The Cleveland Cavaliers have been busy this offseason. After selecting UNLV combo forward Anthony Bennett with the top overall selection in June’s National Basketball Association draft, Cleveland acquired a few pieces in free agency to fill out the roster for depth purposes before they came to a verbal agreement with two-time NBA champion and former Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum. The acquisition of the often-injured, but highly effective 25-year-old Bynum gives Cleveland the inside force to match the perimeter play of rising star guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. With forwards Tristan Thompson and rookie Bennett, the Cavs should be able to compete for a playoff position next season. But perhaps more important, with cap room and a slew of youngsters, Cleveland should be a major opponent in the race to acquire former Cavalier, LeBron James, who is expected to become a free agent next summer. But after a messy divorce, could LeBron return to Cleveland? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley debate.
Riley: LeBron James’ exit from Cleveland a few years ago may have been the ugliest departure of a star player that we’ve ever seen, regardless of sport. From fans burning his jersey to the owner publicly cursing him, James’ free agency exit to Miami broke hearts from Cleveland to James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Now, we’re looking at a scenario where he might actually return and honestly, I think it’s destined to happen. The Cavs have been reloading quite nicely since James left in 2010. The very next season Cleveland landed Irving. Then they followed that with quality picks in Waiters and Bennett. Add in Bynum, who is expected to be healthy, and all of the sudden Cleveland has become one of the most interesting teams in the Eastern Conference, with or without James. At just 28-years-old, James still has a ways to go before he closes what’s already been an amazing career. When free agency starts next July, there will be one team that would pose as the most attractive destination and it’ll be this young Cleveland team.
Green: The idea of James returning to Cleveland is one that will draw story lines and sell articles but after Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s voodoo curse following his departure, there’s no way James would return. Gilbert has already put his foot in his mouth to the point of no return. Add in the fact it would be hard for James to leave South Beach considering that Heat President Pat Riley will no doubt ensure the franchise will be in position to retain or acquire top talent. With Dwyane Wade aging pretty rapidly and Chris Bosh not the same superstar that he’s been, Riley isn’t going to stand pat (no pun intended) while James tries to make a decision. Miami is now one of the biggest free agency draws in the Association next to Los Angeles and New York so James’ best chances at winning a title will remain in South Beach no matter how crazy a story his return to Cleveland would sound.
Riley: LeBron strikes me as an undoubtedly loyal young man, despite his adieu from Cleveland so I can see him returning to his home state just to mend hearts. He went to Miami to win championships and he’s done that for the most part while reinventing his image as a title-level player. Should he come back and lead Cleveland to a title alongside a band of promising youngsters then all would be forgiven. The city is in the grip of a nearly 40-year championship drought and if James could break that, without question, it would be the greatest feat that he’s ever accomplished. I see him stepping up to the challenge.
Green: That’s the exact reason why he won’t return. James had to go to Miami to team up with Hall of Famers to get the job of winning a championship done. Why would he drop back down to playing with anything less than perennial all stars? What if he comes back and doesn’t win anything? Area neighborhoods would always look at him with the side eye or frown their faces up at the very mention of his name. You can’t leave, break hearts along the way and then return to fail again in the playoffs. That would be a damaging blow to his reputation among the town. He made his decision to leave and he needs to stick with that and stay far, far away from Cleveland.
Riley: Just looking at the Cavaliers from a basketball standpoint, it would make all the sense in the world for him to go back. If Bynum checks out and Bennett plays as expected then this team is loaded. The only position of weakness would be at the small forward spot, a position they’re waiting for James to come back and fill. He left a few years ago to join a team that was best suited to win a title with his help. Should he return, then he would be doing the same thing. Irving isn’t Wade and Bynum and Bennett aren’t Bosh but they’re all young promising players with immense talent. What James would bring as far as experience and that championship mentality would be irreplaceable. At this point, I wouldn’t count him out to win a title no matter which team he plays for. But if he does, indeed, go back to Cleveland then I can see the champion in him playing at a near impossible level as he tries to get the city off the title slide.
Green: Would the Cavaliers even need James? Bennett should be able to play small forward and Irving and Waiters are growing into elite scorers and players. Asking them to come save the city from the heartbreak of a superstar who scorned the town then asking them to take a backseat to that same player would be the biggest slap in the face that you’ll see. I’m not so sure everyone would even be on board with a James return considering the tasteless manner in which he snubbed Cleveland. James had his chance to be a true savior and he gave it up for the easy route to a title. Just the thought of him returning while the Cavs are starting to turn the corner would just be him taking the path of least resistance again, something that not too many people should be holding their breath to see.