LeBron James has one more play to make

His third "decision" will be different than the previous two

Jake Chapman
June 11, 2018 - 5:19 pm

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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The 48th season of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball came to an end Friday.

The feeling inside the Q was a strange combination of pride that the team had made it this far combined with relief that the tumultuous season had come to an end splashed with a resigned fear that LeBron James had played his final minute as a Cleveland Cavalier.

What I expected to be a rousing, minutes-long round of applause as James checked out of the game with just over 4 minutes remaining, his Cavs down 25, was a brief nod of appreciation from the Cleveland faithful, much like the way James himself quickly shook hands with the five Warriors on the floor before hitting the bench, then slinked off to the locker room after the game without much ado. LeBron, after all this season threw at him, should be forgiven for his quick departure and retreat to the back.

And the fans, after all this season threw at them, didn’t need to state their case for LeBron to stay in that moment. Basically everyone was just super-tired.

And yet it wouldn’t have been this edition of the Cavaliers without one last dramatic “punch” before everyone retired for the summer. James showed up to his post-game media address with a cast on his hand, a result of his punching a white board after JR Smith derped away Game 1.

Fact is, the Cavs would’ve lost the series even if LeBron’s right hand didn’t look like Eddy Curry’s. But that he broke (or close to it) his own hand during the NBA Finals, coupled with his constant mentions of “cerebral” players as the type of teammates he covets, combined with the fact that he openly revealed said broken hand to the world as soon as the series was over, shows just how frustrated and spent he was by the end of the season.

It’s truly been one of the most unique seasons in NBA history for any franchise, and that’s before you even bring James into the equation. He’s been open and honest about the toll the season took on him. The Cavs’ basketball argument for LeBron to stay needs some work.

And yet to suggest that James’ mind is already made up to bolt Northeast Ohio feels far-fetched. It really comes down to his list of priorities, and which franchise checks the most boxes.

James brought up his family multiple times after Game 4. It’s clear his children’s well-being and education will play a larger role in his decision-making now than it did in 2010 or 2014, when his kids were younger.

Dwyane Wade told Fox Sports Radio Sunday that James’ decision will be less based on basketball than earlier in his career.

“I think at this point in his life it’s more of a lifestyle thing,” Wade said. “Where is my family going to be the most comfortable at? Where am I going to be the most comfortable at? Because basketball-wise he’s so great, he can take along whoever.”

That quote seems very important for a variety of reasons. First, perhaps no NBA player understands James like Wade does. The quote suggests that chasing Jordan’s 6 rings may not be as much an obsession for James as it was in years past.

Being a father is certainly a transformative experience that altered what James considered most important. But maybe it’s also provided new perspective for him about the other things he once held in such esteem, things like his “legacy” and the “ghost of Jordan” that he’s previously admitted to chasing.

LeBron has seemed hyper-sensitive to that stuff throughout his career. Maybe now that he’s a boring Dad who loves wine and the occasional literary classic, he really doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him anymore. Maybe now he’s just like a guy wearing flip flops, socks and an untuckit shirt buying a collapsible hose at Home Depot.

He couldn’t care less what you think of his outfit, he’s here to buy a hose damnit.

If that’s what he wants most – to be a hoops Dad in his hometown and to avoid another drastic change of direction in his family life, then it does make the most sense to stay. This is comfortable. This is home.

However it might not be the best thing for that pesky James legacy thing. And while I don’t think it’s as much of a priority for him as it used to be, I’m sure it still matters.

One more thing: Winning basketball games is fun. We seem to demonize “ring-chasing” as this shallow pursuit that only matters because of how we compare historical players. The reason you play sports is to win. Kevin Durant wanted to win when he went to Golden State.

LeBron wanted to win when he came back to Cleveland, he wanted to win when he left for Miami and he wants to win now. And he knows he has to go through the Warriors to do it. And he deserves to find a team that he believes will give him a shot at taking down the Dubs.

So here we sit, out of words to parse and body language to read.

We’re left to subsist on half-baked rumors and trade ideas for the next 3 ½ weeks, or until whenever LeBron James decides where next he chooses to play basketball. Cleveland, strangely, is cool. If he sticks around, terrific. If he moves on, we get it.

The entire NBA will wait with bated breath.

And for once, it seems whichever" Decision" he makes will be the right one.