Could Gilbert and the Fans Accept a James Return?

Dave Mitchell January 15, 2013 Comments Off on Could Gilbert and the Fans Accept a James Return?

A hard to believe scenario of epic proportions is being circulated around the NBA. It’s so hard to believe and radically insane it might just be true. After all, only in the NBA can the impossible most likely happen.

The biggest rumor ever since Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat was he would someday return. The question has always been would the fans, and more likely Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, allow this to happen. That question might be closer to being answered than anyone thinks.

After the disclosed split thigh muscle injury to center Anderson Varejao and subsequent surgery, the Cavs trade opportunities for the upcoming deadline will be diminished. Varejao was the teams biggest trade chip. However this injury will place Varejao on the injured list until just before the deadline, if not after. There is virtually no way anyone would be willing to give Cleveland equal value for an injured center. Thus the rumors about James.

Certainly nothing will be done this season or probably next. But it’s a well know fact the Heat are hemorrhaging money in the luxury tax because the Big three of James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade make so much. Pat Riley’s wild spending spree three years ago gave Miami the championship they bought, but it has cost the organization any profits they would have garnered otherwise.   The Heat are drowning in red ink and will have to drop one, if not two of the big three after next season. The talk is James will be the first to go.

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal is the beat writer for the Cavs. He is reporting Varejao’s injury and the effects it will have on the team in terms of not having a tradeable commodity because of it, makes it likely Cleveland could go after James in the summer of 2014. A return to Cleveland would be intriguing if the Cavs could pull it off.

James has an early termination option in his contract that he can exercise after next season to get out of the six-year, $109.8 million deal he signed during the summer of 2010. That signing led the Cavalier fans to show hatred towards the Akron native on the level of how they dealt with Art Modell after the Browns left Cleveland.

It’s conceivable the Heat could “buy-out” James to get him to opt out, this plan would help their salary cap problems. This could especially be true if the Heat would win the next two titles and then begin dismantling the team. Or if Pat Riley decides to retire and the new team president would choose to rebuild and get under the cap to eliminate the luxury tax problems.

There have been no indications James would be interested in the opt-out clause in his deal. One would think he would be crazy to walk away from the money he is scheduled to receive. However under examination it makes some future economical sense. If he did opt out, James would still be at the top of his game and could be wanted by any team with the max cap room space. After all James would only be 29 years old at the time. That is where the Cavs have a leg up on the competition.

The Cavaliers are on target to have a surplus of cap room space at that time. The only guaranteed ’14-’15 money on the Cavs’ books is about $18 million earmarked for young building blocks Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. That leaves more than enough to bring James home, if Gilbert would allow it. As much as this seems impossible, it has been the highlight of rumor mills for the past three years.

Executives around the league believe, and have always believed the possibility of James returning to Cleveland after next season was there. Many think that was his plan all along. James could go to Miami and secure his most coveted prize, the NBA Championship, which he has done. Then come home and try to win another, breaking the long suffering pain Cleveland fans have gone through since 1964.   James, according to some, believes his legend would be much bigger if he returned and the Cavs won a title. Also the pressure of not winning a title would be gone because of his Miami experience.

A Lebron James return to Cleveland would be dicey at best. To be welcomed by the fans is one thing. Fans will get over the “decision” and what they feel was a betrayal. The problem area will be how Gilbert would accept the possibility. Gilbert felt like James stabbed him in the back. When he left for Miami, there was no talk between the pair for the two weeks before the move, nor after. And who can forget the “twitter bombs” and emails Gilbert sent.

Two massive egos would have to be calmed for this entire “odd couple” relationship to resume. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen. The guess is Gilbert would stay out of any negotiations and things would be very quiet. Any leaks would cause either side to walk away. The Cavs front office, primarily GM Chris Grant would handle all talks and just come back to Gilbert with any details. If an agreement was reached, then the task of putting James and Gilbert in the same room to work out their problems would be done. That meeting has already been proposed.

According to a report last February by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, James is constantly thinking about free agency. Plus he has been contemplating a return to Cleveland since he left. According to Wojnarowski, and substantiated by league sources, James months ago quietly had at least one message sent to the Cavaliers’ front office. James wanted the message delivered to Gilbert. Sources say Gilbert remained silent, either by anger or by the NBA’s tampering rule. A rule ignored by Pat Riley when James was a Cavalier.

If they can come to a meeting of the minds then a deal could be made. If not, the Lakers might be a viable second option for James. With the growth shown by the Cavs this season on the floor, not necessarily in the Won-Loss record, a decent roster is being developed. With Kyrie Irving, along with the return of Varejao and Zeller, Thompson, Waiters and the Cavs’ 2013 lottery pick there is plenty of up side.   That core group might be better with James than any team he had with the Cavs before.

As stated before, this is a scenario with a lot of time and egos to work through. James, as any good politician or professional athlete does, leaves his options open. A return to Cleveland is on James’ mind.

“I think it would be great. It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. I had a lot fun times in my seven years here. … And if I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me.”

And Dan Gilbert.


Dave Mitchell co-hosts with Mark Donahue the UST talk show “Ohio Baseball Weekly,” highlighting the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Show return in March, 2013.