's recently humbled King to make the second humongous free-agent decision of his career.

If you have ESP or ESPN, you probably already know about Decision II. It has become obvious that James is going to return somewhere, with his choices narrowed to the Miami Heat, his current team, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, his former team. Sequels normally aren't as good as the original, but for drama and intrigue, Decision II is going to blow the first Decision out of the water.

Just like the first story line, one city is going to be hurt - the sting would not be nearly as bad in Miami - and the other is going to celebrate a free-agent signing as if it were an NBA championship. The added dimension this time is the potential for forgiveness.

To understand just how loathed James became by Clevelanders (the people from Cleveland, not the patrons of the outdoor hot spot on South Beach) when he left for the Heat four years ago, you have to make some kind of local comparison.

Imagine, for instance, if Nick Foles became the best quarterback in the NFL this season and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl but didn't win it. Imagine if he then refused to sign a contract extension, played one more season as the best quarterback in the NFL and then left for the Miami Dolphins. Imagine if he then won two of the next four Super Bowls in a Dolphins uniform while the Eagles sank to the bottom of the NFC East.

The pain would be searing. And that is not even a perfect comparison because Foles is from Texas. James is an Ohio native who grew up in Akron, a 40-minute drive from Cleveland.

Hell hath no fury like an NBA owner scorned. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert acted just like a jilted lover when James signed with Miami, posting a rant on the team's website that referred to his former player as a coward, a traitor, and a narcissist. He also promised that the Cavs would win the NBA title before the Heat.

Oops.

The rant was finally removed from the team's website Sunday. The Cavs said it remained only because of a computer-system glitch.

The luckiest fly in the world will be the one on the wall when Gilbert and James discuss that rant.

It's impossible to find an NBA story identical to this one. Perhaps the closest example is when Wilt Chamberlain played with the Warriors. He was a Philly kid and the best player in the NBA when he was forced to move to San Francisco because the team was sold. He never won a title in San Francisco, but he did return to Philadelphia still at the top of his game, leading the 76ers to their first NBA championship in 1967.

And then, amid a dispute with owner Irv Kosloff, he left again one year later for the bright lights of Los Angeles, where he eventually won another title with the Lakers while the Sixers sank to unfathomable lows.

In the end, Philadelphia embraced Chamberlain as a native son. That's not happening to James unless he rejoins the Cavs right now, a possibility that increased Wednesday when Cleveland agreed to take part in a three-team deal that would clear salary-cap room.

The trade reportedly would give the Cavs enough space to offer James a maximum contract of $23.7 million per year over four seasons. NBA rules allow the Heat to offer an additional year at $25.54 million per season, so the fact that James would have to take less money to go to Cleveland adds to the intrigue.

James, however, seems more interested in titles than cash. With young stars Andrew Wiggins and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, he probably has a better shot of winning it all in the near future with the Cavaliers because the Heat are a collection of aging stars.

As Philadelphians watching from the sideline, we should probably be cheering for Cleveland to win this one. No city with at least three of the four major sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) has gone as long as Cleveland without winning a championship.

Since Cleveland beat the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL championship game, the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers have combined for 55 winning seasons, 79 losing ones, and five .500 seasons. Cleveland is 0-4 in championship rounds since 1964. During those five barren decades, the Browns moved to Baltimore, where they have won two championships as the renamed Ravens, and the city lost its NHL team, the Barons, after two losing seasons in the late '70s.

Clevelanders deserve a break, and Philadelphians, given our similar history, should be sympathetic. Besides, LeBron's return to Cleveland would be the better story, even if it would be morbidly fascinating to watch the city's reaction should the King reject his fellow Ohioans again.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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