The Cleveland Cavaliers are not going to come back from a three-games-to-zero deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. For most NBA analysts and fans, the thought of LeBron James getting swept by the Warriors in the Finals was more unfathomable than those last few seasons of “Lost”. To their credit, the Cavaliers should have left Oracle Arena after Game 1 with a one-game-to-zero lead in the fourth-consecutive Finals match-up. You know how the rest of that story goes, George Hill misses a free-throw, J.R. dribbles out of traffic to run out the clock, and NBA Twitter lost their fucking minds. What you didn’t know, what I don’t know, and what James probably doesn’t know is where he’ll be playing basketball next season. If the Cavaliers don’t waste an all-time performance from LeBron James in Game 1, does Mr. Momentum propel James’ cast of misfits to one of the biggest upsets ever? We will never know how the rest of this series would have played out had Game 1 ended with a Cavaliers victory. I would like to know if getting swept by the Warriors, watching Kevin Durant drain yet another cold, calculated three-pointer to ice another pivotal NBA Finals game, and getting psychoanalyzed by ESPN reporters will make James’ decision this summer any easier.
We’ll know soon enough.
If James leaves this summer, again, to, say, the Houston Rockets, joins Chris Paul and James Harden, and who just so happen to have the current best odds at signing the best player in the world as of this writing, what does that say to us basketball junkies who are enthralled with the questions of “Why” and “How” and “When”? James saw how close the Rockets, even without Paul for Games 6 and 7, came to defeating the Warriors. If you slide Trevor Ariza out for James next season, should they be considered the favorites win it all? If James picks Houston, it would say that, at this point in his career, he wants to win another title and it doesn’t matter where it is. If he were to pick Philadelphia, it would send the same message: The rest of my career is about playing on the team with the best chance to beat the Warriors. It would also say this postseason has taken a toll and having to rely on Jordan Clarkson, J.R. Smith, Rodney Hood and friends at this point in his career isn’t as easy to deal with as it was during the Mo Williams, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden era. Getting swept in the NBA Finals, through no fault of your own, is not as motivating as it was when it happened at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. That kind of experience is fine when you’re young, it’s not fine when Father Time is right around the corner. (For James, maybe it isn’t. Would it really surprise you if he was still awesome at 43-years-old?)
But should this inevitable sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors push James into making a win-now move and signing with the Sixers or Rockets? If he leaves Cleveland again, shouldn’t it be to go to a city that really loves basketball, romanticizes what a player like Kyle Kuzma could become in today’s NBA on the regular, and won’t really care if he can’t bring them a title because they already have plenty of those and are in the midst of the worst stretch in the franchise’s history and just want to root for a team that has a superstar and can carry them to fifty-plus wins again? If James were to choose Los Angeles, it would show that this exhaustive postseason didn’t push him either way. It would signal that this next chapter is bigger than basketball. It’s bigger than SPACE JAM 2. It would signal that he wants to enjoy the remainder of his prime in a fun city, start to prepare more on his life after basketball, and play with a bunch of young, intriguing guys who could ostensibly make Year 16 and Year 17 and Year 18 nothing like Year 15.
If he re-ups in Cleveland, with this group, with this old, anemic roster, does that show, once again, that losing to the Warriors in 4 games didn’t play a role in his decision? It would. If James is a Cleveland Cavalier next season it’s because he likes it there, he likes the idea of not potentially uprooting his family again, and likes the challenge of trying to Russell Westbrook his way to another NBA championship. There have never been more Please Appreciate LeBron James’ Greatness pieces than there have been after this unbelievable postseason run. James lost a playoff game in which he scored 51 points in regulation under That Didn’t Really Just Happen, Did It? circumstances. Everyone approves of this iteration of LeBron James story.
Maybe that’s why I’m so captivated by the next incarnation of The Decision that’s coming this summer. For most players, getting swept in the NBA Finals in the manner that James has would result in a rash decision. Losing this way sucks. Feeling powerless to change the outcome of a series while simultaneously being the most powerful player of a series can only be demoralizing. If this sweep affects James’ decision, it would be easy to understand. It is adapt or die: create your own super team or wipe this Finals experience from your memory bank and run this thing back. These are decisions fit for only a king.