By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Basketball Writer
LeBron James’ decision to come home to Cleveland is being hailed as a story about the power of forgiveness and maturity and a victory for a blue-collar Northern city over a destination spot in glitzy Miami.
Now that the decision has, finally, been made, what does it mean for the long-struggling team on the court?
The four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion left the Heat and returned to the team he left in 2010 largely due to the lure of home. But it could be argued that the Cavaliers could be a better decision purely from a basketball standpoint.
In Miami, James would have had to team up Dwyane Wade, who has been slowed by knee problems over the last two seasons, Chris Bosh, who struggled against Tim Duncan in the NBA Finals and not much else. GM Pat Riley reached agreements with Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger earlier this week, but they did little to inspire hope that the roster could improve enough to rebound from the beat down the San Antonio Spurs gave them last month.
The Cavaliers offer him a youthful roster with three more No. 1 overall picks in addition to James. They have a handful of extra first-round draft picks that will allow the team the flexibility to make trades or continue to add talent to the roster around him.
And they have a devoted fan base that is desperate for a champion in a city that hasn’t won a pro sports title since 1964.
Here are five hoops heavy things to watch as the Cavaliers welcome James back.
KYRIE FACTOR: One of the Heat’s big weaknesses last season was the lack of consistent point guard play. Mario Chalmers was wildly inconsistent and Norris Cole is not a difference-maker. That forced James to do a lot of the heavy lifting in the ball-handling and playmaking departments. In Cleveland, he’ll have Kyrie Irving, one of the most dynamic young point guards in the game. Provided Irving stays healthy, he will be the best point guard James has ever had.
SEARCH FOR LOVE: The Cavaliers have had exploratory talks with the Wolves about acquiring Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love, who played with James on Team USA. The Timberwolves would need No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in the deal to part with Love, but it remains unclear if the Cavaliers would be willing to trade the young wing player for the proven 25-year-old Love. Love is widely considered one of the 10 best players in the game.
LEBRON’S FRIENDS: For all the promising young talent the Cavaliers have, they still could use some more veteran help for James and Anderson Varejao, the only players with extensive NBA experience on the roster. According to several reports, the Cavs were negotiating with Mike Miller, a longtime friend of James who teamed up with him in Miami. Ray Allen, who is considering retirement or playing for one more season, is another candidate to join James, who loves to be surrounded by top-flight shooters.
GILBERT’S AGGRESSIVENESS: For all the concern over Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s venomous letter in response to James’ exit in 2010, no one is denying Gilbert’s commitment to sparing no expense to bring talent to the team. When the Cavs got word that James was considering them, Gilbert and GM David Griffin didn’t hesitate to trade a young center with potential in Tyler Zeller and a first-round draft pick to unload Jarrett Jack’s contract and create the room to sign James. Gilbert also won’t hesitate to go over the salary cap to assemble a winner.
ONE BIG NEED: James mentioned in his essay for Sports Illustrated that he understood it may take some time for the Cavaliers to add the necessary pieces to become a true title contender. One of the biggest pieces they will need to add — now or in the future — is a big, rim-protecting center. The Spurs exploited Miami’s lack of a true defensive center in the finals, and the Cavs need one as well. Varejao is a nice defensive player, but hasn’t played a full season since 2008-09 and isn’t the shot-blocking force that could be needed, especially if Cleveland adds the defensively challenged Love to the frontcourt.
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