He’s Not Coming Back


 

At the end of America’s greatest film of the last 50 years, Point Break, Johnny Utah along with his jean jacket Tim Riggins-ish hair and a small army of police storm Belles Beach to bring the elusive Bohdi, played flawlessly by the late Patrick Swayze, to justice.  After a brief fight in the ocean Keanu is able to handcuff himself to Swayze.  Utah tells Bodhi that he’s got to go down and make amends because things went bad.  Bodhi refuses to hear it, and pleads with Utah that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to surf the “50 Year Storm.”  Suddenly resigned Utah uncuffs Bodhi to go surf the skyscraper sized waves and achieve surfing immortality before meeting his end.  As Bodhi is paddling out into the surf the police bombard Agent Utah asking why he let him go.  Without missing a beat Utah answers “Nah I didn’t.” Ignoring Utah, the police get themselves into position expecting Bodhi to return, yelling at one another, “We’ll get him when he comes back in!”  Utah, hearing the cops yelling at one another says to himself, “he’s nawt coming back,” before he ceremonially throws his F.B.I. badge into the water closing a chapter of his life.

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I bring this up because in less than a month Lebron James is going be a free agent for the first time, assuming he opts out, since “The Decision.”  Ever since Lebron left Cleveland it feels like both the team and the fans have continued to chase him with the belief that he will come home.  The speculation grew this week after Cleveland won the draft lottery again, giving them a serious trade chip to acquire a top talent like the very available Kevin Love.  Forbes put out an article explaining why Lebron should return and TNT analyst Charles Barkley championed Lebron’s return to the Cavs as well.  Now I love the man, but Barkley voices a lot of opinions that make him look like a buffoon.  At the trade deadline this year he declared the Eastern Conference over after the Pacers acquired Evan Turner.  For the entire playoffs Turner has scored only 39 points, grabbed a meh 25 rebounds, dished out a forgettable 19 assists to go along with 9 turnovers and an “I didn’t know that was possible” -53 +/-.

I understand the Lebron debate brings more drama to the NBA off season discussion, but Cleveland fans need to know Lebron is not coming back as a basketball player.  Not this summer, or next, or in 2016, or when his following contract is up and he’s on his last legs.  Lebron is staying put in Miami.  It’s not his hometown, but Miami is his adopted home.

Lebron’s wife and children live down in Miami with him.  His kids are in school down there where I’m sure they’ve made friends and built a life.  The  same goes for his wife Savannah who recently opened her own juice bar down in Miami.  James also has interests in Miami.  It’s been reported that James has spoken with David Beckham about investing in the MLS expansion club in Miami.  A conversation that we know isn’t just a courtesy since Lebron already owns a small stake in Liverpool F.C.  Then of course there is also the advantage of being in Florida, which has no state tax, and living in freakin Miami.  Miami isn’t for everyone, but it’s better than Cleveland or Akron.  You don’t see Michael Bay filming dramatic shots of planes flying over a Cleveland billboard in his movies.  That sign, which apparently doesn’t exist outside of the movie world, always says Miami for a reason.

Cleveland fans are quick to point out that Lebron still owns his mansion in Akron, but he also owns a monstrosity in Coconut Grove and may own a chateau in France for all we know.  Maybe he kept the house in Akron because if he sold it he’d be taking a multi-million dollar hit to the head or because he has friends/family currently living there rent free and doesn’t want to kick them out.  One house does not a decision make.

Like most households big family decisions come down to what is best for the career of the primary breadwinner.  And if the best decision for Lebron was to return to Cleveland I’m sure his family would be willing to make the sacrifice.  But that’s the problem, the situation in Cleveland is an absolute gong show right now.

Starting at the top, the Cavaliers are still owned by Dan Gilbert, an evenly tanned businessman with greased backed hair and the charm of a frat bro who is 12 beers deep. Casual NBA fans probably remember him, I’m positive Lebron does.  Gilbert is the same owner who decided to publicly undress James after he made the ill-advised move of announcing where he’d sign his next NBA contract on national television.  When all of this went down Lebron was 25 years old.  Gilbert was a grown-ass man.  But that didn’t stop him from verbally assaulting the young adult.  In his open letter to Cavs fans Gilbert used words like former hero, deserted, narcissistic, self-promotional, betrayed, cowardly, self-titled, shameful, selfishness, disloyalty, heartless, callous action, self-delcared, dreaded spell, and bad karma.  Gilbert really went for the gusto by also putting quotes around the words, decision, witnessed, king, curse, and chosen one.  And if you could believe it Gilbert also threw the caps lock down to say, “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.” 

