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