By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—LeBron James decision to re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers is reminiscent of that old biblical parable, “The Prodigal Son.”
Four years ago, James left Cleveland as the city’s most hated man since Art Modell moved the old Browns franchise to Baltimore. Today, the city and team owner Dan Gilbert have killed the fatted calf and is welcoming James home with open arms.
While this will go down as a good “feel good” story, the bottom line is that James made a good business decision from a basketball stand point and for his family. In his letter to Sports Illustrated, James made a point to say that he wanted to bring home a title back to Northeast Ohio.
Behold! The next great journey in the Book of James—bringing home a title to a city that hasn’t won a major sports title since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts 27-0 to win the NFL Championship of the pre-Super Bowl era.
What makes this challenge even more unique is that with the Cavaliers there is no guarantee or certainty that this team is going to be in the NBA Finals next year. James will be playing alongside talented young players like point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. He will also have to get used to a new head coach in David Blatt.
There’s also a possibility of the Cavaliers landing former Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Love. James is also looking for the Cavaliers to bring in shooting forward Mike Miller and possibly Ray Allen, who can still fill it up from three-point range despite being darn near 40.
Unlike 2010 when he jilted Cleveland for a Miami squad that included superstars like DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh, James will be playing with a rising, young squad in the middle of rebuilding. Compared to his Heat squad that was built to win immediately, James will have to lead a team that will no doubt go through the growing pains of being a playoff tested team.
While a few sports pundits and a few Las Vegas bookies believe that the Cavaliers will be in the NBA Finals next year, I think the process may take a little longer that. I might go with 2016, 2017 or even 2018. And that’s the beauty of the challenge awaiting James and the Cavaliers over the next couple of years.
None of the current group of Cavaliers players has any playoff experience. Can those players elevate their game to be on the same page as James? It is going to be that age-old debate that we have on social media about superstars—who are supposed to make players better around them.
The Cavs will have to make other additions to shore up any weaknesses. The one thing that James will have in Cleveland that he didn’t have in four straight appearances to the NBA Finals (two championships) with the Heat is a true point guard in Kyrie Irving.
The 6-foot-3 Irving averaged a career-high 20 points and 6.1 assists per game. Irving is a speedy ball-handler who can penetrate the defense, attack the basket and hit it from the outside. In three years in the league, Irving is shooting 37 percent from three-point range.
The Irving-James combination, along with a few players to compliment their talents, is eventually going to be hard to beat. If the Miami Heat had a point guard who can penetrate and score like Irving, they would have won four straight crowns instead of two.
But the caveat with Irving is his ability to stay healthy for a full 82 games. He missed 38 games in his first two seasons with a montage of injuries including a broken nose, a fractured jaw and he had a torn bicep last season. He played in 71 of 82 games in 2013-2014.
Irving signed a five-year, $90 million extension through 2020.
With James at his side, maybe Irving doesn’t kill himself every game with the burden of carrying the offense by himself. James can do the hard work of taking the ball to the basket. When you have a point guard like Irving who can penetrate and shoot, you open up the floor for players like James and you know what he can do.
To be sure, the Cavaliers will not win the title overnight. They have to establish team chemistry, hope young guys like Wiggins can develop into solid NBA players, add some pieces and more importantly, stay healthy.
If James can lead a young, rising Cleveland squad to an NBA title, it will certainly add to an already outstanding legacy. This will not be an easy mountain to climb considering that teams like Indiana, Chicago, Washington and other squads in the Eastern Conference are getting better.
The fact that it won’t be easy makes this an even more compelling story. Stay tuned.