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The Legacy of LeBron James Can Survive Leaving Cleveland Again

The undercurrent of this NBA season has largely been focused on this insane rumor of LeBron James leaving Cleveland for a second time to go pursue more promising pastures elsewhere. Many people including myself have said that there’s no way that LeBron leaves town. It just seems like public relations suicide.

But I’ve changed my tune very much. LeBron’s legend is bigger than the jersey he wears so he can survive a change of scenery for the third time.

Perhaps the largest reason to pour salt in to the rumors again is the fact that Kyrie has come out and said that he pushed for a trade because he “bolted LeBron so I wouldn’t be left”. Of all the pseudo-intellectual (and dumb) things that have blurted out of Kyrie’s mouth over the past few months, that quote in itself is extremely telling.

It’s not that LeBron is out the door, but it certainly feels like the possibility is real. So does it impact his legacy to leave his hometown in the dust again? What exactly is his legacy anyways? We can’t write that story completely until he calls it a career, but I did want to discuss one important element of the never-ending LeBron discussion before we move on to the free agent rumors…

Measuring LeBron against Jordan
Almost every metric we have suggests that LeBron is the greatest basketball player to ever walk the face of the earth. The problem with measuring him against Michael Jordan, the unquestioned GOAT, is that Jordan elevated the NBA on a global scale that simply can’t be replicated. It’s like being the first man to land on the moon. Even if you’re the second or fifth person to get there, that’s a great personal accomplishment, but you’re not the first.

We can debate on whether LeBron is a more complete player compared to someone like Kevin Durant. I can definitely be talked in to it. Durant presents as a cleaner, more efficient shooter from every position on the floor. But overall? You can’t make the argument. LeBron has had a transcendent career. Durant is more so in Larry Bird territory as a top-10 player and all-time great scorer.

I just wanted to toss this in here because this conversation will never die. LeBron is the best player to ever play the game of basketball, but Jordan did it first and arguably did it better. All in all, I’m sick of this debate and everyone should be as well.

Why Would He Leave Cleveland?
LeBron would leave Cleveland simply because he had the guts to do it before. The Cavaliers in particular have seemed inept at building a consistent contender despite multiple Finals appearances. New general manager Koby Altman has made all the right moves, including trading Kyrie Irving and acquiring Dwayne Wade, but the jury is still out on what he’s truly capable of.

The truth of the matter is that LeBron prefers sitting at the table with a stacked deck. It’s exactly why he went to Miami, and precisely why he returned to Cleveland in the first place. What he’s always been bad at is playing “shadow general manager” because he’s prioritized friendships and loyalty over chemistry and fit. This isn’t a bad thing, or a tremendous flaw. When you’re as good as LeBron James, you can take a step down in certain aspects in order to play with your friends. It’s not like anyone is going to get in his way.

The major problem for LeBron is that the Kyrie trade to Boston has solidified the Celtics as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. They have the bigs (and fouls) to throw at and frustrate LeBron, and they play a gritty brand of modern era basketball that’s complimented by a high end volume of three pointers. The Celtics ranks second in made shots from beyond the arc trailing Houston.

It’s also important to note that despite being as great as he is, there is nothing better than being an NBA free agent in high demand. Imagine leaving your own job and being coveted by every major player in your industry. Signing bonuses, huge interview parades built around luring you to the other side and people gushing praise on you to no end. How could you possibly say no to that?

LeBron and every major NBA star only gets to do that a couple times in their career. There’s no question that you would entertain the idea.

Where Would LeBron Go?
Houston. San Antonio. The Lakers seem like the most likely destination. Basically, the Western Conference. Heading to Philadelphia seems like the most ridiculous of all the suggestions. It matters where he ends up, but playing with CP3 or putting his jersey up in the rafters at the STAPLES center next to Kobe’s are all in play. He could go anywhere. Even back to Miami. That’s not really the point at this moment in time.

The rumor mill swirling around the possible destination ignores one really important element of the discussion because we assume that Cleveland can do almost nothing to retain him. That narrative is false. The Cavaliers – and more importantly Dan Gilbert – can offer LeBron something nobody else can.

What the Cavs Can Offer That Nobody Else Will
Deals like this aren’t unheard of. The most famous was Mario Lemieux arbitrating ownership of the Penguins in place of the salary that was owed to him. The Cavaliers are currently worth just over $1.2 billion. LeBron himself has a reported net worth of over $400 million. Hell, he’s making $55 million in endorsements alone this season. He’s made it known that he is not only chasing Jordan’s legacy on the court, but his billion dollar empire off of it. Shoes aren’t going to get him there at this rate. Jordan has simply built too much of a lead.

The only real thing that Dan Gilbert can offer LeBron that nobody else can is ownership stake in his hometown team. Gilbert himself is not a Cleveland native; he’s from Franklin, Michigan and has many ventures anchored in that city. If Gilbert is willing to part with a portion (or all) of his franchise to an ownership group spearheaded by LeBron and Maverick Carter, then that’s the real reason that the King stays in his current kingdom.

It’s not out of this world to believe that franchise ownership is the true endgame of the LeBron-led group that has created its own branding with Nike, a sports agency and many other revenue stream. LeBron is the type of player and person that thinks out of the box and nothing would grab his attention more than Gilbert putting a slice of the ownership pie on the negotiating table.

So when you head out in to your own talking circles to discuss this, throw this at your friends and see how they react. People love talking about free agency in its traditional sense. “CP3 and Harden with LeBron?! Super team!” Guys, any team with LeBron is an automatic super team. That’s how good he is.

LeBron as an owner? Now that’s something new.

Bet on the Cavaliers as -125 favorites in the NBA Futures to win the Eastern Conference! It may – or may not – be your last time to invest in the Cavaliers as a rightful contender unless I’m totally right.

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