LeBron James is a year away from making the same impactful decision he made seven years ago. That decision led him to abandon his throne in Cleveland and seek an NBA championship elsewhere.
So far, the sequel is shaping up to play out in the same manner for the same reasons.
James’ decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat the first time around ended in heartbroken fans parading through the streets of Cleveland and burning their No. 23 jerseys. There will definitely be more heartbreak if James walks out the door again, but there will also be understanding this time around to replace the vitriol.
Dan Gilbert has stepped beyond the shadows as the clear problem for a Cavaliers organization that tends to take more steps back than forward. He was fortunate enough to escape culpability the first time James left, but the onus will fall squarely on his shoulders if “The King” joins another team in 2018.
USA Today reported on Monday James is frustrated by the team’s lackadaisical approach in the offseason. The reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors have kept their core team intact, along with adding another pair of three-point snipers with Nick Young and Omri Casspi. They are probably better now than they were when they nearly swept the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals in June.
The Cavaliers haven’t done anything to close the gap. One could make the case that Gilbert widened it by not paying David Griffin what he deserved to stay on as the team’s general manager. It was Griffin who masterminded the key personnel moves needed a year ago to finally get the Cavaliers over the hump and win an NBA championship.
But Gilbert was too cheap to pay for a skilled executive. Not even Chauncey Billups wanted the front office job after reportedly being lowballed by Gilbert at the negotiating table.
James has watched in silence as the Cavaliers have missed opportunities to sign Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford. Now, he is stuck on a team that is way over the salary cap without a capable general manager to make the necessary personnel decisions to improve their cap situation, while also giving them an opportunity to compete against the Warriors.
Neither seems likely at this point.
James has already delivered on his promise to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland. There are no other promises left to fulfill other than the ones he has for himself. Closing the gap on Michael Jordan requires championships, and he won’t be able to win those playing with the same team he had last season.
He’ll have to leave Cleveland to continue to chase Jordan’s ghost.