Oct. 17 will be one of those nights in Cleveland.
The Celtics will be in town. Kyrie Irving will make his debut for Boston at Quicken Loans Arena. It will mark the beginning of a year full of speculation whether LeBron James will exit Cleveland for the second time.
It’s also a reason to believe King James might stay in Cleveland, after all. Consider this from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
I’ve spoken to two people privy to LeBron’s workouts the last couple weeks. They both used the word “obsessed” to describe his current state
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) August 23, 2017
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You can dissect that so many ways. Obsessed about what? Who? The 2017-18 season will feature constant, wild guesswork about James’ future, but it will come down to one more James decision.
Do you leave for the Lakers or anybody else and close out a career as one of the greatest basketball players ever on your terms?
Or do you stay in Cleveland and take your chances with a win-now roster that just improved with the addition of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 unprotected first-round pick? The latter is the more enticing option.
The Cavs are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference and the one best-equipped to give the Warriors a challenge in the NBA Finals. James turns 33 in December and is attempting to reach the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive season and ninth in his career. There is no rebuild or probationary period. Cleveland can continue to tweak its roster and take its best swing at Golden State.
For all the focus on the 3-5 NBA Finals record, there’s an opportunity for James to cement his legacy in a way Irving made possible for seeking a trade. James can block Irving and Boston from reaching the NBA Finals, and in many ways that possibility for the next three to five years is every bit as entertaining as the potential sequels against the Warriors.
Boston and Cleveland have a history, and some of those moments have been flash points in James’ career. Game 7 of the 2008 NBA conference semifinals announced James’ arrival as the best-player-in-waiting. The 2010 conference semifinals foreshadowed “The Decision.” His 45-15-5 line in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals destroyed any “clutch gene” nonsense and ended the Celtics’ competitive run with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Oct. 17 could foreshadow the beginning of the next chapter. Is that why James is obsessed this offseason? Will it become a personal mission to keep Irving out? Let’s hope so.
That would be great for the NBA in every way. That scenario might seem a little too neat. James could always bolt after the season, and given the hot-and-cold relationship with owner Dan Gilbert, that’s a real possibility. If James leaves, then Cleveland fans can always say Irving left first. The trade at least prepares the Cavs for life after James.
If he stays and keeps the Celtics away, then James would be even more beloved in Cleveland, especially for leading what seems like an insurmountable fight against Golden State afterward. The Eastern Conference finals might feel like NBA Finals now, at least for a year. At the very least, it’s much more enticing than last season’s matchup Cleveland breezed through in five games.
Can James make that happen? We’ll obsess every step of the way until he makes that next decision, even if the best decision is right in front of everyone now with Irving off to Boston. When will we have a better idea as to which way James might go?
Let’s start with Oct. 17 in Cleveland.
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