I still haven’t forgotten that letter and I have no ties to anyone involved in this situation.  If I’m James every time I see Gilbert, whether it be at a game in Cleveland or All Star Weekend, I’m showing him my middle finger with the championship rings stacked on top of one another.  Has there every been any sort of word that the two buried the hatchet?Superstars like Lebron act so polished in front of the camera that we can forget that they are human.  Behind the scenes though, I’m sure James would use some colorful language when discussing his feelings towards Dan Gilbert.  Lebron’s decision to leave was just business, Gilbert made it personal.

For arguments sake lets say James and Gilbert are able to co-exist once again.  Things are no more enticing in Cleveland from a purely basketball standpoint.  David Griffin has been the permanent GM in Cleveland for about a week, has no previous experience as the lead decision-maker and no championship rings on his fingers. In Miami James still has Pat Riley running the team, who has successfully constructed a roster that has made it to the last three NBA Finals and could very well be on their way to a fourth.

Well Cleveland does have Coach……  Wait no they don’t.  The Cavs just fired Mike Brown for the second time, after signing him to a five year contract last summer.  Amazingly enough Brown doesn’t hold the record for number of times fired by one Cleveland sports franchise.  That honor belongs to former Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, who has been fired by the Browns THREE GOD DAMN TIMES since 2004.  That means between Mike Brown and Rod Chudzinski they’ve been fired a combined five times in one city since 2004.  Such collective sports franchise ownership incompetence may never be topped.  That is a stat that could last longer than Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.

As for Cleveland’s current coaching search, it’s been reported they are aggressively combing the college basketball ranks to find their next coach.  The name circulating currently is Florida coach Billy Donovan.  Donovan is a Hall of Fame coach, but has zero NBA track record.  Plus, Donovan looks like a long shot to leave Gainesville.  Other sought after college coaches, like Tom Izzo and Kevin Ollie, don’t appear to be leaving for the NBA anytime soon.  Of the remaining coaches with NBA experience there is the miserly George Karl, the very average Alvin Gentry, and the somewhat appealing Lionel Hollins.  Or if James remains in Miami he can continue to be coached by Erik Spoelstra, who Lebron has built a rapport with and like Riley has been a part of the Heat’s last three NBA Finals appearances.

But what about Miami’s aging roster!  Ray Allen looks 25 but is really 45.  Chris Anderson is 35 but looks 65.  Wade’s knees have more rings around them than the giant redwoods in California and Chris Bosh avoids the paint as if it’s a poison peanut butter pit.  All true statements to a degree, but take a gander at the Cavaliers’ roster and it isn’t showing that much promise.

Their franchise centerpiece, Kyrie Irving, has averaged only 60 games over his first three seasons in the NBA.  The creaky Dwyane Wade at 32 played 54 games this season after playing  91 games last season.  Beyond games played, Irving has show very little leadership as the focal point of the Cavs.  To date his greatest accomplishments in the league include winning the 2014 NBA All Star Game MVP award and getting over 33 million YouTube views since 2012 for the original Uncle Drew Pepsi ad campaign.  Furthermore, Irving has already been voicing his own concern over the direction of the Cavs.

Then there is SG Dion Waiters.  Off the court Waiters is good buddies with the Browns’ suspended receiver Josh Gordon, who decided to stick his own nose into the Cavs situation this season.  On the court this year Waiters shot 43% from the field, 68% from the free throw line and finished the year with a 14.1 PER.  50% of the time when Waiters name made the front page of ESPN.com this year it was because of an alleged fight with a teammate, verbal back and forth with Irving, or because he’d shot the Cavs into another one of their 49 losses this season.

