CLEVELAND – Cleveland Cavaliers fans endured another NBA Finals letdown on Friday, but worse could yet follow with LeBron James, the man who has carried the team for years, set to walk out of the exit door once more for pastures new.
James, who has almost single-handedly led the team to four straight NBA Finals since returning to Cleveland in 2014, is considered by many to be the best player on the planet and widely expected to sign elsewhere as a free agent after July 1.
“I have no idea at this point,” James told reporters after his Cavs were swept in four games by the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
“Sitting down and considering everything, but my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.”
Whatever team lands James will become an instant contender and there will be many with several pieces of a championship puzzle in place trying to prevent the four-time NBA MVP from re-signing with his hometown Cavs.
Despite claiming the Eastern Conference crown for a fourth straight year, James was given a blunt reminder of how far short the Cavs are as they failed to win a game against a team who have won three of the last four NBA titles.
Barring some significant changes to the roster, it would be hard to see James staying put, especially since he said he had plenty of gas in the tank.
“I still have so much to give to the game,” James added. “When you have a goal and you’re able to accomplish that goal, it actually – for me personally, it made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships.”
When James first left the Cavs in 2010 to join Miami, where he won two titles, it sparked riots in Cleveland as locals burned replicas of his No 23 jersey and hurled rocks at a 10-story banner of him that towered over the city.
But James returned in 2014 and his likeness has since been replaced, the black-and-white image of the three-time NBA champion with his muscular arms outstretched now serving as both a tourist attraction and symbol of civic pride.
James fulfilled a promise when he led the Cavaliers to a maiden NBA title in 2016 as the city celebrated a first professional sports championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns claimed the NFL crown.
“I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” James added. “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember.”
But after nine trips to the NBA Finals, including in each of the last eight seasons, the 33-year-old Akron, Ohio, native only has three championships.
He does not have much of a supporting cast in Cleveland and some reports suggest he could go to the Houston Rockets, a team that boasted the best record during the regular season and features his close friend Chris Paul.
James may also find the Philadelphia 76ers an attractive landing spot given their talented young duo of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, for which he could serve as the veteran presence needed to catapult them into contenders.
The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are among the other possible destinations for James, but Ohio, where his family are based and where he has lived nearly all his life, could convince him to stay.
“I hope he stays. I mean, we all know that,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after the Warriors’ 108-85 series-clinching win. “But after a game like that, I’m not in any position to talk about that.”