CLEVELAND — All good things must come to an end.
It's a reality that Cleveland Cavaliers fans must now face after LeBron James has departed his hometown team for greener pastures elsewhere for the second time in his career.
I think it's natural for anyone who loves Northeast Ohio to take offense to what James has done...again. Why aren't we good enough? Why can't you just be content with your 3 championships and just stay here?
LeBron is just wired differently than most. There's something inside of him that can't allow him to accept anything less than a basketball life on his own terms. And when you have his cache, you can get love on your own terms.
The Los Angeles Lakers offer James a new challenge of restoring a once-great basketball superpower under the watchful eye of NBA legend Magic Johnson. The four-time MVP will try to do what he did twice before, create a superteam that becomes the envy of the league. In Miami. he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for 4 Eastern Conference titles in a row and two NBA Championships. Here in Cleveland, he repeated the run of four straight conference championships and delivered on his stated goal in Sports Illustrated: "What’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
Ahh yes, the letter in Sports Illustrated. There will be some that believe James is breaking some kind of pledge that he made four years ago by walking away from the Cavaliers. Let's be clear, he never promised not to leave again. He said his relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball, and it is. He said he always believed he'd finish his career here. I believe that can still be the case even after this. LeBron said he feels a responsibility to lead this community, and he still can. The I PROMISE school, for example, is opening this summer.
But why would LeBron want to leave here again? Whose fault is it at the end of the day? I believe in LeBron's mind, three things made it impossible for him to stay any longer with the Cavaliers:
1. The Roster
This is the part where James has to be a part of the blame. As Jim Donovan pointed out in a recent "Jimmy's Take," LeBron's return to Cleveland in 2014 forced the Cavs to get players and keep players that he wanted on the team. That meant signing players long-term to contracts that have put the Cavs into salary cap purgatory.
J.R. Smith for one. He was great when the Cavaliers won it all in 2016, but was one of the reasons why the team lost the Finals this year. Remember Game 1?
Tristan Thompson is another, with that insanely huge contract due in large part to LeBron's agency representing him. For the last two years, Thompson hasn't played up to that max salary.
So in a summer where there are many quality free agents available, the Cavaliers find themselves way over the cap and without enough desirable assets to offer up in trades.
2. The Summer of 2017
You can really point to the events of last summer as when the clock really started ticking on LeBron's second act in Cleveland. It started with the forced departure of General Manager David Griffin shortly after the Cavs lost to the Warriors in the NBA Finals. Say what you want about "Griffin the Magician," after all, he was the one who gave Smith and Thompson those offers. But he was also a steadying hand in the organization and a buffer between LeBron and owner Dan Gilbert in what is always an uneasy alliance.
But I'm convinced that Griffin would have never made such a poor decision as what Gilbert and new GM Koby Altman did by trading Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics. Griffin departed just as the Cavs were working on a possible Paul George trade that he helped initiate. Does Kyrie want out if he's part of a new 'Big 3' with James and George? Maybe, maybe not. Could Griffin have convinced Irving to at least come to training camp and mend fences with the team? Maybe, maybe not.
But trading Irving to the Cavs' rivals in the East for an injured Isaiah Thomas, a surly Jae Crowder, and an overvalued draft pick sure looks like the moment where this franchise came apart. This one is on Dan Gilbert and he's going to have to answer for this blunder for a long time. With Irving gone, LeBron was deprived of his Robin, and had to shoulder entirely too much of the burden himself last season.
3. Kevin Durant
I'm not a fan of Draymond Green at all, but you have to give the man credit. In 2016, his Warriors just lost to the Cavs in the NBA Finals and suddenly didn't look so super.
Of course, there are many who say if Green hadn't gotten himself suspended for a game in those 2016 finals, the Warriors would have won that year, thus winning four straight titles. Then again, if Irving hadn't hurt his kneecap (much less Kevin Love being out with a dislocated shoulder) in 2015, the Cavaliers might have won two straight championships. The teams were evenly matched.
Green's phone call to Kevin Durant got the ball rolling on what turned out to be a seismic change in the NBA landscape. One of the league's best scorers and former Most Valuable Player joined forces with fellow MVP Steph Curry and All-Stars Green and Klay Thompson to form a legion of doom that appears to be unstoppable. The Cavs with James, Irving, and Love, could only win once against this force. You take Kyrie away and we saw what happened in June.
The league has changed and LeBron James wants to change with it. He's still young enough and hungry enough to want to topple the big, bad Warriors and go on one last championship charge while still in his prime. He can't do that with this roster here in Cleveland. He can do it with the flexibility and the appeal of the Los Angeles Lakers.
You can choose to be bitter about how this has all come down. I don't blame you a bit.
Just remember the great moments that we all enjoyed during 'The Kid From Akron's' return. The excitement of winning a championship for the first time in many of our lifetimes. The pride at watching so many of us line the streets of Cleveland during the parade. Heck, I'll always remember LeBron's reaction during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series after Rajai Davis' game-tying home run.
Those memories will last a lot longer than however many years James spends in Hollywood.