MIAMI – The lesson learned from 2010 and 2014 is that anything is possible with LeBron James.
Which is why, on the eve of 2017 free agency, the summer of 2018 already has come into focus.
That’s when James again can become a free agent, just like in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016, when he in order, stunned the NBA with a move to the Miami Heat, staggered Pat Riley with a shift back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then twice held the feet of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to the luxury-tax fire.
Already the speculation has ranged from the subtle – a podcast by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski about James mulling heading to the West and the Los Angeles Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers to help advance his entertainment endeavors, or even back to the Heat – to the preposterous, a Tweet debated on ESPN’s Around the Horn that read, “LeBron will opt out of contract in 2018 to form a super team and ‘defend himself’ in LA.”
The problem with the latter was that it was pulled from a fake Wojnarowski Twitter account that craftily included one misplaced letter.
Still, all the elements are there for legitimate debate, considering how James left the Cavaliers for the Heat in 2010 when the Boston Celtics stood as a super-team roadblock, returned to Cleveland in 2014 for a more promising supporting cast, and then in 2015 and ’16 blew up a Gilbert checkbook that may yet be in for more sticker shock.
It’s as if seeds already are planted for another Summer of LeBron, with a pair of particularly curious moments playing out amid the Cavaliers’ five-game capitulation to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
During the Finals, with Cleveland down 3-0, Dan Patrick on his nationally syndicated radio show quoted a source with “firsthand knowledge of the situation” on how James wanted Gilbert to trade franchises with Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores before James’ 2014 return to his hometown Cavaliers.
“LeBron,” Patrick said, “was willing to go back to Cleveland, but he wanted the Cavaliers’ ownership to buy the Pistons, and the Pistons’ ownership would take over the Cavaliers.”
The logic came into focus when James, he of the social-media playoff blackout, released a video through his Uninterrupted digital network before Game 4 of the Finals that spoke to the ugly screed Gilbert released about James’ 2010 defection to the Heat, and how members of James’ family said they would never get over it.
The lessons from LeBron are that championships mollify, thus the ease with the Heat after the 2012 and ’13 titles, as well as the lack of immediate drama following the Cavaliers’ 2016 title.
After the Heat’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 Finals and the Cavaliers’ to the Warriors in 2015? Drama. Plenty of drama.
Expect more in coming days, weeks and months, because it’s also the best way to assure that Gilbert again is reduced to little more than financier, the mere posting of that James video a clear enough signal that more will be demanded.
Could the endgame leave the score Heat 2, Cavaliers 2 when it comes to James’ tenures? It would appear unlikely based on where the Heat stand with their roster. And rest assured, after drafting Shabazz Napier and signing Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in that fateful 2014 offseason, there will be no more Riley appeasement moments as there were in 2014. It is why real Woj barely referenced the 2018 Heat possibility.
And yet because of how he does business, there likely will be forthcoming subtle hints from James about the Heat, Clippers and Lakers. Who knows? He actually may suit up for a game at AmericanAirlines Arena next season.