by Spencer Suk & Jordan Lee
July 11, 2014.
It may seem like just another date on the calendar, but LeBron James changed that in a flash. James turned the sports world upside down with the Decision 2.0, opting to return to the place he calls home: Cleveland.
James has been dealing with the burden and stress that comes along with simultaneously being the face of the league and a free agent. The media has had the King under a magnifying glass, watching his every move and updating the world on his agent’s meetings with other teams, his travel plans to Brazil, and what time he tucked his kids into bed last night (okay, okay, maybe the last one is a joke).
But now that James has made his move, the pressure has shifted to others to respond to his choice to return to Cleveland. So let’s break down the situations of the people and teams most affected by the Decision 2.0:
The Miami Heat & Dwyane Wade
These guys are in trouble. Simply put, James returning to Cleveland has put Miami in a tricky spot, one in which title contention is essentially out of the picture (unless they make a run at one of the remaining unsigned superstars like Carmelo Anthony). Up to this point, Pat Riley has been devising a plan that revolved around keeping the best player in the world in South Beach.
First, he drafted LeBron’s supposed favorite player in the draft, Shabazz Napier. After leading his Huskies to a National Championship, he proved to be the gutsy, winning point guard willing to shoot, or even attack the rim when the team really needed it (much like Heat point guard Mario Chalmers, who is currently a free agent). Next he added Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts who would have provided floor spacing and veteran support to Miami’s former Big 3.
But with James gone, Riley is left to deal with a 32-year-old, linguini-kneed Dwyane Wade, an aging Chris Bosh (see below), Norris Cole, and the three players listed above. He is going to have to scramble to put together a 12-man roster, but his biggest problem will definitely be locking up Wade, a lifetime Heatle who led them single-handedly to a championship in 2005-06 and was a fantastic wing man to James in their last two titles.
While Wade seemed willing to take a significant pay cut if James had resigned, he will now probably demand a more lucrative deal (assuming he wants to remain on the Heat). This will be a tough negotiating process for Riley, as he definitely wants to show loyalty to his franchise player who he drafted, but at the same time, he probably doesn’t want to cripple his cap space on a player who is rapidly declining. I mean, just look at the numbers.
During the NBA finals this year, Wade averaged a miserable 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 3.6 turnovers, while shooting 43.8% from the field and 69.2% from the free throw line. Think this has anything to do with his knees? Wade only suited up for 54 games during the regular season this year, as the Heat tried to save his legs for the playoffs. Yet, his body still betrayed him during the finals.
Prediction: The likely scenario is that the Heat agree to a deal that pays Wade handsomely. Unless they can sign another free agent superstar, the Heat won’t be good enough to win the title, nor bad enough to gain top lottery picks.
Chris Bosh is facing a very different scenario than Dwyane Wade. Bosh joined the Heat with James in the summer of 2010, having started his career in Toronto with weaker Raptors teams. As he doesn’t have the same history and relationship with Miami that Wade does, Bosh is probably seeking money or championships, wherever that may take him.
While rumors said Chris Bosh was close to signing a max contract with the Houston Rockets, he shocked the basketball world by resigning with the Miami Heat on a 5-year $118 million contract. So clearly, Bosh is trying to cash in on one last big deal. But is Bosh worth this enormous contract? Let’s take a quick look at his tenure in Miami:
Bosh has essentially maintained his level of play throughout his time in Miami. While his rebounding and scoring are down a bit since his initial year with the Heat, his shooting efficiency and defense have undoubtedly improved. Also, the decrease in minutes over his time with the Heat can explain the drop in his total output. However, Bosh is now 30 and it is only a matter of time until he starts slowing down (especially considering the fact that Bosh will be 35 when his contract ends).
Prediction: Bosh will continue to produce for the Heat, but age will catch up with him. There is going to be a point in this contract where the Heat will regret shelling out all this money for a 30-year-old big man.
The Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James has always considered Cleveland home, as he was born just 40 miles away in Akron, Ohio. Even after the despicable reaction from Cleveland fans, a homecoming was never out of the question. Especially considering Cleveland hasn't won a championship in any sport for almost 50 years, and has yet to win an NBA title.
The reality is, you need an extremely talented core to win in Cleveland because you're never really going to get the supporting cast you desperately need to win a championship. That is…. unless you somehow win the lottery 3 out of 4 years, settling for a measly 4th pick in the off year. Ridiculous. Winning another ring in Cleveland will put all questions to rest about how good LeBron really is. But are the Cavs really back in the championship conversation with the return of the King?
