September 22, 2014

Medina
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Commentary: Cleveland hopes for LeBron James’ return — but not so fast

LeBron James

LeBron James

Judging from the reaction on local sports talk radio, you’d think LeBron James had actually signed with the Cavaliers.

Relax, people. This is just the first step in the process. It’s a step that had to occur for the Cavs to have any chance at landing James — and it happened six days prior to the deadline — but it’s still just the first step.

Agent Rich Paul informed the Miami Heat early Tuesday that James will exercise the early termination option in his contract, meaning the Akron native and seven-year Cavs small forward will leave $42.7 million on the table ($20.5 million in 2014-15, $22.2 million in 2015-16), at least temporarily, in South Beach.

James’ decision does not mean he is returning to Cleveland, though the Cavs’ chances seem to be improving a bit each day.

They could improve some more Thursday in the NBA Draft, where Cleveland holds the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in four years, and they would improve even more with a blockbuster trade for someone like Minnesota power forward Kevin Love.

Having a team that includes James, Love, Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, potentially Spencer Hawes and either Kansas shooting guard Andrew Wiggins or Duke small forward Jabari Parker is, at the very least, pretty darn enticing. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson also are in that mix, but they seem like ideal trade bait at the moment.

Then, too, there’s the theory that James will not only sign with the Cavs, but also bring close friend and fellow free agent Carmelo Anthony with him.

If you need more ammunition, new Cavs coach David Blatt, who will be introduced to the local media today at a news conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts, coached James’ St.Vincent-St.Mary High School teammate, Romeo Travis, with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Like Melo, new associate head coach Tyronn Lue is said to be close friends with James (though it certainly seems like the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder is “close” friends with a ton of people).

Even James’ wife, Savannah, recently posted a picture of the Akron area on Instagram while adding how happy she was to be back.

So it’s an open-court slam dunk that James is coming back to Cleveland, right? Start churning out the “Witness the Forgiveness” T-shirts, right?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

While the Cavs are a viable option and seem to be getting more viable each day, other options will surface before free agency officially begins on Tuesday.

Houston is supposedly already looking at ways to pair James with Dwight Howard and James Harden.

There are reports the Los Angeles Clippers are looking at a possible sign-and-trade that would allow James to play with yet another supposed close friend in Chris Paul (and other reports that state Heat head honcho Pat Riley and the rest of the organization privately vow a sign-and-trade will never happen).

Chicago can’t be discounted, and more teams will soon jump into the fray.

All that being said,Miami remains the favorite, though its lead in this still largely imaginary race appears to have shrunk.

The Heat can offer James a five-year deal for $130 million. Provided they have salary cap space, other teams can offer only four years, for a maximum total of $96 million. James also could sign a short-term deal with Miami — say, one or two years, with options — to see what kind of roster Riley puts together. The 29-year-old could do that elsewhere, as well.

We’ll know more when James sits down and talks with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the much less important members of the alleged “Big Three.”

That meeting will happen very soon, most believe, and there will be a lot of flies on the wall issuing a lot of unsubstantiated — and probably conflicting — reports about what was said.

Right now, James is said to be undecided on where he will play next season and beyond, and there is little doubt that is true.

That means the Cavs are at least in the race, but right now that’s all it means.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.