LeBron James is currently a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and has an outsized role when it comes to roster management. That remains true, even as owner Dan Gilbert has apparently exercised his unilateral power to dismiss general manager David Griffin.
The prodigal son who brought a championship to a title-starved city is coming off an incredibly productive, yet ultimately unsuccessful NBA Finals. He is the apple of other franchises’ eyes and they allow themselves to daydream about things falling into place to facilitate him donning a new uniform. But, even as some appear to be taking active measures to free up space and money on the roster in order to woo him in 2018, there remains the pesky reality of James’ no-trade clause.
Unscientifically, it feels as though the conversation has shifted from if James will leave Cleveland after next season to where he’ll go when he inevitably does. And dammit if such thought experiments aren’t fun. Who wouldn’t want to see him put Lakers’ purple and gold or, gasp, Celtics’ green?
We’re moving fast and furious down this track and those willing to pump the brakes are few and far between. But those voices still exist.
Vardon’s stance may not be the popular one right now but may prove to be correct for a few reasons that haven’t been considered critically enough.
Both have to do with time.
James has proved to be superhuman, playing more minutes than a mortal should without showing signs of wearing down or sustaining injury. He is so productive that we forget he’s no longer a spring chicken. He’ll turn 34 during that circled 2018-2019 season. Every step he takes on a court widens the experience gap between he and every other player to run up and down the court.
He is a fierce competitor and his drive to compete and win championships has never been questioned. But the time comes for all athletes when the page must be turned.
Let’s imagine for a second that the Cavaliers — who will likely have the second-best title odds no matter what happens the rest of the offseason — upset the Warriors next June for James’ second hometown crown in three years and his fourth overall. Will the the urge to walk away on top of the game seep in and dictate a surprise decision?
Wouldn’t that be the time?
On the other hand, let’s imagine the Cavs 2017-18 campaign is lackluster and they are bounced short of the Finals as the Warriors breeze to another victory parade. Then, he can find no destination that allows him to realistically challenge Golden State in the short-term. How long will James be willing to be commit to building somewhere else? And what if bringing the crew to Cleveland makes more sense than piloting the Banana Boat in strange waters?
It’s also worth considering the Golden State dynasty will prove to be impenetrable and spending years trying to topple it will be a fool’s errand.
Look, I don’t think it’s likely James walks away from the game after next season. But it’s also not out of the realm of possibility if the chips fall perfectly for him — or if he realizes he’ll be short-stacked wherever he plays his next hand.
By now he knows he’ll never be able to catch Jordan in the court of public opinion. After every year he must reconsider what he’s chasing. Time will play a factor in location.
For now, we wait.