Christmas is supposed to be the happiest season of the year but for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans it was another reminder of how everything can be taken away from them in just one “decision”. The Cavs had just lost 101-91 to the Miami Heat on LeBron James’ Christmas day return. At the end of the game, James and his good friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade embraced each other on the court and exchanged pleasantries. Unfortunately, James said something that has gone viral right now:
“Like I said, if we aren’t better this year, we’re gonna reunite again and do some bigger and better things, alright?”
The Return of the King
As a tradition and gift to their beloved fans, Christmas day games in the NBA are significant and meaningful as the yuletide season. This year, one of the five scheduled games was LeBron James’ first game back in Miami since returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the offseason. James’ departure from the Heat was abrupt, but he parted with the team in good terms. In fact, All of South Beach wished the King well in his new endeavor. The Return of the King to the American Airlines Arena was no different.
A Happy Reunion
James got a standing ovation before the game. James and Wade embraced before the game started. They laughed and talked a bit at halftime. They were locked in another embrace at the end of the game. It was just like old times, except that this time around, James was playing for the other side and there was only one winner: The Heat. Miami spoiled James’ return and moved two games off of .500 while dealing the Cavs just their second loss in the last six games. But more than a win and a loss, it was a happy reunion of Miami’s once dominant pair who gave them an unforgettable four year run.
More than Words?
James has explained his side and has rebutted the circulating theories that he will bolt the Cavaliers once again to team up with Wade in Miami. But more than James’ words, the circumstances in Cleveland have fueled those speculations. Cleveland is 18-14 to end the year, despite having what was supposed to be the most talented line-up in the NBA. The Cavs were even picked as preseason favorites to win the title with James at helm. But the first two months of the season haven’t been a bed of roses. The Cavs have struggled with their chemistry and consistency while injuries have hounded the team all season long. With things looking disoriented right now, some critics are saying that the Cavaliers’ boat is sinking and that King James will abandon the Cavaliers one more time.
Examining Bron’s Contract
Remember that when James signed with the Cavs in the summer, he only signed a two year contract worth $42M with the second year a “player option.” This means that James can choose to become a free agent at the end of the season and this is the reason why the “reunion video” is causing some panic in Cleveland. But when James signed his Cleveland deal this summer, he was believed to have done so because of business reasons, not basketball. The NBA salary cap increases by around 10% every season, and James’ gets flexibility by not being locked in a longer deal. Also, James makes tons of money off the court, hence he doesn’t need the max term of four years. Lastly, the NBA’s new TV deal kicks off in 2016, so the possibility of a significant cap raise in two years is expected. James the businessman would definitely want to be one the first to cash in.
If we compare James’ Cavs to the 2011 Heat (Bron’s first season) through the first 27 games, those Heat were just two games better than the current Cavs ( 19-8 versus 17-10). But the Cavs have lost three of their last four games to finish 2014 while the 2011 Heat finished the year with a four game win streak and ended the year 25-9. So what has been the difference between James’ two teams? The 2011 Heat and the 2015 Cavs are separated by a mere 0.5 points in offensive efficiency. However, the Heat were the better defensive team by 8 points per 100 possessions and Cleveland is only 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency at the end of the year. Among the last 30 NBA champions, only 2 have ranked outside of the Top 10 in defense. The last 13 NBA champions have ranked in the Top 10 in defensive efficiency during the regular season.
The main problem for the Cavs right now (as what was projected before the season began) is defense and not a potential LeBron coup-de-etat. Whether James will opt out or not at season’s end, the task at hand is to win the title this season. Isn’t that what James said he came home for?