Less than half a season into LeBron James’ second go-round with the Cleveland Cavaliers, whispers have already surfaced that he’s unhappy with the Cavs and could leave as soon as the end of this season. The dissatisfaction appears to come from first year head coach David Blatt, who appears unable to meld the disparate talent on the roster together, and from what amounts to a mixed bag of teammates, none of whom have championship experience. The odds of LeBron leaving town are highly unlikely. But if he does leave, three teams emerge as top contenders, including one he’s already played for.
LeBron James left the Miami Heat to head back to the Cleveland Cavaliers because he ostensibly wanted more control over the organization, and was never going to get it from stalwart Heat president Pat Riley or entrenched head coach Erik Spoelstra. By heading to the Cavs as a returning hero, LBJ has the power to control everything from who coaches the team to who plays alongside him – as evidenced by the fact that he influenced the team to trade rookie Andrew Wiggins for veteran Kevin Love.
But the trouble with being able to control a franchise is that it typically means there isn’t much else for the franchise to work with. LeBron has quickly found that his teammates, while talented, lack the championship pedigree or harmonious maturity of the players he left behind in Miami like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who each deferred to him despite being future Hall of Famers. Furthermore, the Cavaliers have suffered from a lack of leadership at the coaching position, which is not a surprise given that LeBron acknowledged he never so much as spoke to David Blatt before deciding to head back to Cleveland.
These sudden rumors of LeBron’s unhappiness and supposed willingness to leave town are surfacing, not coincidentally, after a shorthanded Heat team defeated LeBron James on Christmas Day in front of a national television audience. LeBron seemed to be more at ease talking with his former teammates before and after the game than he was with any of his current teammates, and it appeared to sink in that the Cavs need major changes for any chance at contending.
The noise being made out of LeBron’s camp is most likely an attempt at making sure the Cavs top brass knows he’s not afraid to use his leverage to control what goes on within the organization. But with team owner Dan Gilbert widely considered one of the most mercurial in the sport, it’s feasible that James won’t get the kind of changes or control he’s looking for. If so, just where would he head next?
As unbelievable as it sounds, the most likely destination would be back with the Miami Heat. It would represent one of the biggest mea culpas in sports history, and would do more damage to his reputation than his first departure from Cleveland did. But Miami is the only place in which LeBron has ever looked comfortable or had teammates that he enjoyed playing with, and if he does enough soul searching, he may decide that he has no choice but to return. While the manner in which he left the Heat would certainly be a turnoff to Riley, Miami’s remaining stars would appear to welcome him back.
If LeBron’s bridges with the Heat are truly burned, two other landing spots come to mind. One is with the Chicago Bulls, who are already a mild contender centered around Derrick Rose, but who are in need of another star to get them over the hump. The Bulls wanted James badly last time around, and would likely bend over backwards to accommodate him this time. It would also keep him in the East, which is an easier conference to win.
Another prime destination would be with the Los Angeles Lakers. Assuming Kobe Bryant retires after this season or next, the team will need a new centerpiece to step into place, while already enjoying youthful talent like Nick Young and Julius Randle. Heading to LA would also allow LeBron James to shine in the Hollywood spotlight. Then again, the pressure of the South Beach spotlight appears to be part of what drove him to head back to Cleveland in the first place. Instead it’s more likely that LBJ will remain with the Cavs and attempt to mold the ungainly team into something more to his liking.