Even though there seem to be a lot of obstacles, the answer is yes. One of the biggest question marks going into this upcoming season will be their new head coach, David Blatt. I'll withhold judgment until I see him coach, but if I learned anything from watching Mike Brown and Erik Spoelstra, you really don't have to be a genius to coach LeBron James. All signs point to Blatt being a decent basketball coach, but then again, I really don't know much about the guy.
I know the Cavs' roster is absurdly young, but with the help of a few veterans, LeBron is more than capable of guiding these young'ns to the promise land. Their projected starting line-up is Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao with Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, and Alonzo Gee off the bench.
Looking at the roster, its obvious that LeBron needs the young studs to step up (Kyrie, Waiters, Bennett, and Wiggins), and it all starts with Kyrie Irving. Although he is already a two-time all-star, the stats don’t really show it.
The most troubling statistic is how his shooting efficiency has consistently gone down, but a lot of this can be attributed to having to force the issue. Kyrie has never really had a consistent wingman on offense and has struggled with the task of leading the Cavs single-handedly. That being said, he was still able to score over 25+ points in 20 out of 71 games and 37+ points in 6 of those 20 games.
Every team knew that if they limited Kyrie's production, they had a good chance of winning. But that's not the case anymore: all eyes will now be on LeBron James. But James knows how deadly Kyrie can be, and he will surely take full advantage of it. The only time Kyrie and LeBron have played extended minutes together was in the last two all-star games, so we can't really tell how well they'd fit in with each other. But one thing was clear: LeBron is willing to give Kyrie the ball when he's hot. Kyrie was able to nab MVP honors this year from both LeBron and Carmelo, as he dropped 31 points along with 5 boards, and 14 assists (not to mention an unbelievable 14-17 from the field). Obviously these stats are ridiculously inflated, but it is still crystal clear Kyrie Irving can shoot the ball, especially when James is the one passing it.
Another important piece to the puzzle is this year’s number one overall selection in the draft, Andrew Wiggins. From a physical standpoint, the comparisons to LeBron were valid, but the thing that separates the two is LeBron's ridiculously high offensive IQ. Andrew Wiggins is a physical specimen standing at 6’8” with a 7-foot wingspan. Add that to ridiculous explosiveness (44 inch vertical) and lateral quickness, and you can see how he can have a LeBron-like impact on defense.
There is nobody in the world that can be a better mentor to Wiggins than LeBron himself. Although they don't play the same positions, they create similar mismatches and have a common weakness, a consistent jump shot. However, LeBron was still able to find ways to get easy baskets for himself, but more importantly, for his teammates.
It is definitely going to take time for Wiggins to polish his offensive game, but he will still be unbelievable in transition (I can't wait to watch Kyrie run the break with LeBron and Wiggins on either side). He can also be a great slasher, given his athletic abilities and ability to finish at the rim.
LeBron will also make life way easier for his big men: Varejao, Thompson, and Bennett. Before you laugh at Anthony Bennett, look what losing 20 pounds can do. I know he literally couldn’t make a shot for the first few weeks of his rookie season, but don’t forget Anthony Bennett averaged an efficient 16 and 8 playing as a face-up power forward in his one year at UNLV.
At 6’ 8”, he was projected to be an undersized, but athletic 4. He was forced to try and play the three last year because of Thompson and Varejao, but now with LeBron in the mix, he is going to be able to play as a stretch/face-up power forward again. At small forward, Bennett had to shoot jumpers, as he is simply not quick enough to get by small forwards. Now, all Bennett has to do is provide strong contributions as a back-up big. He just turned 21 and can definitely be a better version of Draymond Green by the time he's 24, considering his talent.
One of the greatest impacts LeBron will have on Cleveland regards team chemistry. The Cavs had multiple locker room debacles last year, many starring Dion Waiters. Waiters and Kyrie had some rough patches last year, but everything will be cleared up when the King arrives at training camp. Honestly though, Waiters loves shooting and hates playing defense…if he can't enjoy being the sixth man on a championship contender, what hope does he have.
Prediction: The Cavs are going to sign some veterans in the near future who are willing to aid LeBron in his quest for a 3rd ring; there are already rumors of Mike Miller and Birdman talking with the Cavs. Once their roster fills out, it will be easier to make a solid conclusion. For example, if they somehow get Kevin Love without trading Wiggins, I think they are immediate favorites. And looking forward, the Cavs possess three first round picks in next years draft, which they could use to add more talented youth or parlay into significant assets (see Love).
That being said, I expect the Cavs to make a very solid championship run. Chicago will most likely be Cleveland's biggest threat in the East with the addition of Pau Gasol (as long as Derrick Rose stays on the court). But even if they make it to the Finals, I think inexperience will be the main thing that holds them back.