Say it aint so, LeBron!
I mean that literally, not figuratively.
Say it isnt so that you will be heading back to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, or we can start the clock now on about 16 months of ever-increasing rumors and speculation gradually morphing into assumption.
Say it isnt so or Miami and Heat fans might as well commence The Long Goodbye, because that is what this already has begun to feel a little like.
LeBron wont say it isnt so, though. He could, but he doesnt want to lie.
The Heat happened to play host to Cleveland on Sunday, and I think it will be fair to wonder whose uniform LeBron will be wearing closest to his heart. Which uniform will feel most like home to him.
Be afraid of the answer, Miami.
Hey, I didnt start this fire, folks although I guess I need to plead guilty to spraying a bit of gas on it here.
James himself opened the door to this topic one year ago while back in Cleveland for a game, when asked about possibly returning to the Cavaliers some day. He said, I think it would be great. It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. I dont know what the future holds, but I dont want to take that [option] out.
A day later he offered an addendum, the last three words of which had to imbed themselves under Heat fans skin like a painful sliver: The fans of Miami shouldnt be worried about anything at this point.
Well, we are now a year closer to the point at which worry might be justified.
In the interim James has helped Miami win an NBA championship, which can only ease his possibly leaving. See, no matter what happens this season or next, the title makes his Miami years a success to at least some degree, and another ring this season or next would erase any arguing that.
Also in the past year, Cleveland drafted point guard Kyrie Irving, a superstar in the making, and James during the recent All-Star Weekend in Houston gushed about Irving in a way that only reintroduced the return-to-Cleveland speculation.
It was awesome to play with Kyrie, James said. Hes going to be unbelievable.
James could elect to play with Irving full-time by opting out of his Heat contract after next season, and although LeBron now deflects questions about his future many within the NBA believe that is his intention or at least his leaning. It would be a closure/full-circle thing for the Akron, Ohio, native and mean reconciliation after the ugliness of his ham-handed departure in the summer of 2010.
At the time he might opt out James would be approaching his 30th birthday and 12th NBA season. It would be a time he might be pondering where as much as when his career should end. It might be a time when he valued proving you can go home again.
Miamis only advantage is it could offer him a five-year deal to re-sign here, while other teams like Cleveland could offer only four years. Thats a $20-million-plus inside track for the Heat. But would that be enough? I doubt it. I would sooner bet James would see Irving as the teammate necessary to finally deliver an NBA championship to Clevelanders, which he did not do in his earlier seven-year run there. Accomplishing that would complete his career by erasing its one aching failure.
For me the most intriguing questions to be answered would be whether Cleveland would welcome James back, and how Heat fans would regard him in terms of his legacy here if he left at his earliest opportunity.