Five years ago, LeBron James won his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat. After almost a decade of scrutiny from fans and analysts, he accomplished what he set out to do after leaving the Cavs. More doubters were silenced the following season, when the Heat won back to back titles. Personally, I thought his legacy would be forever tainted, regardless of how successful his tenure with the Heat turned out to be. But this isn’t the last century. Staying on one team for your entire career shouldn’t define your legacy.
Still, it felt like something was missing from his list of accomplishments. The kid from Akron never brought his hometown team their first championship. So, when The King decided it was time to reclaim his throne in Cleveland, I had nothing but respect for him.
The Cavs lucked out in the draft lottery, turning less-than-slim odds into the #1 pick. Using that pick to trade for Kevin Love and form a new “Big 3” felt forced. As opposed to finding three players that can really gel and play off of one another, the Cavs front office had to throw together what they could. LeBron, once again, showed himself to be the ultimate teammate and found a way to make it work with Love and Kyrie Irving. Injuries to Love and Irving derailed the teams’ championship hopes, and LeBron was forced to play against the Warriors alone, eventually losing.
The media seemed to be divided on him after the finals loss. Some thought he shouldn’t be blamed for losing after the injuries to his teammates. Others brought up his losing record in the finals as a hindrance to his legacy. Meanwhile, the Warriors looked unstoppable during the 2015 season, amounting a league record 73 wins. Even a healthy Cavs team didn’t stand a chance on paper, and it looked like the script was already written on the playoffs. After the Warriors burst into a 3-1 lead, all hope seemed lost again for LeBron to deliver a championship to Cleveland. The NBA decided to suspend Draymond Green for game 5 because he couldn’t stop kicking people, and the rest is history. Say what you want about LeBron’s career, but coming back to defeat one of the greatest teams in NBA history solidified his legacy. Anything he does from now until retirement is just gravy. However, if LeBron wants to win and maybe even surpass Jordan in accomplishments, he must leave the Cavs after the 2017-2018 season.
For the last seven seasons LeBron has dominated any Eastern Conference opponent that was unlucky enough to cross his path. Each year, prior to this season, championship odds seemed to be a toss-up between LeBron’s team, and whoever he was playing against. Then Kevin Durant decided it was time he got a ring too, essentially ruining any shot the Cavs had to repeat as champions. As much as people tried to convince themselves throughout the course of the season that the Cavs had a realistic shot to win, they didn’t. I expect to see Cavs vs. Warriors round 4 in the 2018 finals, with the Warriors being crowned for the third time in four years.
After missing out on Jimmy Butler and Paul George, the future for this team past the upcoming season looks bleak. To make matters worse, there is no sense of direction from the top down. General manager David Griffin was fired, in a move that LeBron was clearly upset by. Then, we heard that the Cavs found his replacement in the form of Chauncey Billups, until Billups pulled himself out of consideration. Reports began saying that the Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, was unwilling to pay Billups an average general manager salary. If true, imagine the man who pays Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson over $100 million combined, unwilling to shell out a couple more million for a competent general manager.
This offseason has seen the Eastern Conference lose star after star to the West, making it even more of a cakewalk for LeBron. However, after a while, it must become disheartening to make it so close year after year and come up just short. LeBron can continue to make the finals with a mediocre supporting cast and no cap space to recruit anybody meaningful, or he can leave and join a real contender. When LeBron becomes a free agent following the 2018 season there will be no team in the East that can compete with the Warriors. If he wants to win another championship before he retires, LeBron must join forces with a top Western Conference team.
It may seem crazy to think LeBron would leave Cleveland after everything that’s happened, and believe me it’s more likely he stays. LeBron loves Cleveland, maybe more than Jim Brown loves Cleveland, and to see him leave for a second time might just seem weird. Like I said though, this is a new era of basketball; and after we saw Kevin Durant join the Warriors, we shouldn’t rule anything out. Especially when there are teams in the West like the Rockets with James Harden and Chris Paul, or the Thunder with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, that would give LeBron a much better shot at another title. Even up and coming teams like the Timberwolves would set LeBron up for a better chance, while at the same time increasing the longevity of his supporting cast. Going to the West would even give him a chance to play under competent coaching. We all know LeBron himself doesn’t need much coaching advice at this point, but the players around him would be better managed.
The negatives outweigh the positives when it comes to staying in Cleveland for LeBron in my opinion. We’ll have to wait for next season to see where The King will call his throne.