LEBRON James is gone. He will not be coming back to save the day Cavaliers fans. We can take solace in the fact that he ripped the band-aid off quickly, officially joining the Los Angeles Lakers less than 24 hours into free agency. It was a decision that had seemingly been decided for months and James put us out of our misery by joining the NBA’s most storied franchise with swift urgency.
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WE were all aware that this offseason could change the makeup of the entire NBA. The top-5 free agents up for grabs were all household names and most of them had been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers through some point of the free agency process. It’s no surprise considering what the Lakers can offer compared to their NBA peers and at the end of the day, they landed the biggest fish in the sea thanks to who they are not because they were the best choice on the table.
AS soon as the news broke, Twitter went into overdrive and every man, woman and dog were ready to throw their two cents in. LBJ’s decision to join Los Angeles was not an unpopular one and frankly, wasn’t a surprising one. There were parts of the deal that some questioned (eg. the length of the contract), but the NBA collective always had that gut feeling that LeBron was going to Cali this offseason.
HE didn’t go to the Lakers for basketball exploits though. Sure, that is where he will still make headlines and at 33 years old he is far from being washed as a professional athlete. Could he have joined better winning fits? Maybe. There was no way that LeBron was going to do a Boogie and take an absurd pay cut to join the Rockets or Sixers though and there was no series of trades or moves that could help the Cavs gain ground on Dub Nation. Besides, this Warriors team is a generational collection of talent and with a 1-3 record against them in the Finals there’s no indication that another ring is possible while they are all fit an healthy.
THAT left only one option. Leaving Cleveland the first time in 2010 was necessary for LeBron to become a champion and a true professional. His return in 2014 was all about a title for his hometown and he made good on that promise two seasons later. This time around he is making a business fueled decision, with James destined to make millions on the West Coast away from the court. Sorry Dan Gilbert, but you can’t offer LeBron what Magic Johnson can and all these off-court passions that James wants to chase can’t be chased in the thriving hub that is Ohio.
Image from cnbc.com
NOW let me get personal for a moment. Despite the best player in the world just leaving my team I’m strangely OK with it. Part of the reason is that strong reports indicated this was a possibility for months now, so I wasn’t blindsided. However, I’m excited and interested to see what the future holds now that the Cavaliers aren’t suffocated by LeBron James’ existence. Don’t get me wrong I would want LeBron on my team every day of the week and twice on Sunday. There’s no denying that if he is on your team your future is mortgaged for immediate championship glory, a necessary evil if you house the best player in the league. After a four-year span that saw a flurry of trades, buy-outs, rumours, squabbles, injuries, chemistry problems, bad fits, failed signings, rotation issues and more, everyone just wants to sit down and breathe for five minutes.
NOW that James has been removed from the roster, Cleveland is left to pick up the pieces. Losing ‘The King’ is a monumental blow from a basketball perspective and this team will no doubt be bad next year. There are some nice players on the roster that can at least help usher in the next chapter. Kevin Love is a valuable trade asset who could play his way to averaging 23/12 next season. Collin Sexton is a fierce competitor, Rodney Hood might be worth keeping around, Tristan Thompson is a worthwhile role player, so is Larry Nance Jr and in two seasons they will virtually have no committed money. The Cavs owe Atlanta a first rounder if it falls outside the top-10 in the next two years and a few second rounders are gone too, but apart from that all of the draft picks can go towards Cleveland’s future rather than finding immediate help to contend for a title.
AS interested as I am for the new Cavaliers to take shape, I am not quite sure if I’m ready for life post-LeBron. I have been treated to a four-year James hiatus before and I wasn’t a massive fan of losing a high number of games (215 to be exact). Kyrie Irving was nice, but sandwiched around his success the Cavs drafted the likes of Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, recorded a then NBA record 26 consecutive losses and ended countless possessions with me screaming at Andrew Bynum, Omri Casspi, Jamario Moon, Ryan Hollins, Jarrett Jack and Tyler Zeller.
I’LL be the first to admit though that I have been spoilt by having LeBron on my team. I am eternally grateful for the highs and lows that he helped me experience as a sports fan though even if it wasn’t all smooth sailing. He tested my faith at times (see: 8th July 2010 or 10th June 2016) but it was always worth it. Making my move to Toronto was exciting for a number of reasons, but watching Cleveland play at some point was always an exciting prospect. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I failed to watch him play at least once as a Cavalier and luckily I don’t have to play the what if game. Instead, I can I made the trip to watch him play Indiana in Game 7 earlier this year. Bucket list. Check.
BELIEVE it or not, LeBron’s decision impacts more people than just me though and I haven’t even discussed the basketball ramifications of LBJ to LA. Frankly put, James isn’t joining a championship team with the Lakers and to be honest we may have seen LeBron’s last NBA Finals run. MAY HAVE SEEN, don’t take it out of context. I would be surprised if James didn’t have at least one or two more cracks at a shiny championship ring, but he won’t be claiming one with this Lakers squad.
AS soon as LeBron announced he was signing Los Angeles acted swiftly to get him a supporting cast. Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell Pope aren’t exactly the free agents he had in mind. He still has a young exciting core with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma who are also valuable trade pieces, but what’s the rush? James has just played 382 NBA games in four seasons and is coming off his most gruelling, demanding season. I’m sure he’d love the chance to win say 50 games and maybe win a series or two in the playoffs before bowing out and focusing on the script of Space Jam 2.
Image from sportingnews.com
IT’S ironic that LeBron signing with Los Angeles takes his career earnings to over a billion dollars. I’m sure that more dollars will flow in LA during his tenure. We will have to wait and see if LeBron can turn around the actual basketball franchise. As I mentioned though the Lakers now have options. We all know that superstars who join the Lakers usually attract talented peers in free agency and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before James once again has a superstar cast flanking him.
NOW is a time for reflection though as James’ signature marks the end of an era. It’s strange to think, but the Cleveland Cavaliers might never make the NBA Finals again but it’s a realistic possibility. No one can take away the memories of the past decade-plus though. No one can take away the 25 points straight he scored against the Pistons in ’07. No can take away the time he had ‘no regard for human life’. No one can take away one of the craziest heat checks I’ve ever seen. No one can take away the countless times he dunked on ‘blank’ from the other team and forced me to jump out of my seat in response. And finally, no one can take away the way I felt watching ‘The Block’ which led to the 2016 championship, his crowning moment and one of the greatest sporting victories in modern history. None of those things would have been possible without LeBron donning a Cavs jersey and for that, I am eternally grateful. All good things come to an end and this isn’t a bitter split, rather an amicable that allows me to thank one professional athlete for bringing me 11 seasons of joy.
Thank you LeBron James, good luck in LA.