The summer of LeBron arrives
As the NBA Finals concluded, he was unsure what’s next: ‘I have no idea at this point’
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.
LeBron James guided the Cavaliers to an NBA title during his second stint in Cleveland, which has lasted four seasons.