The people of Cleveland burned LeBron James’ jersey when he jilted the Cavaliers four years ago. They cursed his name and swore he was no son of theirs any longer. They cheered his defeats on South Beach with more enthusiasm than they cheered his victories on the shores of Lake Erie.
And now they’d do anything to get him back.
Such is the conflict facing teams across the league with free agency opening at 9 Pacific time Monday.
Even after the San Antonio Spurs dethroned James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat with a throwback brand of selfless play, the allure of splurging on one big star will be too intoxicating for most teams to resist.
James is back on the market this year, along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – the same trio that turned the NBA on its head when they united in 2010.
Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce bring added gravitas to this year’s free agent class, joined by up-and-comers like Eric Bledsoe, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry and Gordon Hayward.
It’s no secret that the Cavs would love to bring James back home, but the Heat are hoping to not only reunite their Big 3 but bolster the supporting cast around them to make another title run.
“Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that’s what we all would like,” James said shortly after the finals.
The Houston Rockets have landed big-time players each of the last two summers, but even James Harden and Dwight Howard aren’t enough.
The Chicago Bulls should have Derrick Rose returning after two seasons derailed by knee injuries and Joakim Noah prowling the paint. But they’re expected to jump into the market for the biggest names available in hopes of adding some scoring punch. The Indiana Pacers have been clear that they want Stephenson back.
The Phoenix Suns were one of the feel-good stories last year, a young team that rode chemistry, cohesion and exuberance to 48 wins. But GM Ryan McDonough knows the best way to expedite the resurgence in the desert is to add a marquee player.
And, of course, there are the Los Angeles Lakers, a franchise that prides itself on bringing in big names to play in the bright lights. They are armed with millions in cap space and GM Mitch Kupchak has made it clear that the Lakers aren’t interested in rebuilding.
No contracts will be official until the moratorium ends on July 10.
James, Wade and Bosh are expected to re-up in Miami. Nowitzki is expected to take less money to stay in Dallas and the Suns have made it clear that Bledsoe isn’t going anywhere.