With LeBron James potentially opting out of his contract after the 2017-18 season, there’s a general consensus among NBA analysts that Cavs fans would be okay if James left Cleveland for a second time. After all, the line of thinking goes, James returned to win a championship and did that, so fans couldn’t and wouldn’t be all that mad at him if left for the Lakers, or Clippers, or some other franchise.
Rationally, that makes sense, sort of. But emotionally? Not at all.
“I think it’d be devastation (if LeBron Left),” Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan host Anthony Lima said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Right now, they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’d be good. We won our championship.’ I don’t know if you’d be seeing jerseys burned like you did the first time, but the reality is yeah, you know that’d be the end of your incredible run with LeBron. You’ve had him for, after next year, it would be 11 years, and if he leaves, it’s likely that you wouldn’t have won another title. So it would have capped off just one title in 11 years. I think that would be a bit disappointing.”
Some Cleveland fans would understand. Many would not.
“I think with the rational fans – and believe it or not, they do exist in every fan base – I think they would understand that this has been an amazing time and it’s rejuvenated basketball in the city of Cleveland,” Lima said. “This was always kind of a distant third sport behind the Browns and the Indians, and now they were able to capture the imagination of these fans, end a 52-year drought or curse or whatever you want to call it, and understand and recognize that you got watch one of the great all-time players play in your city and win a title.”
The Cavs, of course, have reached three consecutive NBA finals but fired general manager David Griffin after losing to the Warriors 4-1 this June.
“This was one of the all-time surprising moves,” Lima said. “Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising given the owner and how temperamental things have been with Dan Gilbert. It just seems this has been leading up to this crescendo for about two-and-a-half months where David Griffin was telling people he didn’t know if he’d be back. I have a feeling that David Griffin wanted a whole lot of money and thought he had all the leverage toward the end. It never happened. He never got that money either. So apparently Dan Gilbert probably called his bluff and said, ‘All right, I kind of marginalize the role of GM. I’v had four of them, and now this will be No. 5.’ Maybe they should marginalize the role because they are on the brink of a huge blockbuster deal with Paul George.”
Indeed, the Cavs are still in the mix to sign George, but even if they do, he might be a one-year rental and James could still opt out in 2018.
“His goal was to come back to Cleveland and win a title,” Lima said. “They’ve done that. It’s been just cloud nine here over the last three years since he’s returned, but LeBron also knows he’s facing legacy. If he can’t get past Golden State this year, how’s he going to be able to do it over the next few years? If you lose LeBron – let’s say he takes off – well now you’re set with a team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who only have a few years left on their contract, and we’ve seen they have not been able to win games without LeBron James.”