Woonsocket Call

Was Game 4 de­feat James’ fi­nal game as a Cava­lier?

- By TIM BONTEMPS

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

Mean­while, at the podium in­side the in­ter­view room, Le­Bron James wasted no time ad­dress­ing the ele­phant in the room: Was this his fi­nal game in a Cleve­land uni­form?

“I mean, I have no idea at this point,” James 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.”

And, with that, The Sum­mer of Le­Bron of­fi­cially be­gan.

From now un­til when­ever James makes a de­ci­sion on his fu­ture, that will be the only NBA sto­ry­line that mat­ters. Even at age 33, even after 15 NBA sea­sons, even after 1,382 games and more than 54,000 min­utes, James re­mains the NBA’s al­pha dog, the star around which this en­tire league re­volves.

But where will that star re­side next sea­son? And how will it hap­pen? The next month, or maybe longer, will be fo­cused on that very ques­tion.

There were two near uni­ver­sal opin­ions in and around this arena lead­ing up to 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 one, ob­vi­ously came true. So what about the se­cond?

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery word James has ut­tered over the past week would lead one to believe that he is pre­pared to leave the Cava­liers. He’s re­peat­edly 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.

None of this could be taken any other way than as bright flash­ing lights sig­nal­ing that these were the fi­nal days of James’ se­cond stint in north­east Ohio.

The same could be said of this an­swer James gave after evad­ing a ques­tion about whether the one cham­pi­onship James won in these four years serves as that busi­ness be­ing fin­ished.

“For me, I still have so much to give to the game,” James 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 sat at the podium with his right (shoot­ing) hand in a soft cast after punch­ing the white­board in­side Or­a­cle Arena’s vis­it­ing locker room after Game 1 was em­blem­atic of the bro­ken ros­ter he’s 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 nearly im­pos­si­ble to com­pre­hend.

The one vari­able that could po­ten­tially change all of this, though, is James’ fam­ily. Do his chil­dren de­cide they just want to stay in north­east Ohio? Do his sons want to fol­low in his foot­steps, and go to St. Vin­cent-St. Mary’s as their fa­ther did two decades ago?

If so, then per­haps the pull of fam­ily will keep him in Cleve­land. And, armed with the eighth pick in this year’s draft, and some ma­neu­ver­able pieces on Cleve­land’s ros­ter, per­haps the Cava­liers’ front of­fice, led by gen­eral man­ager Koby Alt­man, can engi­neer some moves to give this group a chance to make it five straight trips to the Fi­nals next sea­son.

Fam­ily, though, feels like the only thing that will keep James here.

But if not here, then where? The ob­vi­ous first an­swer will be Los An­ge­les, where the siren song of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sun­shine, Hol­ly­wood and the Lak­ers - not to men­tion that James owns a home there - will res­onate. The fact the Lak­ers are armed with enough cap room to cred­i­bly chase a pair of max con­tract play­ers, plus have a ros­ter full of young play­ers to turn into more pieces that are ready to win, make them a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenger.

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 to build around in Ben Sim­mons and Joel Em­biid - both of whom have al­ready taken to so­cial me­dia to chase after James. The fit with Sim­mons might be slightly awk­ward, given his shoot­ing lim­i­ta­tions, but the tal­ent is un­de­ni­able. And James would re­main in the East­ern Con­fer­ence - a no­table dif­fer­ence, given the War­riors still loom large out West.

Other teams could emerge. The Hous­ton Rock­ets, for ex­am­ple, 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.

Ev­ery team, though, will be chas­ing James. The en­tire bas­ket­ball world will be wait­ing on his de­ci­sion, the third time in eight years he likely will shake the foun­da­tion of the sport. And, un­til he does, league busi­ness will re­main on hold. As al­ways, every­thing will re­volve around James, and what de­ci­sion he will make.

As these play­offs showed - and he him­self said - Le­Bron James re­mains in cham­pi­onship mode. Now it’s up to him to de­cide where he wants to chase them.

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