Beyond the Grumpy Old Men-ish backcourt the Cavs have an average power forward in Tristan Thompson, an aging Anderson Varejao, Jarret Jack, and last year’s first overall pick Anthony Bennett, who I can only hope isn’t puttering around a mental ward playing Connect Four with his imaginary friend Otis.

The Cavs have the first overall pick though!  That means Embiid, Wiggins, Parker, or a potential trade for Kevin Love!  Again this is true, but is Lebron going to be enticed by the opportunity to play with an 18 year old who is going take time to develop?  Lebron went through this process himself.  He knows how long it takes to become an elite player in the NBA.  Playing with Kevin Love I’m sure is enticing to Lebron, but what’s to stop Love from trying to force his way to Miami?

The Wolves are losing more of their leverage with each passing day.  If Lebron gives Kevin Love a call and says come play with me in Miami, do you think Love is going say, “No, I’ll only do it if we are both in Cleveland.”  Love can go to Flip Saunders tomorrow and say, “tell every other team I’m only opting in if I go to Miami.”  At that point Saunders is left with two options.  One, hold onto Love and let him play out the last year of his contract in Minnesota and wave goodbye as he walks away next off season.  Or two, watch the offers start to dry up since no team is going to want to give up serious assets and risk Love leaving after one season, like Dwight Howard did last off season, leaving  Saunders with no choice but to trade Love for Chris Bosh, some future first rounders, and cap relief.

Even if that is too far-fetched for some people to believe, James and Miami have a lot of options.  Riley could convince Wade and Bosh to opt out this year and give them more guaranteed years for less money allowing the Heat to pursue someone like Eric Bledsoe, Pau Gasol or Greg Monroe in free agency.  A concept that isn’t insane considering Bosh, James, and Wade all took less money the first time around to make history.  The Heat don’t need THAT much to keep this thing going.

If Wade and Bosh balk at that idea then they can play out their contracts try to win over the next two years and Riley can let them walk after 2016, when the free agent pool will include players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, and potentially Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving.  Even if the Heat don’t win the title the next two seasons Lebron is still going to be only 31 years old.  Jordan and Bulls began their second three-peat when Jordan was 32 and the Bulls had retooled their roster.  Also the East doesn’t look like it is getting that much more competitive in the near future.

The point of all of this is that Lebron is like gravity.  Players are going to come to him.  He doesn’t need to go anywhere.  When anyone thinks of the Heat, James is the first player that comes to mind.  This isn’t Wade’s team anymore.  So whether it is this summer, next summer, or in 2016 elite players will still be clamoring to play with James barring any sort of catastrophic injury.  Lebron doesn’t need to manipulate his situation anymore.  After winning two rings and potentially a third in the coming weeks others will manipulate their own situation to come play with him.

The argument that Lebron feels some need to return home and play for his hometown is a flimsy one.  I recognize that the situation is different since he started in Cleveland, but was there ever any outcry for Jordan to play in Charlotte, or for Magic to return to Detroit, or for Bird to bring the Pacers a title?  Those three players like James made the city they won in their adopted home.  I’m sure there is already a spot picked out for a statue of James outside Miami’s arena.  The same way Jordan’s is built in Chicago, Magic’s is in Los Angeles, and Bird’s will be in Boston.  Cavaliers management is rotten from top to bottom right now.  There is no real upside for James to return to Cleveland.  My guess, Lebron follows in the footsteps of the great players previously mentioned and one day seizes control of the Cavaliers from that walking hard-on Dan Gilbert.

Before letting Swayze go off to wrestle with his maker Keanu looks at his ex-compadre that betrayed him and says (in classic Keanu cadence), “via con dios.”  Unlike Johnny Utah, Cleveland fans never had the opportunity to say goodbye to James and gain closure.  Because of that I can sympathize with the Cleveland fans.  They had this generational talent grown in their own backyard and playing for THEIR team, but management and ownership screwed the whole thing up and that generational talent left town without a goodbye.  It’s not your fault Cleveland fans.  If I could, I’d hug you all like Sean MacGuire in Good Will Hunting.  Like Bodhi, Lebron James has a chance to reach immortality as it relates to his life’s work. He’s not there yet, but he’s in range.  Cleveland, let him go.  It’s time to leave the beach, he’s not coming back.

 

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