If I were LeBron…

lebron-james-the-decision-2014

2014, just like 2010, has the potential to be “The summer of LeBron.”

In 2010 Cleveland Cavalier forward LeBron James became a free agent. Playing the first seven years of his career for his hometown team, after being drafted by them with the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, James was on the open market.

In the biggest fanfare for a free agent ever, six different teams courted James, including: the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Cavaliers. This eight-day extravaganza culminated with a one hour ESPN special entitled, “The Decision” in which LeBron James revealed to the entire world he was “taking his talents to South Beach.”

“The Decision” was a terrible PR move. Cleveland fans (along with a vast majority of the rest of the world), who up until those infamous words still believed LeBron would stay in Cleveland, contrary to what ESPN was reporting (me included), immediately began an eternal and unending hatred for the “so-called King of Cleveland.”

Whether he made the right choice or not doesn’t matter anymore. He’s won two championships in three years with his super team, and could possibly win a third. But after both the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs came within inches of stopping the Heat last year, it is looking more and more unlikely.

The Pacers are back and better than they were in the Eastern Conference finals last year. The Oklahoma City Thunder have returned to form with Kevin Durant even better than he was in the NBA Finals two years ago, and the Spurs, somehow, still are winning despite their aging core.

With an even tougher path this year, LeBron will have an even bigger decision to make this summer, especially if the Heat falter in the playoffs, as I believe they will (See my Post NBA All-Star Break Predictions).

This summer, LeBron James can opt out of his contract with the Heat once again, and become a free agent. And just like last time, he will have a bevy of suitors, including the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And if the Heat do NOT win the NBA Championship, as I believe they won’t, LeBron will have a decision to make, whether to stay in Miami, or opt out of his contract and possibly leave via free agency and sign with another team, possibly Cleveland, Los Angeles or New York.

And I believe, it is in LeBron James best interests NOT ONLY to opt out of his contract, but also to leave the Miami Heat and sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer.

LET ME REPEAT MYSELF: I believe LeBron James should opt out of his contract and sign with his hometown team, the team he left in 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers. If I were LeBron James, I would do exactly that.

(Just an aside here, yes I am a huge Cleveland Sports fan, and it would make me incredibly happy if LeBron were to come back. But this is NOT why I think he should return to Cleveland and is zero percent of the reason behind my argument or why I’m writing this article…I take that back its 100 percent about why I’m writing this article, it’s just not my reasoning on why he should return. For that you have to keep reading)

Why should LeBron leave Miami, where he’s already won two championships, and come back to a team that’s had top four picks in each of the last three lotteries? It’s simple really. LeBron James doesn’t care about money, if he did, he would have stayed in Cleveland in the first place and taken a larger paycheck. Additionally, LeBron is a multimillionaire with more money coming in from endorsements than his contract. No, LeBron James cares about winning, and not just in the regular season, but also winning championships.

LeBron James wants to be able to do what Pat Riley did when Riley recruited him to Miami; throw a bunch of championship rings onto the table like they’re nothing. Riley has 13, LeBron currently has two, four less than Michael Jordan, three less than Kobe Bryant and the same amount as Adam Morrison, the 2006 third overall pick and a complete bust.

LeBron James wants to win NBA Championships. He can rack up all the NBA MVPs he wants, but until he wins five or six championships, he will NEVER EVER be in the discussion for the greatest of all-time.

He can be a statistical great, but until he wins those championships, he will not be the greatest to ever play the game of basketball.

And barring in mind that I don’t think the Heat will win it all this year, IF LEBRON JAMES WANTS TO CONTINUE TO WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS, HE SHOULD OPT OUT OF HIS CONTRACT AND SIGN WITH THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS.

(Why not the Lakers or the Knicks? On the Lakers, Kobe Bryant would still be the No. 1 option until he retires and the Knicks are just a mess)

Over the next five to six years, the Cleveland Cavaliers are better poised to win NBA championships, than the Miami Heat, if both teams had LeBron James. To start lets the compare their current starting lineups:

Cleveland Cavaliers: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Dion Waiters, SF Luol Deng, PF Tristian Thompson, C Spencer Hawes.

