HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA trade deadline usually serves as the conspiracy theorist’s Christmas and July 4th all rolled into one. Wicked rumors, wild plots and just about anything the mind can imagine is fair game in the months, weeks and days leading up to the deadline.
It’s a rare occasion that the juiciest plot is saved for the hours and days after the deadline.
But that’s exactly where we are today, with the growing buzz surrounding Miami Heat superstar LeBron James and rumblings that he could return to his North Ohio roots in the free-agent summer of 2014 and conceivably play alongside Cavs All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, the man who succeeded him as the face of the franchise in Cleveland.
I’m not making this stuff up. Plenty of others beat me to it, as Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out:
There seems to be growing speculation — both inside and outside of respected NBA media circles — that a James-Irving partnership could become a reality should James opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat in 2014 and return to Cleveland.
For now, James laughs off the notion — as he did after Sunday’s 109-105 win over the Cavaliers when he explained his motivation behind that harmless halftime connection with Irving, one of the NBA’s rising superstars.
“Oh, from Kyrie,” said an apparently fatigued James, who perked up when asked about dunking Irving’s miss. “That was an extension from All-Star Weekend.”
Exactly a week earlier, James and Irving played together on the East team that lost to the West in Houston during Irving’s first All-Star appearance. Whether they’ll establish any meaningful chemistry as teammates on the same roster is an issue James bypassed Sunday like a helpless defender.
“I can’t worry about, you know, speculation or rumors,” James said after the Heat extended their longest winning streak of the season to 11 games. “My only focus right now is to win another championship [in Miami]. What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now, trying to win a championship. So, you know, I can’t worry about what people say.”
It’s a great attitude to have, because people have quite a bit to say about it. Greg Cote of the Miami Herald sounds the alarm in South Florida, where the subject (even in its conspiracy theory infancy) has obviously touched a nerve:
How would Miami feel if James opted out and left in ’14? How should we? Would it matter if the Heat collected another title or two this season or next, or would the feelings either way be the same?
I would imagine many fans and likely most would thank James for the thrill ride and the parade(s), understand his desire to return to Cleveland, and wish him well.
I would also imagine many others would be angry and see him as turning his back on the city that embraced him when everyone else hated him. The city where he enjoyed his greatest success.
There would be plenty in either camp whether James left with one championship ring, two or even three, and it’s tough to say where sentiment would mainly fall.
What I mostly think is that I hope we never find out. James is such an extraordinary talent I have no trouble blurring the line between journalist and fan in this case and hoping Miami finds a way to re-sign him. Selfishly, I would love for James to end his career here. I only wish I believed he would.
Sunday will be interesting because both his teams will be on the court when the Cavs visit the Heat: The one renting his services, and the one that still owns his heart.
It feels like it has already begun.
The Long Goodbye.
Heat fans will at least have seen this one coming, if it ever does. Cavaliers fans never imagined James would depart the way he did. And it’s taken the ones who have gotten over it lots of time (and plenty of Kyrie) to steer clear of the primal instincts that accompany a breakup as brutal as the one they had with James.
“I think LeBron is at that stage where he’s challenging himself to motivate him to do something that’s maybe more difficult. I could see him maybe (returning to the Cavaliers). I see (Cleveland point guard Kyrie) Irving maybe being a reason for that.”
James had that classy, if not typical, response mentioned above.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard it,” he said. “My only focus now is to win another championship. I can’t worry about speculation or rumors. What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship. I can’t worry about what people say.”
And ultimately, he’s right. He can’t worry about what people say.
That doesn’t mean it’ll slow the tide of conspiracy theorists who watched him react to Irving’s 3-point shooting fireworks in Houston during All-Star weekend or to any other gesture that can be manipulated to support their theories.
The only thing that will silence all of this chatter is the summer of 2014 coming and going without LeBron returning to his roots!