Armando Salguero: LeBron James’ emotional choice is big gamble

07/12/2014 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 7:51 PM

The In-Decision ended Friday when LeBron James announced he is going back to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers after four Finals-filled, multiple-championship-winning years with the Heat.

Thanks for the memories, LeBron.

A round of polite applause for you.

You made the Heat the most attention-worthy team in American sports. You made South Florida, a longtime football town, the world’s basketball epicenter for a short time. You made highlight plays and lots of money and lots of commercials and lots of news.

And now we say LeBye to LeBron because he made a sappy, sentimental, emotional choice that obviously tugged at his you-can-go-home-again heartstrings.

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” James wrote in an essay for Sports Illustrated, letting that serve as his news-breaking announcement. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.”

Good luck, LeBron James.

You’re a great basketball player and a champion.

But as a businessman, you shot an air ball on this one.

If your intention in jumping from Cleveland to Miami and back to Cleveland was ever to maximize your ability to win championships — in other words if your travels were logical and dispassionate chess moves made to collect the most success and rings — you might have just outsmarted yourself.

How else to look at it when LeBron just decided to return to the NBA’s worst team the past four years and leave the NBA’s best team the past four years?

Everything surrounding this move screams it was made in LeBron’s heart and not so much in his head.

That’s because running the pros and cons of the Heat versus the Cavaliers through the brain should have made for a difficult decision that could as easily have swung to Miami.

Except this decision apparently wasn’t that difficult for LeBron. He called his first decision to leave Cleveland in the first place a difficult one. The one to go back “felt right,” he said.

“This is what makes me happy.”

That’s fair. LeBron has the right to do what gives him joy as long as it doesn’t hurt others. But I wouldn’t be surprised if soon enough the business side of this decision that was obviously secondary won’t eventually intrude on his joy.

Consider:

James played for Erik Spoelstra for four years and, yes, the Spoisms can grow inane at times. But Spoelstra is by all accounts one of the NBA’s better young coaches. He’s engaged. He’s still hungry. He’s still getting better. And with two NBA championships on his résumé, he knows how to manage big names and egos successfully.

Cleveland’s coach is David Blatt. He has coached at Maccabi Tel Aviv, Aris Thessalonki, Dynamo Moscow, Dynamo St. Petersburg, Efes Pilsen and Benetton Treviso.

None of those teams play in the NBA, where Blatt’s next game as a head coach will be his first game as a head coach.

LeBron and Blatt have never worked together.

LeBron spent the past four years under Micky Arison. Arison has owned the Heat since 1995 and the team has made the playoffs 16 of those 19 years. LeBron knows Arison.

And that’s a good thing.

The Cavaliers are owned by Dan Gilbert. Gilbert wrote that infamous letter to Cavs fans after LeBron left the team in 2010. That letter referred to the LeBron departure as a “cowardly betrayal.”

“I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA championship before the self-titled former King wins one,” Gilbert wrote at the time.

How’d that turn out?

LeBron knows Gilbert. He knows how the Cleveland owner can cannibalize his own when adversity strikes. How is that a good thing?

Gilbert has gone through a general manager and three head coaches — with Mike Brown getting fired, rehired and fired again — since LeBron left in 2010.

Stability is not exactly a cornerstone of the Cavaliers franchise.

Then there is the talent of the two rosters. Cleveland fans will argue LeBron mated with point guard Kyrie Irving and the possible addition of Kevin Love are a new and more promising Big 3 than Miami’s James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Really?

Love isn’t even on the roster, and trusting an inexperienced management team to get him there is at best an exercise in faith.

Irving is a special talent. But he’s only 22 and a good three or four years from his prime. He’s not a great jump shooter and definitely not a good three-point shooter. Irving’s best days are ahead of him but for James (30 in December) to believe those days will be coming in the next season or two is, again, hopeful thinking.

Cynics would respond that in Miami, Wade is aging poorly, Bosh is a 6-11 three-point shooter, and the bench is weak. Perhaps.

But with all those things being true last year, the Heat was in the Finals.

Miami’s Big 3 and that flawed roster was in the NBA Finals four consecutive years, and Riley was already addressing some of the problems before LeBron bolted.

LeBron even reportedly wants part of Miami’s former bench — perhaps Ray Allen and one or two others — to join him in Cleveland. So, obviously, citing the surrounding talent as the reason for this move is misrepresenting the matter.

LeBron knows all this.

“I’m not promising a championship,” he told SI. “I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach.”

So this wasn’t about the bench. This wasn’t about ownership. This wasn’t about coaching. This wasn’t about management. In short, this wasn’t about business.

LeBron James made a sentimental choice to go home.

And the business of basketball will now put that decision to the test.

About Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero

@ArmandoSalguero

Armando Salguero has covered South Florida sports since 1982. He's covered the Dolphins since 1990. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and annually votes on the Associated Press All-Pro team. He has worked nationally for ESPN and also writes general sports columns for the Miami Herald.

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