LeBron James Cavaliers’ exit may be coming
Could this spell the end for Lebron @ the Cavs?
The matter of LeBron James v Michael Jordan has been debated once or twice before. This column will not be another entry into that genre. That’s a promise. But maybe we can all briefly agree on just one thing about those two esteemed basketball gentlemen before moving on: Michael Jordan is much better than LeBron James at holding a grudge.
Twenty-three years ago, when Tim Tebow was just a six-year-old attending homsechool in Florida, Michael Jordan tried his hand at baseball. It didn’t go too well. Sports Illustrated wrote about his foray into the game and tagged the piece with the dismissive cover headline: “Bag It, Michael”. To this day, Jordan does not grant interviews to Sports Illustrated. Yes, 23 years of salt to the world’s biggest sports magazine, the publication’s staff at the time long since turned over multiple times. All because of a flippant headline that ran before a baseball season in which he hit .202. So just imagine the great vengeance and furious anger that Jordan would have rained down on an NBA owner who dared to mock and belittle him as a basketball player and a man in a public letter, as Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did to James post-Decision in July of 2010. Regardless of the font, Jordan’s reaction would have been sans comedy.
James might be wishing now that he possessed such vast salt reserves and had vowed to never play for Gilbert again after leaving for Miami. According to reports, the Cleveland star is very unhappy with the direction of the Cavaliers organization. And he should be. Just a week after Cleveland’s NBA finals loss – and just days before the NBA Draft and the official start of the free agency season – Gilbert parted ways with general manager David Griffin and assistant GM Trent Redden. In their place he put … well, nobody. Former NBA point guard and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups, who has no front office experience, was offered the GM job, but turned it down and a full-time replacement has yet to be found. So while Paul George went to Oklahoma City and Chris Paul to Houston and Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and Gordon Hayward to Boston, LeBron has seen his team – the NBA’s second-best, but a team that clearly needs to upgrade to have a shot at re-dethroning the Warriors – do absolutely nothing beyond adding the average talents of Jose Calderon and Jeff Green. And it’s all thanks to Gilbert’s ego and general incompetence revealing itself again.
It’s hard to think James didn’t have a hunch this could happen with the man who he has been unfortunately entwined with in Cleveland since Gilbert bought the franchise 12 years ago. In the infamous letter following LeBron’s “decision,” Gilbert threw around words like “betray,” “former hero,” “cowardly,” “shameful,” “self-declared former KING” and, to top it all off, added in what may go down as the worst prediction in sports history: “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.” Yes, those all-caps were pathetically included by Gilbert, whose team proceeded to go 97-215 while James was in Miami winning his first two rings.
Yet despite all that, James went home to Cleveland two summers ago. Not as any favor to Gilbert, but to try to bring a title for the city and the region. In doing so he decided to be the bigger man, shook the hand of a billionaire who possesses the emotional maturity of a spoiled child, and said all the right, or at least polite, things upon becoming a Gilbert employee again: “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”
Not Michael Jordan, who might tell James that sometimes it pays off more to be the bitter man than the better man. By throwing his lot in again with the man who trashed him publicly, James risked what is happening right now. He risked Gilbert ruining a good thing by refusing to stay out of the way to let basketball people run his basketball team. James is smart enough to know that by standing pat with the same roster that lost the finals in five games, his team has an even slimmer chance of winning next year against the Warriors. Gilbert may not be smart enough to know that or maybe he just doesn’t care as long as seats are filled. But no superstars entering their age 33 seasons, even those with seemingly age-defying bodies like LeBron James’, are much interested in transitional or rebuilding years.
So while the greatest basketball player in the world spends this offseason doing challenging (and, let’s be honest: super-creepy) workouts while feeling frustrated about the possibility of a lost season, Gilbert is paving the way for James to leave Cleveland a second time after the season. James is a free agent again 49 weeks from now and will look for the best place to win a fourth title. He’d be wise to deduct points from any franchise courting him that is run by anyone vaguely similar to Dan Gilbert, a man who thinks it wise to clear out his front office right before the most important part of the year for player personnel decisions. Maybe LeBron forms a pact with fellow 2018 free agent Paul George and together they sign with Lonzo Ball and the Lakers. Maybe it’s pulling a late-career Jordan and going to the Wizards to play with John Wall. Or maybe it’s heading down to Charlotte to play for Michael Jordan himself. The Hornets might not be title contenders, but Jordan could teach James a powerful lesson about the value of holding grudges.
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