PROGRAMMING NOTE: Coverage of the Warriors 2018 Championship Parade begins Tuesday at 9:30am on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming on NBCSportsBayArea.com.
“We’ll see what happens.” -LeBron James
Those are the final words spoken by James from the podium following the Cleveland Cavaliers loss in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
Those are words that will likely haunt the city of Cleveland for a very long time.
James’ workload got a little lighter after Friday night’s sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. After carrying the Cavs to an improbable fourth straight Eastern Conference title, one of the greatest players the game has ever known is about to embark on another free agency journey. One that very likely leads him away from his home state of Ohio.
“My family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that,” James told reporters following the Cavs loss. “When I decide what I’m going to do with my future, my family and the folks that have been with me for the last 20 years will have a say-so. Then it ultimately will come down to me. We’ll see what happens.”
Cleveland has seen its share of highs and lows when it comes to James. His departure to Miami in 2010 broke the city. The cruelty of “The Decision” hung in the air for four years, as the Cavs posted the NBA’s worst record.
From the NBA Finals to the basement in the blink of an eye. After posting a 61-21 campaign during the 2009-10 season, the Cavs won just 19 games the next year following his departure. They should be ready for a similar fall if he chooses to leave again in the coming weeks.
There is plenty of chatter about what the Cavs might need to do if they hope to retain James, but most of that is conjecture. Cleveland went all in at the deadline, adding pieces that never quite fit together.
The downfall of the Cavs began with the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in August. Instead of getting Irving, James and management around a table and working things out, Cleveland chose to trade their second best player to their biggest conference rival for a package that included Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets first round selection.
Without Irving to share the load, James looked overworked and completely outgunned in the series against Golden State.
To compound matters, Cleveland misused the assets obtained in the Irving trade, dealing away Thomas and Crowder at the deadline while adding Rodney Hood, George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson.
In addition to the botched deals above, the Cavs sat on one of their strongest assets - the Brooklyn first round pick. Without a firm commitment that James was staying long term, they held onto what many believed was one of the most powerful assets in the league.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, Brooklyn played better than expected, depreciating the prized asset with every win. Cleveland gambled. Instead of chasing a complementary star and giving James the support he needed, they watched their logo come up with the eighth overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The pick still has value, but nowhere near what it was worth when it was obtained. Cleveland can draft a player or possibly attach the pick to one of the many bloated contracts that will hinder the franchise moving forward. But finding the next LeBron James at No. 8 is virtually impossible.
Now the Cavs are cash strapped with a grossly flawed team built with James in mind. Take the 14-time All-Star off the roster and this team is filled with overpaid, underachievers.
At 33-year-old, James wants a group that can compete with the Warriors. The chance of that happening with the collection of talent currently assembled is unlikely. If James is going to stay, the roster has to be reworked once again, but who is going to bail out the Cavs?
This is the eighth straight Finals appearance for James and his ninth overall. Despite playing 15 years in the league, he showed once again that he is capable of carrying a team all through the playoffs. He wants another shot at the title, but there is no question he is going to need help.
“I still have so much to give to the game,” the four-time MVP told media members. “When you have a goal and you’re able to accomplish that goal, for me personally, it made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships. I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I still continue to be in championship mode.”
Where will James end up? That question will consume the NBA for the next month. There aren’t a lot of teams with cap space, but for a franchise changing player, teams will scramble.
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of cap room and an up-and-coming roster. They are also in the Western Conference, making the path to another ring extremely difficult.
Houston will try their best to talk James into joining James Harden and Chris Paul, but they are cash strapped, and once again, they play in the Western Conference.
Philadelphia is loaded with young talent and gives James one of his best chances to get back to the Finals. Prized big man Joel Embiid made his initial pitch to James Friday evening via Twitter.
Trust The Process!!!! Find a new slant @KingJames— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 9, 2018
Toronto may give chase. Same goes for San Antonio and Boston. This is the type of player that every team in the league would love to have.
James will consult his family and his team of advisors. In the end, he’ll be looking for the team that gives him the best chance of competing for a ring. As painful as it is for Cleveland, the Cavs probably won't be that team.
“We’ll see what happens,” pretty much sums it all up.
|Game 1||Warriors 124, Cavs 114 (OT)|
|Game 2||Warriors 122, Cavs 103|
|Game 3||Warriors 110, Cavs 102|
|Game 4||Warriors 108, Cavs 85|