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The Case for Lebron James’ Return to Cleveland

March 24, 2013

Like many Cavaliers fans last Wednesday, I was very excited when the Cavs built a 27 point lead without their top two players, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. I was also devastated, but not surprised, when the Cavs gave up the lead and the Heat won. The key to the Heat’s comeback was due to the Cavs’ lack of depth (primarily due to injuries and Byron Scott’s infatuation with playing Luke Walton). For a great synopsis of the Cavs’ collapse read click here to read Kirk from Waiting for Next Year’s piece.

Will we see Lebron play in a Cavalier uniform again?

Will we see Lebron play in a Cavalier uniform again?

After watching the Cavs compete with the Heat for the whole game, I began to wonder if there was any legitimacy to the rumors that Lebron James is returning to Cleveland in 2013 when he can be a free agent again. Since I took Lebron’s departure from Cleveland very hard, thinking about the possibility of his return makes me overwhelmed with a dozen emotions, but it also feels increasingly possible given the Cavs growth this season. While many may scoff at the notion of growth with the Cavs current 22-47 record, there are several reasons it makes sense for Lebron to return to Cleveland.

At the top of this list of reasons has to be Kyrie Irving. It is widely reported that he and Lebron are very close; Lebron’s management team tried to represent Kyrie when he entered the league and both players have publicly acknowledged a fondness for each other’s game. Prior to his injury, Kyrie was making “the leap” from generally unknown to becoming a public face of not only the Cavs but the NBA as a whole. Through his improved performance in his second year and ability to hold his own during the All Star festivities this year, it is clear Kyrie belongs in the discussion of the league’s top five point guards. It would not surprise me if he is the undisputed best point guard in the league by 2014, when Lebron will be a free agent.

The wild card with Kyrie is that he appears to be injury-prone. In two seasons he has averaged 50 games a season and he also missed most of his freshman season at Duke. Kyrie’s ability to continue his ascension to the league’s elite is largely contingent on his ability to stay healthy.

Though many fans and critics lambasted the Dion Waiters pick last draft, Dion has grown quickly as a rookie and would be next on my list of reasons the Cavs appeal to Lebron. Prior to his recent injury, he won Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for February and noticeably raised his game, attacking the basket more, shooting for a higher percentage and getting to the free throw line more frequently. Dion is a player who can score 20 points on any given night and would excel as a third option on a team with Lebron and Kyrie.

One of the Cavs who shined most brightly against the Heat, especially in the first half, was Tristan Thompson. The ambidextrous big man flashed all of the skills believers have been waiting for him to put together all year: defending, rebounding on both ends, hitting his mid range jumper and finishing near the basket. He has grown immensely in his second year in the league, learning to channel his high-energy game on both ends of the floor. In many ways, Thompson could be a perfect big to pair with Lebron; athletic, ability to guard centers, can stretch the floor a bit offensively and is happy to work offensively without the ball.

I stress the without the ball aspect especially, as I feel a large part of Chris Bosh’s failures are tied to the fact that he was a very high usage player in Toronto. Usage rate is determined based on the number of shots (both field goals and free throws) taken, assists and turnovers; essentially, the more the ball is in your hands, the higher your usage rate will be. Bosh’s usage rate was 22 or higher most of his years in Toronto; it has been 21 or less every year in Miami. Chris Bosh is a player who performs best when he has the ball in his hands. Tristan Thompson’s usage rate has been around 17 for both of his years in the league, which is great for a big to pair with high usage players like Kyrie (28), Dion (24) and (hopefully) Lebron (28).

While the Cavs already have young potential stars like Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving, they also will be adding another high lottery pick as they currently have the 3rd worst record in the league. The level of appeal this player will have with Lebron obviously depends on who it ends up being, but adding another talented player on a rookie contract provides another possible role player for Lebron’s team at an affordable price. Gathering young, cheap, talented role players is what separates teams like the Spurs and Thunder from the rest of the league and will give the Cavs flexibility to manage contracts around their stars while keeping the competitive.

Additionally, the Cavs currently have very little money tied up in contracts past next year. This should give them plenty of cap space to offer Lebron a max contract while allowing them to extend their young players who warrant extensions as soon as possible.

I did not even touch on Tyler Zeller and some of the other young players the Cavs already have in place, who could also add to the success of the team. I have confidence in Chris Grant and his team, as they have done a great job over the past few years. I believe that they will continue to make smart, calculated moves to gather affordable talent before making a larger move when Kyrie and the other youngsters are ready to compete on a larger level.

The biggest reason for Lebron to return to Cleveland has nothing to do with basketball. Lebron is the most image-conscious athlete since early Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan; he has publicly stated that he wants to be the first billion dollar athlete (tough break, MJ’s closing in) and he does almost anything (cough* dunk contest) he can to cash in on his name. Whether it’s publicly sponsored parties in every city the Heat play in, owning part of Liverpool Football Club, being an early investor in Beats by Dre or selling the rights to the announcement of his new team, there is nothing Lebron loves more than the opportunity to make money. His return to Cleveland would be Phil Knight’s wet dream of a marketing opportunity. You think Cleveland went overboard with the building-sized billboard last time Lebron was in town? Imagine what will happen when he and Kyrie lead the Cavs to a title.

Will we see Lebron dunking home feeds from Kyrie in the future? Both Lebron photos taken by me.

Could Lebron be dunking home feeds from Kyrie as soon as 2014? I think so. (Both Lebron photos taken by me.)

As I said at the open, I don’t know if Lebron James is considering a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I don’t know what he based “The Decision” on last time and don’t know what will help him make his next “Decision” (or will this one be called “The Judgment” or “The Determination”?). More than anything, I don’t know how I would feel about Lebron coming back to the Cavaliers. But I would love to find out.

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