When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in 2018, it was clear the franchise was in for a long rebuilding process.
Fortunately, that rebuilding process so far hasn’t been as painful as many thought it would.
In Darius Garland, the Cavs already possess a bona fide star, and in Evan Mobley, they have a big man who seems to have serious superstar potential.
They came within minutes of winning the play-in tournament and reaching the playoffs this past season, and with continued growth, many expect them to make their first post-James postseason appearance in 2023.
Meanwhile, after winning the NBA championship in 2020, James’ tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been going well.
They lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2021, and this past season, they didn’t even reach the play-in tournament.
With James entering the final year of his contract, there has been lots of speculation about whether he will accept a contract extension to stay in L.A.
ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst says he doesn’t think James will leave the Lakers, but he did point out the Cavs are making sure they could make a run at him next summer as a free agent, just in case.
🎙️ Brian Windhorst weighed in on the possibility of LeBron returning to Cavaliers after the end of his tenure on Lakers!
— Sportskeeda Basketball (@Basketball_SK) July 29, 2022
Another prominent reporter, Jake Fischer, said the Cavs would be interested in a (second) reunion with James, but only under certain conditions.
“It was explained to me that a reunion from Cleveland’s side of things would have to be on shared terms… I think it’s going to be more of a, ‘How can we make this work for all of us? How can we be a team? How can we add you to what we’re doing?’” said Fischer while on the Wine and Gold Talk podcast.
Would Bringing James Back Again Be The Right Move?
Even at age 37, James is still one of the very best players in basketball.
He averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game this past season, and if the Lakers were a championship contender, he would’ve at least gotten serious consideration for the league MVP award.
However, there is evidence that the Akron, Ohio native may be starting to break down.
He missed 26 games with an assortment of ailments: two different ankle injuries, an ab injury and a knee ailment that caused swelling and discomfort.
James says he’s fully recovered and healthy now, but with the insane mileage on him, it’s anyone’s guess how durable he will be from here on out.
If he stays healthy, he could very well have two, maybe even three elite or near-elite seasons left in him.
However, there are a couple of arguments against bringing him back.
First, signing him would put Cleveland far over the salary cap and possibly over the luxury tax threshold, requiring owner Dan Gilbert to fork over extra money to the league in luxury tax payments, something he may not want to consider.
Second, James has enjoyed a disproportionate amount of power over personnel decisions at every stop – would Gilbert agree to that again?
The Cavs may not be open to a LeBron James return, per @TheSteinLine
“When LeBron is with the team, he puts a lot of pressure on the front office. He puts a lot of pressure on ownership. He wants to call the shots, and I don’t think they want to live that life again.” pic.twitter.com/TmnTF91sGN
— Top Ball Coverage (@TopBallCoverage) February 25, 2022
Third, do the Cavs even need him?
With such a young and promising roster, there is no rush for them to win a championship, and the best move may be to let their core grow organically.