LeBron’s coming home, as for the Celtics...?

LeBron’s coming home, as for the Celtics...?
July 11, 2014, 1:45 pm
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LeBron James is a Cavalier again.

He broke the news himself, with Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, this afternoon in an exclusive first-person essay  — and suddenly it all makes sense. Not only this decision, but also THAT decision. The whole trajectory of James’ career. For all the talk (a decade-plus now) about LeBron’s legacy and who he really is — we have an answer. We still don’t know how the story will end, but we finally know which direction it’s going.

Who is he? He’s LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio. And that’s how he wants to be remembered. After four MVPs and back-to-back titles, that’s his motivation. Cleveland. The Cavs. His people. That’s who he wants to inspire and make happy, and that’s where he’s the happiest. It may have been a difficult decision — and for most of the last few weeks, I believed he’d go the other way — but in the end it sure feels like the right decision.

If James had chosen Miami, he’d have reunited with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They’d probably have been re-joined by Ray Allen, on top of already adding Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger to the mix. Barring major injuries — Miami would have once again been one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and return to the Finals for a fifth straight season.

But if LeBron had gone back to Miami, it wouldn’t have been the same “Heat” experience he was used to or signed up for four years ago; they’d no longer be a super team with unlimited hope for the future. They’d have be a core of grizzled, emotionally embattled veterans who are suddenly very familiar with the concept of urgency. In an ironic twist, the Heat would have become the very thing that they hated for so long — “those” Celtics. And that’s fun, but also not so much fun.

LeBron would’ve gone back to Miami to win a title right now — next year. Knowing that with every passing season, given the state and general age of the roster, the likelihood of winning another ring would only decrease.

In the end, there was nothing inspired about a return to Miami. Just a return to that uneasy, emotionally unstable grind. Back to living in a city that you love for it’s weather and nightlife, and back to being despised by sports fans in the city you love more than any other in the world.

Ahem.

But now that LeBron is back in Cleveland, well, this is the definition of inspired. The Cavs have Kyrie Irving, one of the best young point guards in the league, and now that LeBron is there, swapping Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love makes so much sense. It makes too much sense. Wiggins is the offer Flip Saunders has been waiting for — someone he can build around and sell like candy to the fans — and Cleveland (with LeBron and Kyrie) is the opportunity that Kevin Love has been waiting for. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to watch a team with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love? That’s beautiful basketball. Inspiring basketball. That’s a core with unlimited hope for the future. That’s a team that other free agents will flock to and take less money to join the party.

And for that party to take place in Cleveland, is just perfect. It allows James the opportunity to return home a hero, and do what he promised that city he’d do. What he sees as his responsibility to do.

He’s going to be so much more comfortable back in Cleveland. He’s going to be himself. His real self. He already is. He was more honest in this afternoon’s essay than he’d been in the last 11 years combined. He was just LeBron James from Akron, Ohio. Comfortable and confident in his own skin. In his own decisions. Still so motivated and determined, but also at peace, and you better believe that this will translate onto the court. Don’t be surprised if LeBron heads home and — especially if the Cavs land Love — falls in love with basketball all over again and recaptures the personality that was almost universally loved by NBA fans when LeBron initially entered the league.

So yeah, maybe it takes a year or so to establish a system and put himself in a position to truly bring that championship to Cleveland. But that’s still more appealing than spending the next few years fighting off the grim reaper in Miami.

Speaking of the grim reaper, the bearer of bad news — this LeBron news isn’t exactly great news for the Celtics. Crazy how quickly things can change, right? For four years, Celtics fans dreamt about the day that LeBron, Wade and Bosh would disband and leave the East back up for grabs, and now that it’s on the verge of becoming a reality, it’s like: “Noooo! Stay together! You love each other! You’ll never make it out there on your own!”

If LeBron stayed in Miami, the Heat would’ve still been good but the clock was running out. Now that he’s in Cleveland, the Cavs might be just as good and the clock hasn’t even started. That’s bad news for Boston and the rest of the Eastern Conference.

And of course, if LeBron going to Cleveland means Kevin Love goes to Cleveland, that means Kevin Love doesn’t come to Boston. And if Kevin Love doesn’t come to Boston, the Celtics are facing a grim reality. Love is the last opportunity for a quick fix, to ensure Rondo’s future and give this rebuild a much-needed sense of direction. If there’s no Love, that doesn’t mean the Celtics are hopeless, it just leaves Boston back at the drawing board, like Tyrion Lannister in the Battle of Blackwater, brainstorming the next plan of attack.

But it’s too early to assume anything there; and we likely won’t have to wait very long for all the other NBA dominoes to fall into place. Now that LeBron has moved, the rest of the NBA can follow suit.

And the NBA as we know it has forever changed.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine