With tonight’s must-win 2016 NBA Finals game 3 on the horizon for the Cleveland Cavs tonight (ABC, 9:00 ET), this night could tell us much about the future of LeBron James. James has his contract setup where he can become a free agent basically every offseason & he has made it clear from the time he came back to Cleveland that he will not be jerked around or disrespected by the organization in terms of how he is treated, his teammates are treated, & how the organization puts together a team around him to be in contention for an NBA championship.
This is far different than when he took his talents to South Beach to play with the Miami Heat in 2010. James has won two NBA championships, multiple MVPs & he has become one of the biggest faces in all of sports. He put Cleveland sports back on the map when he came back to town, but the Cavs can’t forget about the fact that just as quickly as he came in, he does have it in him to leave if he doesn’t see the Cavs being a contender next year.
The 2016 NBA Finals have been as lobsided as any in recent memory. While James has had his usual strong numbers, yet again, he hasn’t had the help around him that is needed to propel a team to a championship. Kyrie Irving is shooting 33% from the floor & it has been announced that Kevin Love won’t be cleared to play tonight due to being in the concussion protocol from being hit in the head in game 2. At the end of the day, those scenarios don’t matter. LeBron cares about winning, and winning alone. It isn’t about the money, but the legacy of being amongst the greatest of all-time to play in the NBA.
But what about the city of Cleveland? The media has dubbed it the “Mistake by the Lake” for a variety of reasons, but the city has not seen a championship since the days of Jim Brown running wild for the Cleveland Browns – before the NFL had this wacky little event called the SuperBowl. ESPN recently did a movie called “Believeland” which was the story of how the city of Cleveland has choked in big game situations. We know what that feeling is like being in Detroit in some ways – the Lions have won only one playoff game in 50 years, the Red Wings went 42 years without a Stanley Cup before 1997, the Tigers went 22 years before reaching the World Series in 2006 & the Pistons went 14 years without an NBA Championship before 2004. We have had droughts, but none as rough as Cleveland.
Cleveland is a tough, midwest city. Fans work hard for their money, but when their team has hope, the entire city gets behind it. Even when the Browns, Indians & Cavs were all down, the fans still showed true support by going to the games, calling into sportstalk radio & constantly having an opinion about what was going on at all times. They deserve a championship. The only man that can bring that championship to Northeast Ohio is LeBron James. Right now. But, James, more than anything else is a complete business man, which is different than the LeBron that was drafted by the Cavs in 2003. He has become savvy, smart with his brand, & understands that bringing a championship to the city of Cleveland will put him on top of the sports & possibly even social map in the city forever.
LeBron James has to also understand, however, that if he leaves, he had better leave for a great reason because he could not come back to the city again to play, or maybe even to live there. The fans would be too heartbroken & pissed off to forgive a second time. Unless there is a great free agent or NBA draft pick that would be pumped about going to Cleveland, the team would be falling off in a heartbeat. Kyrie & Love are great, but make no mistake about it, they signed on knowing they were going to play with LeBron & that they had a great shot a winning an NBA championship. The role players have played great for the Cavs all the way through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but have not been a major factor during the NBA Finals.
Where would LeBron go if he were to leave Cleveland though? He absolutely wouldn’t go anywhere without a ready made team ready to win a championship next season or an owner/GM/coach that knew what it took to put together that type of squad. Which leaves us with basically two organizations that could use some firepower in terms of great leadership & an impact player ready to do something like right – the Los Angeles Lakers & Los Angeles Clippers. It may sound a bit crazy to some, but we could easily see James going to LA, especially if Kevin Durant decides to opt out this season or next season to go to Los Angeles if Russell Westbrook decides not to re-sign in Oklahoma City. Both teams have the ownership that is determined to win & win big right now, and will do anything it takes to get to the NBA Finals. In the Lakers’ case, they will have a ton of money to spend this offseason & next offseason to put together a super team that would be dominant in the Western Conference again, and be able to get fans back into the building now that Kobe Bryant has retired.
As for the Clippers, they have had great regular seasons, but have failed in the playoff runs in the last several years. Chris Paul is a tremendous point guard & Blake Griffin is a great power forward, but it is hard to say if Griffin is the type of guy that can be a leader to bring a team to the NBA Finals, especially after some of the antics he pulled during the regular season, including punching a Clippers employee in the face during a road trip. DeAndre Jordan is a great defensive center, but it has yet to be seen if he is a difference maker. We know he isn’t one on the offensive end, but defensively, he is one of the best in the league, getting all the way to first-team All NBA because of his great defensive effort.
All of this talk, however, can’t happen until we get to Game 3 tonight. For the city of Cleveland, LeBron James & the NBA, this game could very well be one of the most important NBA Finals games in history. If the Cavs go down 3-0, its a wrap. If its 2-1, there is still some home & we have a new situation to work through. Either way, the chatter will begin at around midnight tonight – one way or another.