Miami Heat: PG Mario Chalmers, SG Dwyane Wade, SF LeBron James, PF Udonis Haslem, C Chris Bosh.

Right now Miami has a much better lineup and it shows in the standings, the Heat are 2nd and the Cavs are 10th. However when you take LeBron James out of the Heat’s lineup, the lineups start to get closer.

Cleveland Cavaliers: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Dion Waiters, SF Luol Deng, PF Tristian Thompson, C Spencer Hawes.

Miami Heat: PG Mario Chalmers, SG Dwyane Wade, SF Michael Beasley, PF Udonis Haslem, C Chris Bosh.

And finally when you stick LeBron in both lineups, it looks to be about even. Kyrie Irving’s much better than Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade is better, but not by much than a young and improving Dion Waiters, Tristian Thompson is better than Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh is better than Spencer Hawes.

Cleveland Cavaliers: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Dion Waiters, SF LeBron James, PF Tristian Thompson, C Spencer Hawes.

Miami Heat: PG Mario Chalmers, SG Dwyane Wade, SF LeBron James, PF Udonis Haslem, C Chris Bosh.

But looking closer, and taking into account the entire roster, the Cavaliers are better, even taking into account that Luol Deng would not re-sign if LeBron came back to Cleveland.

Cleveland backups: PG Jarrett Jack, SG Matthew Dellavedova, SG C.J. Miles, SG Sergey Karasev, SF Anthony Bennett, SF Alonzo Gee, C Anderson Varejao and C Tyler Zeller.

Miami backups: PG Norris Cole, PG Toney Douglas, SG Ray Allen, SF Shane Battier, SF Michael Beasley, SF James Jones, PF Chris Andersen, PF Rashard Lewis and C Greg Oden.

The Cavs have a tremendously better bench than the Heat. The Cavalier bench is filled with young, emerging players – Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, Matthew Dellavedova and Tyler Zeller, solid role players – C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee – and two veterans, Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao. While the Heat bench, to put it nicely, is filled with a bunch of washed up, oft-injured, scrubs, Ray Allen, Toney Douglas and Norris Cole.

The divide between the two benches is huge and when taking a closer look at the teams going into the future, the Cavaliers continue to look better and better.

The Cavaliers have one player, Varejao above the age of 30, the rest of their team is young and will continue to improve over the next few years. The Heat have seven players over the age of 30, not counting Greg Oden, whose knees haven’t shown they can hold up for a full-season, and Michael Beasley who has many off-court issues.

Taking a closer look at the Heat squad, the main players besides LeBron are Bosh and Wade. While Bosh is still in his prime at 29, Wade is starting to fade at the age of 32. His knees are falling apart and he’s entering a decline in his skills. Additionally both Bosh and James have logged over 3000 minutes on their bodies over the past three years, which takes a huge toll.

Looking at the Cavalier squad, Irving and Thompson are entering their third season in the league, Waiters and Zeller are entering their second and Bennett, Dellavedova and Karasev are rookies. The Cavaliers are a young team, one of the youngest in the NBA. They are just entering their prominence, while the Heat are exiting it.

The Heat are a better team now, but that’s because they have LeBron James. Take James off the Heat’s roster and they’re a marginal playoff team, depending on whether Dwyane Wade can hold up and if Chris Bosh can carry the team. And looking into the future, as Wade continues to break down, the Heat would be like the Raptors were with Chris Bosh, carried into the playoffs and losing in the first round.

The question is, how much farther would LeBron be able to take them? And he will answer that in this year’s playoffs, but as I have said previously, I don’t think they get by Indiana or Oklahoma City.

Not only is the Heat’s core getting older while also having logged tons of minutes over the past three years without quality backups, their competition isn’t going away, more so IT’S GETTING BETTER.

The Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat’s main competition, are here to stay. The Thunder tied their season series with the Heat 1-1 and the Pacers are currently tied 1-1, with two games to go.

Last season the Pacers were one bench player away from beating the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. This year, Paul George is even better (22.7 PPG and 21.0 PER this year vs 17.4 PPG and 16.8 PER last year), Roy Hibbert is improved, Lance Stephenson has emerged (14.2 PPG and 15.7 PER this year vs 8.8 PPG and 11.8 PER last year) and Evan Turner just joined the Pacer bench, in exchange for the oft-injured Danny Granger.

The Pacers are better than they were last year, and are going to continue to get better over the next few seasons. Last year the Heat barely beat them in seven games, this year the Pacers will probably win the series.

Additionally, the Thunder, the Heat’s probable NBA Finals opponent, if they beat the Pacers, are not going away either. Kevin Durant is putting up MVP-like numbers again, but somehow is still getting better (30.6 vs 28.3 PER). Serge Ibaka continues to be a force down low, where the Heat are weakest, and Russell Westbrook, even with his injuries, is putting up another superstar season.

If the Heat can’t beat the Pacers or Thunder this year, as I believe they won’t, who says they’ll be able to next year or the year after?

The Thunder and Pacers are strong at the Heat’s weakest positions, PG and C. And with all their money tied up in max-contracts with Wade, James and Bosh, there’s little the Heat can do to improve, besides signing aging veterans to the NBA minimum and hoping late draft picks pan out.

Even more so, the Heat’s core has logged over 3000 minutes apiece over the past three years. And its taken its toll, especially on Dwyane Wade, the second-best player on the Heat. Wade’s PER has dropped each of the past three years as has his Win Shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player. His scoring averages are also dropping, from 22.1 PPG three years ago to 18.8 PPG.

Dwyane Wade is not the player that LeBron came to Miami to play with anymore. And in the coming years, he will continue to decline, at a faster rate, as he moves further away from his prime.

With Wade no longer being a superstar, the Heat wouldn’t be competing for championships over the next five to six years, even with a solid 1-2 punch of LeBron and Bosh. A lineup of Chalmers, James, Bosh, Haslem and an old Wade, along with the Heat’s bench, wouldn’t beat the Thunder or Pacers anytime soon in the championship, especially if they can’t do it this year.

But a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, LeBron James, Tristian Thompson and Spencer Hawes, along with the Cavaliers bench could. This lineup is better than the Heat lineup, and is going to continue to improve over the next few years, as all the Cavs young players enter their prime.

Irving is just emerging as a superstar point guard, something LeBron James has never had the benefit of playing with. Dion Waiters is emerging as an excellent scorer, who some compared to (guess who?) Dwyane Wade on draft night. Thompson is a solid big man, who’s almost averaging a double-double, and Spencer Hawes, is a decent big man, who also has a three-point shot, something incredibly helpful to LeBron in Miami (see: Chris Bosh, Shane Battier).

And that’s not even taking into account the Cavs bench with three young draft picks, Bennett, Zeller and Karasev, a hustler in Dellavedova, and some veteran depth in Jack and Varejao. The Cavs also have a bevy of first round picks over the next few years, with which they can continue to add youth and improve the roster.

The Cavs are better suited to win more championships over the next four or five years, than the Miami Heat would be.

A lineup of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, LeBron James, Tristian Thompson and Spencer Hawes, is immediately a championship contender, especially in the East. The Cavs would have the talent and the depth to compete with Indiana, Oklahoma City or any other team standing in their way of the championship, because not only is this lineup great on paper, LeBron also makes everyone better on the court.

Additionally the lineup is strong at Indiana’s weakness, point guard. Kyrie Irving could easily take advantage of George Hill, especially if the Pacers also had to worry about LeBron and the rest of the Cavaliers lineup.

Over the next five to six years, the Cavaliers with LeBron will win more championships that the Heat with LeBron. Period.

And therefore, this coming summer, LeBron James should opt out of his contract and return to Cleveland in order to win more championships.

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