It’s hard to imagine LeBron James leaving Cleveland again. Yes, he said a few months ago that he would love to play with Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul – or all of them together – but that wouldn’t actually happen, would it? James isn’t going anywhere, right?
“Well, that’s the thing. He opened the door to that scenario during the season,” The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “He daydreamed about it – more than daydreamed about it. He talked on the record about it at one point during the season about that having appeal to him. Now I think if it were going to happen, next year is a more likely time to look at it because you have a bigger crop of superstar free agents in 2017. Chris Paul is a free agent, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant probably is in free agency against next year if he stays in Oklahoma. Miami’s got space. They can do more things next year. We’ll see what Chris Bosh’s future is going to be in Miami. So the door might be open to it then, but he’s the one who sort of has opened that door and (talked) about it this year.”
Let’s not forget that James is essentially operating on a year-to-year basis with Cleveland. That’s not a coincidence.
“It continues to put pressure on the organization and ownership to spend money, to go deep in the luxury tax – because it’s always somewhat of a threat he can hold over them,” Wojnarowski explained. “(He can say), ’Hey, I’ll leave if you don’t do the things financially that I want to see done here.’ But now that they’ve won the title, certainly it takes a lot of pressure off of everybody there.”
Speaking of the aforementioned Durant, the consensus third-best player in the world has a tough decision this offseason. Does he stay in Oklahoma City, or does he leave? If he leaves, where does he go? And if he stays, does he sign a short-term deal or a long-term one?
In the end, Wojnarowksi sees Durant staying with the Thunder – at least for one more season.
“I think the way it ended helped Oklahoma City because Kevin Durant wants a chance to win multiple titles,” he said. “What’s the best chance to do that? You could make a very strong case that that’s in Oklahoma – to come back next year with this group, with a coach who really grew with his team this year, grew as an NBA coach. From out of the gate next year, that should be a 65-, 66-win team. It should be. Where can he go outside of San Antonio and Golden State where you instantly put him in and you say, ‘Okay, that’s definitely the favorite’? I think those are the only two places you could say that.
“But I do wonder emotionally for him, watching how Cleveland won it, what it meant to LeBron James, what it meant to the city of Cleveland, (how that might have affected him),” Wojanowski continued. “There’s no comparison between Cleveland and Oklahoma City in terms of (longevity). The team is still a baby in Oklahoma City. It’s been 50 years in Cleveland. But he’s very ingrained in Oklahoma City. He is very much a part of that community and he’s been with a team and an organization where they’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and you wonder (if he) watched that (and thought), ‘Hey, it would be very meaningful to win it here. Let me give it another run. One more year.’ And financially, there’s rewards to wait a year and then he can look at free agency.”
Plus, if Durant leaves this offseason, he would be seen as a villain in Oklahoma City. Durant, one of the league’s ultimate nice guys, wouldn’t want that.
“If he waits until next year when Russell Westbrook is a free agent too, he’s sort of sharing that pressure and that burden,” Wojanowski said. “I wonder how much that will weigh into it also for him – that it won’t all be on him next year the way it would all be on him right now if he left.”