The sum­mer of LeBron ar­rives

As the NBA Fi­nals con­cluded, he was un­sure what’s next: ‘I have no idea at this point’

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - BY TIM BONTEMPS tim.bontemps@wash­post.com Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/ sports

cleve­land — The Golden State War­riors were down the hall in­side Quicken Loans Arena early Satur­day morn­ing, cham­pi­onship cel­e­bra­tions fully un­der­way after com­plet­ing a fourgame sweep of the Cleve­land Cava­liers to win their sec­ond straight NBA ti­tle, and third in four years, with a 108-85 vic­tory Fri­day night.

In the in­ter­view room, LeBron James wasted no time ad­dress­ing the ele­phant in the room: Was that his fi­nal game in a Cleve­land uni­form?

“I mean, I have no idea at this point,” he said. “The one thing I’ve al­ways done is con­sid­ered, ob­vi­ously, my fam­ily . . . es­pe­cially where my boys are at this point in their [lives]. They were a lot younger the last time I made a de­ci­sion like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre­teen and a lit­tle girl that wasn’t around as well. So [I’ll be] sit­ting down and con­sid­er­ing every­thing . . . [but] I don’t have an an­swer for you right now as far as that.”

With that, the sum­mer of LeBron of­fi­cially be­gan.

Un­til James makes a de­ci­sion, that will be the only NBA story line that mat­ters. Even at 33, even after 15 NBA sea­sons, even after 1,382 games and more than 54,000 min­utes played, James re­mains the NBA’s al­pha dog, the star around which this league re­volves.

But where will that star re­side next sea­son? And how will it hap­pen? The next month, or maybe longer, will fo­cus on those ques­tions.

There were two near-uni­ver­sal opin­ions in and around this arena ahead of Game 4. The first was that the War­riors were go­ing to win. The sec­ond was that it would be the fi­nal game James plays for the Cava­liers.

The first came true. So what about the sec­ond?

James’s words over the past week would lead one to be­lieve he is pre­pared to leave. He has spo­ken at great length about the pur­suit of tal­ent, about the im­por­tance of bas­ket­ball IQ, about the need to play with cer­tain types of play­ers, about how Cleve­land’s ros­ter sim­ply wasn’t as good as Golden State’s.

Those words are bright flash­ing lights sig­nal­ing these were the fi­nal days of James’s sec­ond stint in North­east Ohio. The same could be said of the an­swer James gave after evad­ing a ques­tion about whether the one cham­pi­onship he won in these four years serves as that busi­ness be­ing fin­ished.

“For me, I still have so much to give to the game,” he said. “When you have a goal, and you’re about to ac­com­plish that goal, it ac­tu­ally . . . for me, per­son­ally, it made me even more hun­gry to try to con­tinue to win cham­pi­onships, and I still want to be in cham­pi­onship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still con­tinue to be in cham­pi­onship mode.”

That James was on the podium with his right (shoot­ing) hand in a soft cast after punch­ing a white­board in­side Or­a­cle Arena’s vis­it­ing locker room after Game 1 was em­blem­atic of the bro­ken ros­ter he has been sur­rounded by this sea­son. And given how far that ros­ter ap­peared from be­ing able to com­pete with Golden State in these Fi­nals, the idea of the Cava­liers be­ing in cham­pi­onship mode — even with James — is hard to com­pre­hend.

The vari­able that could change this, though, is James’s fam­ily. Do his chil­dren want to stay in North­east Ohio? Do his sons want go to St Vin­cent-St. Mary, as their fa­ther did two decades ago?

If so, per­haps that will keep him in Cleve­land. And, in pos­ses­sion of the eighth pick in this year’s draft and some ma­neu­ver­able pieces on the ros­ter, per­haps the Cava­liers’ front of­fice can give this group a chance to make it five straight trips to the Fi­nals.

But if not here, then where? The ob­vi­ous an­swer would be Los Angeles, where the siren song of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sun­shine, Hol­ly­wood and the Lakers — not to men­tion James’s sum­mer home — comes through loud and clear. That the Lakers are armed with enough salary cap room to chase a pair of max-con­tract play­ers — plus a ros­ter full of young play­ers to turn into more pieces that are ready to win now — makes them a for­mi­da­ble con­tender for James’s tal­ents.

So, too, are the Philadelphia 76ers, who also have room to sign a max-level free agent to a team that al­ready has a pair of young stars in Ben Sim­mons and Joel Em­biid. The fit with Sim­mons might be awk­ward, given his shoot­ing lim­i­ta­tions, but the tal­ent is un­de­ni­able. And James would re­main in the East­ern Con­fer­ence — a no­table draw, given the War­riors still loom large in the West.

Other teams could emerge. The Hous­ton Rock­ets will un­doubt­edly get creative in try­ing to con­vince James to join them. The San An­to­nio Spurs still have Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard — at least for now.

Nearly ev­ery team, though, will be chas­ing James. The en­tire bas­ket­ball world will be wait­ing on his de­ci­sion, the third time in eight years he prob­a­bly will shake the foun­da­tion of the sport. And un­til he does, NBA busi­ness will re­main on hold.

As these play­offs showed, LeBron James re­mains in cham­pi­onship mode. Now he must de­cide where he wants to chase them.

JA­SON MILLER/GETTY IMAGES

LeBron James guided the Cava­liers to an NBA ti­tle dur­ing his sec­ond stint in Cleve­land, which has lasted four sea­sons.

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