Four years ago, the prospect of LeBron James returning to Cleveland might have seemed impossible, as fans burned the star’s jersey and the team’s owner blasted the decision in a scathing letter. Despite James’s history with his hometown team, the Cavaliers have reportedly emerged as a real player in the LeBron James Sweepstakes.
According to ESPN, Cleveland believes it has James considering a second tour of duty with the team. James’s agent, Rich Paul, has reportedly met with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, as both sides try to repair the damage that was created when James bolted for Miami in 2010. Gilbert’s now infamous letter to James has finally been removed from the team’s website, where it was displayed for four years.
The Cavs can make a strong case for James to return to Cleveland. While any team that the All-Star joins will become an immediate title contender, Cleveland can offer him certain things that other teams can’t. The Cavaliers have a young nucleus that should only continue to get better. They just locked up Kyrie Irving, who signed a five-year contract, and selected Andrew Wiggins first overall in the best NBA draft class in over a decade.
After giving $18 million per season to Irving, the team will have to do some maneuvering if it wants to give James the max contract that he’s looking to sign. ESPN reports that the organization has been in talks with other teams about trading Jarret Jack, and doing so could free up the cap space that Cleveland needs.
In seven seasons with the Cavaliers, James led the team to the NBA Finals once, where the team was swept. In four years with the Heat, James made it out of the Eastern Conference every season.
It’s uncertain what James is really thinking about in possibly signing with Cleveland. While the Cavaliers may feel good about their chances, James hasn’t given much indication as to where he will sign. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, James’s agent is the one who is most interested in a return to Cleveland. He reports that bringing James back to the Cavs has been a “mission” for Paul, one that he is looking to accomplish this summer.
Winning more titles is likely James’s No.1 mission, and several teams are looking to convince the 29-year-old they can give him the best opportunity to do so. The Phoenix Suns have the cap space to offer James a max contract and still sign another significant free agent. The Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have also spoken to Paul, according to ESPN.
There had been rumors that James and Carmelo Anthony could join forces and form another "super team," possibly with the Lakers or Rockets. That notion no longer seems to be a realistic possibility, as Anthony is likely to sign a max contract with the Lakers or New York Knicks, or take less money to join the Chicago Bulls.
The Miami Heat still have the upper hand over teams trying to sign James. The four-time MVP seems intent on signing a max contract, and Miami can offer him the most money. James and Heat president Pat Riley are reportedly set to meet sometime this week to discuss the team’s plans moving forward.
Since James decided to opt out of his contract, Miami has been considered the favorite to sign the veteran. While that remains the case, the Cavaliers could be the biggest threat to break up the Heat’s “Big Three.”