After several days of holding up the entire free agency process, LeBron James has finally made his decision. Announcing through Sports Illustrated in the form of an essay (word to Jabari Parker and his decision to enter the 2014 NBA Draft), James declared his intentions to return back to his first NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Exhale. Due to the monumental consequences of what his decision could bring forth on the rest of the NBA, James (along with fellow free agents Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh) had the bigger free agency moves in a headlock. Now that James has made his decisions to return to Cleveland, dominoes will start to fall. The two major deals of Anthony and Bosh were contingent on James' decision, and now that LeBron James is headed back to his home state, the rest of the world can move on.
Moving back to James' decision to return, it's not a poor one at all. The self-proclaimed "King" will be joining two-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (a definite upgrade over Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Shabazz Napier) along with Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in June's draft. Adding James makes Cleveland a young, formidable team in the (currently) weak Eastern Conference, and it also secures their relative dominance longer-term than if James were to stay in Miami. Cleveland has younger pieces and assets, including three first-round picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
"I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can't wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates." -Excerpt from LeBron James' essay (Surprising lack of mentioning Andrew Wiggins, no?).
In last year's NBA Finals, James often had to carry the load by himself, surrounded by an aging Miami Heat team. The result was often a weary and tired James down the stretch in close games. In Cleveland, James will have a younger (perhaps not as reliable at first) supporting cast to lighten his load. They'll be relevant for much longer than if James were to return to Miami, and James was looking for the best long-term situation.
"But what's important to me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio." -James in his SI essay.
Leaving behind Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley in Miami, LeBron James returns to his hometown as a more mature, focused individual who has escalated his game far beyond his level when he left in 2010. Miami transformed James in a way that not many other environments could have. For that, he truly appears grateful.
"Without the experiences I had [in Miami], I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing today . . . The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I've talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are brothers for life." -Another excerpt from James' essay.
What about the differences between James and Cleveland's owner (not to mention the unruly behavior of the fans)? James appears to be past it, but not without some skepticism from the women in his life.
"The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned -- seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were mixed. I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We've talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?" -James in his essay.
While the letter seems to have been an obstacle, James has moved past it, seeing Cleveland as the best place to further cement his legacy. James, averaging 27.1 points, 6.4 assists, and 6.9 rebounds while posting a PER (player efficiency rating) of 29.40 last season will be a welcome addition to a Cleveland team that won just 30 games last season. He is currently the best player in the world after all. What becomes of Miami now that they have cap room that would have gone to James and likely Chris Bosh? That remains to be seen. While everyone in the Heat organization is disappointed, some in Cleveland are skeptical, and everyone in Houston is jumping for joy (Bosh), LeBron James has made what he feels as the best decision for him moving forward.
"I always believed that I'd return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn't know when."
I think he knows now: bridges can be burned, but they can also be rebuilt. That's what James aims to do. While he isn't promising championships this time around, he's sure to be in a better position to compete with excellent new head coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving, rookie phenom Andrew Wiggins, and a host of other assets. James handled this free agency much better than the last, and he returns with a simple message:
"I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."
Update: LeBron James agreed to a 2-year, $42.1M deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The second year is a player option. The purpose of the short contract is to allow financial flexibility in 2016 when the salary cap is expected to rise. James is then expected to sign long-term with Cleveland.