Should Cavs fans start cheering for LeBron? - NBC Sports

Should Cavs fans start cheering for LeBron?
Cleveland fans have to take star's comments about possible return seriously
Getty Images Contributor
During a return trip to Cleveland last season, LeBron Jamesÿsaid 'itÿwould be fun to play in front of these fans again'.
March 20, 2013, 5:03 pm

Over a two-day span, the NBA not only delivered Dwight Howard's first game back to Orlando since he was dealt from the Magic to the Lakers last July, but also Carmelo Anthony's first game back to Denver since he was traded from the Nuggets to the Knicks two seasons ago.

The response was as expected, vitriol at the Amway Center for Howard, who left a mess in his wake, then protracted disdain at the Pepsi Center for Anthony, who at least was clear enough in his desires to allow the Nuggets to receive something palpable in return.

Basically, it all went as planned.

Howard dominated, taunted and teased, sort of his Magic career in a single night.

Anthony struggled, succumbed and then disappeared, encapsulating the state of his post-Nuggets career.

But the next return on the NBA's comeback calendar figures to be quite different, far more complex, with the tone of the reception a great unknown.

That would be Wednesday, when LeBron James makes his fourth return with the Miami Heat - winners of 23 straight - to Cleveland.

By James' second visit during that 2010-11 season, the Cavaliers were out of gas, their fans exhausted. The consolation prize on that night was an unexpected Cleveland victory.

And then came last season's return, and it was a game changer. Not because of the result, the Heat got back to spanking then Cavs in that one. But for what LeBron said the day before that game, the Heat's lone visit during the lockout-compacted 2011-12 schedule.

As the rancor subsided, as James found himself able to move freely at Quicken Loans Arena without riot gear, he was asked about perhaps one day returning to play in Cleveland.

The response was hardly as expected.

"I think it would be great," he said. "It would be fun to play in front of these fans again."

Wait, what?

"I'm here as a Miami Heat player and I'm happy where I am now," he continued. "But I don't rule that out in any sense. If I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me."

For the first time since he shifted from Northeast Ohio to South Florida, LeBron found a way to create talk-radio antipathy on both ends of the equation.

And then the Heat went on to win the 2012 championship, LeBron's first ring, and all was forgotten.

Uh ... not quite.

Because with the expiration of each season on the six-year contract James signed in 2010, it draws LeBron one season closer to the 2014 opt-out he had inserted, just as there is a 2015 opt-out before formal expiration in 2016.

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And then this past summer, James broke ties with the powerful CAA agency that helped broker the Big Three consortium in the first place (Wade and Chris Bosh are also CAA clients), when he shifted his allegiance to longtime friend Rich Paul, as in Cleveland-based Rich Paul, as in the agent for second-year Cavaliers forward Tristan Thomson.

And that means this time, should LeBron offer anything conciliatory toward Cleveland as he did prior to last season's visit, instead of double-takes, there might be a few palpable gulps.

Big gulps.

Miami gulps.

The difference in these reunion games is that Dwight is never going back, never has said he might go back to Orlando. It simply is a market that did not meet his needs, much the way it didn't meet Shaq's demands.

And Carmelo is never going back to Denver, clearly an East Coast type who prefers a lower altitude and the higher-profile that a major media market can deliver.

So the booing at the Amway Center and Pepsi Center came with no strings attached.

Unexpected affection just might have an unexpected pull.

And the Cavs certainly have promise, with what they've done with Irving, Dion Waiters, Thompson, as well as another upcoming lottery pick and enough free-agent cash to spend even in advance of 2014. Or, for that matter, some of that young talent and some of those impending draft choices could be flipped in a trade for a player who otherwise might never consider Cleveland.

It all makes for a fascinating what-if.

Do you cheer the one who broke your heart to begin a courtship anew?

Or do you never allow yourself to fall into such an all-or-nothing trap, the lack of a Plan B that led to this current Cleveland mess?

There are homecomings and then there are homecomings with an asterisks.

This is the latter.

To boo is to live in the moment.

To cheer is to remember what was, and what could be yet again.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat .

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