Now “The Return” isn’t just wishful thinking or idle speculation. The notion that LeBron James might sign a free-agent deal to play again for the Cleveland Cavaliers is getting propped up with real, tangible maneuvering, in this case a reported three-team trade that would move Cavs guard Jarrett Jack as the first step in opening serious salary-cap space for James.
That makes James’ decision to go back to Cleveland a legitimate possibility, as some insiders see it.
It also makes the opportunity for heartache and a sense of being played – again – all the greater.
Are the Cavaliers and their fans ready for that sort of repeat hangover, four years removed?
A case can be made for moving Jack, a disappointment acquisition last summer to the Cavs’ young backcourt (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters), and the two years, $12.6 million left on his deal regardless of its impact on a pursuit of James. The deal, first reported by ESPN, is a three-teamer that will send Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn. Boston will receive Nets guard Marcus Thornton, Cleveland center Tyler Zeller and a future Cavs first-round pick.
Cleveland, if it takes back only picks rather than guaranteed salaries, would be freeing up an extra $9.5 million and, ESPN reported, have $21.7 million in cap space to dangle in James’ direction.
Everything is on hold, of course, for the rest of Wednesday until the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades lifts at midnight Eastern Time. By then, James reportedly will have met again with Miami president Pat Riley, owner Micky Arison and teammate Dwyane Wade in Las Vegas to discuss his immediate future, which many still think keeps him in south Florida. Riley, after all, has agreed to deals with Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts and Clippers forward Danny Granger, two pieces who make sense in both basketball and financial terms only if the Heat’s championship core returns.
That hasn’t deterred some unbridled enthusiasm in Cleveland. The Cavaliers removed from their Web site this week the emotional, vitriolic open letter penned by owner Dan Gilbert in the angry moments immediately after James’ “The Decision” TV farewell.
Cleveland fans might be having more trouble un-burning their LeBron jerseys, but plenty of them have gotten their hopes up while James lingers in committing anywhere for 2014-15 and beyond. Now this move – an update and half-twist from Mike Brown‘s firing and Byron Scott‘s hiring as a (futile) attempt to please James in 2010 – is being taken by some as proof of a remarkable reunion.
Good luck, Cleveland. But just remember the axiom, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …”