Could LeBron James have a ‘storybook’ ending with Cavs?

LeBron James (middle) and the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after winning the 2016 NBA Finals. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LeBron James (middle) and the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after winning the 2016 NBA Finals. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Could LeBron James return to Cleveland for a 3rd time and bring another title to the Cleveland Cavaliers?

That was a topic touched on by Kevin Love when he was asked about it in a recent interview with Mark Carman of FanSided, and it doesn’t seem to be that far-fetched.

"“I mean, that’s like a storybook ending for him,” Love said. “I don’t want to project what he may or may not want to do, but where our team is trending and how we’re set up to win for a very long time and how much you know, Cleveland and Akron and all of Ohio loves him. It’d be great to get Bronny over here too and then we’ll call it a day.'”"

A potential James return to the Cavs once again would truly be something else, just as Love alluded to.

I agree with Kevin on this one. A LeBron return to Cleveland would truly be a storybook ending for him and the Cavs. LeBron could/should also pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and be the NBA’s all-time leading scorer at some point next season. No disrespect to Los Angeles Lakers fans or to L.A., but imagine if that happens in Cleveland.

James grew up in this region, he spent 11 seasons with the Cavaliers, delivered the franchises’ only championship and the cities first since 1964, and it would mean way more if it happened here. As Love mentioned, James is beloved in the city and region. It would be pretty special for him to become the all-time leading scorer here in Cleveland with the Cavs.

From a pure basketball perspective, it would makes all the sense in the world to come back to Cleveland, too. It just makes very little-to-no basketball sense for LeBron to stay in L.A after next season, when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. When Anthony Davis is healthy, he’s without a doubt a generational talent and top 5-6 player, but the problem is the last two years he’s been injured and has missed 75 games in the regular season the last two years.

And outside of Davis there is not much else to like about this Lakers roster going forward. Russell Westbrook is a former MVP and future Hall of Famer, but his best days are likely behind him and he’ll likely continue to decline with age. He’s probably having his worst season since he’s been in the league. It’s his lowest point total since his second year in the league and from a efficiency/ advanced metric standpoint, you can argue it is his worst year of his career.

Westbrook has never been a great shooter, but he had a legitimate mid-range game before that was once one of his go-to’s; even still, that has completely fallen off a cliff the last few years. He has a pretty big contract number and a $47 million player option for next season, so it’s really hard to envision them getting off of that at that number. The fit just never made any sense, either. You could argue after last years’ early exit, the Lakers needed to add shooters and get younger; adding Westbrook was the complete opposite.

For the rest of the roster outside of Malik Monk the rest of it is just old and way past their primes or youth that leaves a lot left to be desired. What’s worse again is a lot of these guys are past their primes. The Lakers front office deserves a ton of blame for this and it’s not getting talked about enough.

After going out early against the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers needed to add more shooting and/or get younger, but they went the other way, adding aging veterans and non-shooters, while also trading away younger guys who could defend and/or shoot like in Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The roster was poorly put together and it just didn’t fit.

The reality is Kuzma and KCP were the last of the Lakers’ real tradeable assets. Again they just don’t really have any path to improve this roster in the near future, and they have very little financial flexibility. On top of that they don’t have any tradeable picks for the foreseeable future as a result of the AD trade, and the New Orleans Pelicans control the Lakers draft for the next several years. If LeBron finishes his career in L.A. his last couple years of him playing at a high level would be wasted on a team that at best would be a 7-8 seed in the Western Conference, seemingly.

For the Cavs it’s obviously a complete different situation. James coming back wouldn’t be like Kevin Garnett going back to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the end of his career. LeBron is playing at a very high level and while he’s not the best player in the world anymore, he’s still top 5.

Cleveland now-President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman has quickly rebuilt this roster, too. His most notable picks are Darius Garland, who is already a star and could be a superstar in coming years, and Evan Mobley has the most upside of anybody, and looks like a future star and a young Anthony Davis. Mobley’s impact on winning has been incredible for such a young player, also. Plus, Altman being able to pry Jarrett Allen away from the Brooklyn Nets was one of the key moments from this rebuild as well.

Altman has made some other good picks, too. Collin Sexton was the prize of the Nets 2018 pick the Cavs acquired back in 2017, and if they can find a way to re-sign him in a deal that may not break the bank too much, coming off injury, perhaps the Cavs could use Collin as a sixth man and he could be very valuable and thrive in that kind of role.

The Cavaliers other notable pick in that time was Isaac Okoro who went 5th overall in 2020. Isaac Okoro brings a level of toughness and is a good defender. He still has a ways to go offensively, but he’s shown potential as he improved as a shooter from his rookie season.

With the way Lebron is still playing, if you put him on the Cavaliers in 2024, if Cleveland can find a way to bring his son Bronny in, as Love seemingly noted, they’d arguably be the favorites to win it all. I think Garland will take another leap next year and could see him making an All-NBA team, and with his elite shooting, playmaking and ability to play off-ball too, he’d be an ideal fit with LeBron.  I think you’ll see a leap from Mobley next year, also, and he has a good chance to be an All-Star next year and making his first All-Defensive team as well. Allen is clearly a crucial piece too, and Sexton back would be ideal.

Now, that said, Sexton and Okoro both potentially, among others, such as Lauri Markkanen, would seem to be possible trade pieces in this scenario, so we’d have to see. But Sexton back would still be great for this team.

Either way, the Cavs would probably need to add another playmaker whether that’s bringing back Ricky Rubio or someone like him, while adding shooting; Rubio would be getting up there in age, though. Regardless, LeBron wouldn’t have to shoulder all the burden like he largely does in L.A.

This would be Garland and Mobley’s franchise and they could carry the team in the regular season, while at his age and as he gets older they could manage him (James is currently 37), much like the San Antonio Spurs managed Tim Duncan later in his career where he was fresher for the playoffs.  What the Cavaliers have that the Lakers don’t is young guys who can defend.

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From a basketball perspective, to reiterate, this would make the most sense for LeBron to come back to Cleveland potentially via trade, as we essentially hit on, or via free agency next offseason. He’s still playing at an MVP level, while passing Kareem in Cleveland in scoring, on the way to bringing a second championship or more to Cleveland would be exactly what Kevin said and that’d be a “storybook ending” to arguably the greatest NBA career of all time.