The news that LeBron James has decided to return home to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers is going to create a huge shift in the NBA landscape. After a four year run with the Miami Heat, the decision by James to leave will cause other players to make decisions in free agency which will have a domino effect throughout the league.
Here at Baseline Buckets, I will take this opportunity to break down the LeBron decision or “decision 2.0”, as it is being called by the mainstream media, and review who it will impact the most and why both from a team and individual player perspective.
The decision by LeBron to return to the Cavaliers instantly makes them a contender in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference. The choice was difficult though from the standpoint that the Cavaliers are not a team that is ready to win a championship right now.
LeBron even admitted that in the essay to Sports Illustrated where he announced his decision earlier today. The Cavaliers are a young team but as Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins gain experience from playing with LeBron, they will be able to contribute more in the future therefore easing the burden on LeBron having to do it all.
The Cavaliers are young, talented, and athletic and those attributes are all attractive to James especially given the circumstances in which the Heat just lost to the Spurs a few weeks ago in the NBA Finals. Cleveland also has flexibility and assets to land another star player, as they will try to attempt to land Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Cavaliers will be title contenders down the line and LeBron will teach these younger players what he knows and how to win in this league. This is a huge day for the Cavaliers franchise.
City of Cleveland
The City of Cleveland itself is a big winner today as well. Between the decision by James today and the recent announcement that Cleveland was awarded the Republican National Convention in 2016, the city is having a great week.
The economy in the city and the northeast region of Ohio, which has been hit hard in recent years, will see some positive changes with LeBron returning to play there. It will have an impact on the arena, the restaurants, shops, and the entire surrounding area.
A variety of corporate sponsors will pour money into the team and some will eventually open some type of regional office or regional headquarters in the Cleveland area, which will obviously create jobs. The city will benefit tremendously from this decision today and also down the road if James can deliver a championship to Cleveland.
The unquestionable loser in this scenario is the Miami Heat. They lost the best player in the league, and are about to potentially lose Chris Bosh (who was offered a huge contract by the Houston Rockets) they could lose two Top 10 players in the span of a few days.
The only benefit to losing James and Bosh will be the huge amount of salary cap space they will have (around $40 million) so it is essentially a wide open canvas for them to paint a new masterpiece.
However, in the short term, the free agent market is pretty thin, they can make a run at Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng to address the holes on the roster at those positions. The Heat also could pursue Emeka Okafor if they lose Bosh and they could consider Jameer Nelson to play point guard. Though, they would probably have to overpay Nelson to go there because at this point is his career he probably wants to play for a championship contending team, and from what I understand there is mutual interest from some title contenders for him.
The Heat also have to decide what type of contract they will offer to Dwayne Wade: will it be a max contract since they have the cap space, will he take less money to allow the front office to add a couple of stars, or will it be somewhere in the middle if he is expected to take on a larger role in the near future now that James is gone. That is a key decision for the Heat at this point.
Wade also could leave as he is a free agent himself and take a reduced role on a title contending team, as I have written about previously. If Bosh leaves, then I think Miami could be at risk of losing Wade as well.
However, if Bosh stays, then the Heat could retain Wade and have the cap space vacated by LeBron to go out and add a couple of other players to make this a strong playoff contender in the very weak Eastern Conference. The main factor to keep in mind in that scenario is that the space left to Miami by the departure by James (and if Bosh leaves and creates more cap space) categorizes the Heat as a “room” team within the new NBA cap rules.
Since they would be a “room” team, that means that the Heat have to sign all their players and stay underneath the salary cap without use of any of the cap loop holes like the mid-level exception or the mini-mid level exception.
The Bulls were a winner today in that James leaving Miami makes the Bulls the probable favorite to win the East next season. The Cavaliers are too young to make that type of leap, and the Indiana Pacers have some huge problems which were exposed last season and in the playoffs. So the Bulls become the favorite via the decision today by James.
The Bulls are using this change in the NBA landscape to attempt to do two things: lure Carmelo Anthony with the promise of being a championship contender, and convince Dwayne Wade (who is from Chicago) to do what LeBron just did and return home to finish his career with the Bulls.
If the Bulls can accomplish either of those new objectives they are a better team than they were last week. The addition of Wade would provide them with veteran leadership and scoring. The addition of Carmelo would provide them with the offensive firepower they would need to take the next step towards the title.
Anthony had high hopes of joining up with LeBron in New York, which obviously did not pan out, and now that the landscape in the East has shifted and Miami is no longer the strongest team Carmelo has new options.
He could stay put in New York and sign a max deal for more money than any other team can offer him at this point, or he could take a lot less money and sign with Chicago to try and win a championship right away.
New York Knicks
The Knicks could be adversely affected by this decision by James today because it could sway Anthony to sign with the Bulls for the reasons I explained above. If Carmelo decides to leave for Chicago, the Knicks have no “Plan B” because they really do not have many options in the near term.
They are hampered by big money contracts to a few players which they cannot trade, and a thin free agency class this summer.
In the end, I like the decision by James to leave for Cleveland and return home to where he began his NBA career. I also liked the manner in which he did it: very quietly as opposed to the spectacle that was his decision in 2010 to go to Miami. It shows that he learned from his mistakes as I think we all try to do in our lives.
The fans in Cleveland who burned his jerseys in the streets 4 years ago must have had a profound effect on him and his family, but as James stated in his essay, he has moved past that and has admitted that everyone made mistakes back then. He also mentioned how he could not hold a grudge, and I think we all could learn something from this decision today: when life provides chances to correct things we have done wrong we need to seize that opportunity and make it right once again.
(Background information courtesy of SI.com and CBS Sports)