As the Cleveland Cavaliers limp into the offseason licking their wounds from a brutal 2012 campaign that produced a disappointing 24-58 record, a familiar 6’8”, 250 lbs shadow already looms over next season.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Cleveland could be a legitimate destination for LeBron James in 2014 if he decides to opt out of his contract with the Heat, which he likely will to at least gain some contractual leverage.
Just the rumor of James coming back to Cleveland in 2014 is enough to fuel a yearlong circus that threatens to overshadow the upcoming season.
But, as much as everyone in Cleveland might dissect LeBron’s every word next year trying to decipher what direction he might be leaning towards in 2014, he certainly will wait to see how the Cavaliers’ season plays out before even entertaining a move back to his hometown team.
The Cavaliers already have a nucleus of some of the best young talent in the league. With All-Star Kyrie Irving having a breakout year at point guard and Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson showing glimpses of star potential at shooting guard and power forward, respectively, the Cavaliers have the potential to make real progress next season.
But it will take more than incremental improvements to lure LeBron out of Miami.
LeBron James is an opportunist. He left Cleveland because teaming with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami gave him the best chance to win championships. The Prodigal Son narrative is convenient, but LeBron is only going to return to Cleveland if he thinks he’s stepping into a championship favorite.
That’s why all the pieces need to fall into place for the Cavaliers for LeBron to consider a return to Cleveland. And the upcoming NBA draft might be the one chance for the pendulum to swing in Cleveland’s favor.
If the Cavaliers are able to somehow land a star in the upcoming NBA draft-University of Kentucky center Nerlens Noel comes to mind-to complement their existing young talent, the void at the Cavaliers’ small forward position has the potential to look attractive to James.
Will it look appealing enough to persuade LeBron to come back home in 2014 if everything clicks next season?
It’s possible, but as the owner of both the Cavaliers and Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino, Dan Gilbert should know the odds well enough not to bet on it.
Adam Redling is a freelance writer from Cleveland, OH. He covers the Cavaliers for the Yahoo!