LeBron James is going home to Cleveland. He thoughtfully explained his decision to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. This is what makes him happy, he says, and who can begrudge a King that?
James made the emotional play. He swallowed hard to push past the Comic Sans bile of the jilted owner to seek redemption among his hometown fans who had embraced him since he was in middle school until they cursed him out of town four years ago.
The same fans he crushed that night on national television, with the passing of time, are eager to reunite with their Prodigal Son. All can be forgiven, and T-shirts printed earlier this week in anticipation of his return said so, stamped across the front with the very word — “FOR6IVEN” — James’ No. 6 he wore in Miami and potentially will in his Cleveland reboot, replacing the “g.”
It is indeed a homecoming, a ready-made script for the silver screen. The basketball fit, though, is less than Oscar-worthy.
The Heat, whose every flaw was exposed by the San Antonio Spurs in a blistering and abbreviated NBA Finals, are not necessarily the better fit at this stage, although a healthy Dwyane Wade considerably changes that equation. But James had other choices, more ready-made opportunities had he cared to explore them. He made it clear in his piece that he did not.
The 33-win Cavaliers offer an interesting package of two young players in Kyrie Irving and rookie Andrew Wiggins. New general manager David Griffin cleared out three players this week to squeeze James into a max deal, and now can infuse a roster that needs restocking with low-cost veteran talent and know-how. In an Eastern Conference that already lacks punch, Cleveland could realistically contend. Challenging any number of powers in the mightier West is a far greater undertaking.
James, who turns 30 in December, has committed to playing mentor. He is hitching his prime years to a score-first point guard in Irving — whose defensive work has holes, whose maturity has been questioned, whose injury history is concerning — and a 19-year-old potential phenom. These Cavs are not in the class of the James-Wade-Chris Bosh super team formed four years ago. James acknowledged as much in his piece: “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010.”
James says he is eager to take on all the issues ahead of him, and feels more capable now that he’s a far more mature player and person then when he left Cleveland when he was just 25.
“I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go,” James said in his piece. “I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.”
Cleveland fans had worked themselves feverish in the last week as it became apparent James was seriously considering a return. But, given the last time James faced free agency, the wait was pure agony.
That agony has burst into elation. The King is coming home. Cleveland basketball matters again.