If LeBron Had Stayed In Cleveland…

VIDEO: LeBron James greets Cavs fans during a matchup last season

Their 3-6 start might suggest otherwise, but it’s pretty clear from a quick scan of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster and a few glimpses of their play so far in 2013-14 that they are better off than they were a few seasons ago.

But are they better off than they were 40 months (plus a couple of weeks) ago, when LeBron James had yet to play for any other franchise and, as a free agent for the first time in his career, at least was contemplating a re-up with the Cavs?

It’s a classic “what-if,” parallel universe, hypothetical to which there’s no correct or incorrect answer, which makes it ideal for the blogosphere. Bandying about what might have happened, or even what should have, is so much more entertaining than simply chronicling what did or rehashing why it did.

In broad strokes, the impact on the Cavaliers, on James and on the league are easy enough to discern. Cleveland surely wouldn’t be 105 games under .500 over the past three-plus seasons and 0-for-postseason qualifying if it still had the NBA’s most dominant player on hand.

James very likely would have just as many MVP trophies, AllStar appearances and gold medals, and nearly as much endorsement income, but his vault still might have only store-bought jewelry. Notably, the league’s owners and players might be working under a significantly different collective bargaining agreement, because the jolt provided by Miami’s Big Three roundup — a central issue of the 2011 lockout — never would have happened. The road to the Eastern Conference title still would run very much through Cleveland, so the urgency to tighten the new CBA — with its harsher luxury taxes and shorter contracts — wouldn’t have been the same.

VIDEO: Fans react to LeBron James’ decision in 2010

Drill down to the details, though, and some of the trickier differences in James’, Cavs fans’ and our realities might leap out at you. Such as:

No Kyrie Irving. No Tristan Thompson, for that matter, and very likely no Dion Waiters or Anthony Bennett either. The Cavaliers had to both be bad, and accept being bad, to get those guys (trading away Mo Williams, one of James’ more competent teammates, in the Clippers deal that delivered the Irving Draft pick). Winning 50 or 55 games a year primarily carried along on James’ shoulders would have meant, instead, more Christian Eyengas and Jared Cunninghams.

VIDEO: Best moments from Kyrie Irving in 2012-13

No Mike Brown. But then, no Bryon Scott either. Since Brown was dumped and Scott was hired during that week or so when Cleveland thought it could entice James to re-sign, the former wouldn’t be back working at The Q had James stayed. Then again, Scott almost certainly would have chafed with the organization’s superstar-indulging ways, leading to headbutting in general and eventually a predictable outcome to a classic franchise player vs. head coach conflict. Who’d be coaching the Cavs right now? Hmm, maybe George Karl would be the one getting a second shot.

The supporting cast would be different without necessarily being better. The last Cleveland team on which James played included Daniel Gibson, Danny Green, J.J. Hickson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Antawn Jamison, Coby Karl, Jamario Moon, Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker, Leon Powe, Sebastian Telfair, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, Jawad Williams and Mo Williams, among others. Varejao, alone, remains. Cavs GM Chris Grant surely would have patched, spliced and caulked as desperately as he could to keep reasonable pieces around James, but Draft positions and the club’s forever difficulty attracting top free agents would have undercut that strategy. (Having witnessed first-hand Kevin Garnett‘s career arc in Minnesota, I can attest: building around a young star is easier, or at least a more synchronized effort, than rebuilding around an impatient veteran star.)

The NBA’s balance of power would be quite different. Miami, relying on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and, hmm, some third piece way less dangerous than James, likely wouldn’t have gone to three Finals and won two. Oklahoma City might have broken through in 2011 and decided that keeping James Harden for a repeat, perhaps three-peat, was worth it. If Irving sticks in L.A. with that Clippers’ pick in 2011, Chris Paul might actually have wound up with the Lakers — remember, the lockout probably would have played out differently, in tone and in duration. Maybe Dwight Howard stays put in Orlando if James stays in Cleveland. Heck, maybe even Carmelo Anthony stays in Denver – unless he could find a way to hook up with Wade and Bosh.

Fewer rings for James? As in zero? Probably. And if he signed a contract to stay with the Cavs that included an opt-out, the speculation about him moving this summer would be ten times louder than it is now — and far more likely. His choices of destinations might be far different, too (Brooklyn? The Lakers? A reinvigorated push from Dallas?).

There are a hundred things that would be different had James stayed in Cleveland, including the promishing state of the Cavs’ current roster. The Decision wound up being, in its way, “The Butterfly Effect” of the current NBA landscape.


  1. NBA_AllDay says:

    NO ring if he stays NO superteam no rings simple

  2. NerfBallGM says:

    Can’t cry over spilled milk, but you can burn your Cleveland jerseys..

  3. lucky fri says:

    they would have success, but not a championsship. i think its impoosible to win a title with mike brown as coach – hes a joke and to me only defensive coordinator . however lebron cannot prove any more to be the chosen one. today he is the greatest, but he and bosh always need other players to step up if wade is not in shape. thats not my vision of the leagues best. he could have gotten the best sportsmen ever to play in cleveland and get a hero. however i am from europe and sometimes i ask myself if lebron would have won his titles without doping. this guy is not for real – look at his face – thats what happen to your chin if you dope. so my question is what happened in the last years finals if lebron didnt dope.

    • Anthony is shaking his head at heat fans that aren't knowledgable about basketball says:

      your post made no sense, doping wasn’t even brought up in the article or any of the arguments my friend. Also why can’t it be hard work and dedication? trust me they test their players randomly for doping. If it was Lebron we’d know by now.

  4. sanjay says:

    well, no body thought about this move. how about moving wade and bosh to cleveland to play along with lebron? Had this happened they would have been sitting on 3 championships ( no way lebron would lose in finals to dallas at cleveland). I really have no clue whether the owner had the money to pull it off like they did in miami, we know chicago had the money and were ready.

    It is all history now. It is lebrons time and he is hungry for the third one!
    cleveland current team looks ok. they are in running for playoffs and might face heat in the playoffs( 1 vs 8 or 2 vs 7 is a possibility).
    So more drama to come! It is not a bad thing as last year miami had virtually a bye in the first round!

  5. nostradamus 2013 says:

    no championship for le bron.
    boston againts okc in the finals.
    okc win with mvp durant….

  6. NSUK says:

    Don’t ever CLICK MY NAME!!!! You Have been warned is a joke

  7. Mike says:

    Except for the fact that the cavs had a deal in place for Bosh had LeBron committed to staying. Their starting lineup would’ve been: Mo williams, FA SG, LeBron, Bosh, and Varejao. They would’ve been a championship contender every year

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      You forgot they also were about to sign Tyson Chandler… But I still think LeBron needed a legitimate 2nd scorer and proven winner (wade)

  8. Cripple Rapist says:

    @laker just enjoy your team….DWADE plays no D???… How old are you??? How many 7 footers falls from Wade’s blocks??? just look at the Stats.. compare DWADE’s defense to your god kobe…. steals,blocks,defensive rebs(still part of def.) charges drawn… then get back … prove me that DWADE has no D!!!!

    • Anthony is shaking his head at heat fans that aren't knowledgable about basketball says:

      I have to agree, statisitcally speaking Dwade is actually one of the best shot blocking SG’s of alltime. Just saying.People need to do their research before they post.

  9. okc2014 says:

    Dreaming was never my thing, so it’s hard for me to imagine what Cleveland would look like now, with King James. I’m living in the here and now and have a question: Am I the only person out there who had high hopes for Cleveland this season? I’m just not seeing anything here with this team and it’s discouraging. What is it? Or is it just too early in the season to say?

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      Your right, the Chemistry is ..awkward to say the least… and Mike Brown is the coach lol, enough said.

  10. A.J. says:

    Hey, Aschburner, stick with writing about your Timberwolves, OK? Not only did you cluelessly fabricate that Grant would have drafted Ben McLemore if Bennett hadn’t been available, but Jared Cunningham? In what alternative NBA universe did Jared Cunningham ever play for the Cleveland Cavaliers?

    This is such a ridiculous column. You must have a quota to fill every week, because some of your columns read like they were written on the back of a roll of 3-ply toilet paper.

    Less quantity, more quality. Make that your new mantra.

  11. Kaiden Patch says:

    I believe if LeBron had stayed in Cleveland, they could have still traded Mo Williams to the clippers for that pick and got Kyrie. Which in my opinion is just as good of a combonation as LeBron and D Wade.

    • asdf says:

      dwade plays defense, kyrie does not:)

      • laker says:

        wade doesnt play d….thats a good one

      • lol…kyrie does not? that’s funny bro…if lebron stayed in cleveland his legacy would have been saved…and he could rightfully be one of the best all time because he carried the team by himself…plus he could help kyrie be the next face of the franchise…if wade retires what happens? the heat need to start rebuilding again lol…and lebron will never be one of the best because of this “taking talents to Miami” thing lol

    • A.J. says:

      Huh? They wouldn’t have traded Williams and Moon, because Baron Davis’ contract wouldn’t have worked within their payroll structure. No freakin’ way that Con Man Dan would have paid luxury taxes for that. The man operates within a bargain basement payroll salary structure. He’s more miserly than Charlie Finley. And that draft pick they got in that trade had only a 2.8% shot of being first.

      • Mike says:

        The cavs were the most over the luxury tax of any team, Gilbert said he didn’t care how much it cost. Remember they paid baron Davis 20 million to sit on the bench to get the Kyrie pick

      • KOBE'S_A_BALLHOGGER says:


    • Anthony is shaking his head at heat fans that aren't knowledgable about basketball says:

      Lebron’s Legacy is not tainted by leaving Cleveland. Not winning a championship is what would’ve tainted his legacy. He lost to Boston because Boston was a better team top to bottom, and also Lebron individually wasn’t good enough to overcome those teams. Against Orlando He didn’t have any help,same for the Spurs series. If he stays in Cleveland he never wins a championship plain and simple. Going to Miami was the best decision he made, his method might not have been the best, but you can’t say that he should have stayed in Cleveland that’s just moronic.