CLEVELAND—Four years after their messy breakup, the Cavaliers and LeBron James are at least talking about a reunion.
Cavs officials met with James’ agent, Rich Paul, this week about the free-agent superstar’s possible return. The sides visited as James continued his family vacation, a person with knowledge of the details told The Associated Press on Thursday night.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
It was not immediately clear if owner Dan Gilbert was at the meeting.
James recently opted out of the final two years of his contract in Miami. The two-time NBA champion has gone to four straight finals with the Heat. However, after the team was throttled by San Antonio in this year’s finals, James said he would weigh his options this summer.
One of them could be re-signing with the Cavs, the team he spent seven seasons with before leaving in 2010 to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Florida. Wade and Bosh also opted out of their deals with Heat, raising speculation the “Big Three” could be headed in different directions.
James’ decision to leave Cleveland—Thursday was the four-year anniversary of the team’s last pitch to him—prompted Gilbert to condemn him in a scathing letter to Cavs fans. The owner also told The AP he felt James had quit during games in the playoffs.
ESPN has reported that Paul also met with representatives for the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. A photo of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in Cleveland circulated on Twitter, though he said he was there for a commitment for his TV show, “Shark Tank.”
While James has been out of the country with his wife, Savannah, and their two sons, Paul has been working on the four-time MVP’s future. Unlike four years ago, when teams flocked to Cleveland to make presentations to woo James, the courtship of him this time has been low key and rather business-like.
The Cavs have waited patiently for their chance to try and convince the Akron, Ohio, native to come home. In the past few weeks, the Cavs have hired new coach David Blatt, selected Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick and gotten All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to agree to a five-year, $90 million contract extension.
Now, they’re working on bringing back James, who has never ruled out the possibility of a return.
Two years ago, James was asked if he could ever see himself playing for the Cavs again.
“I don’t know. I think it would be great,” he said. “It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. I had a lot fun times in my seven years here. You can’t predict the future and hopefully I continue to stay healthy. I’m here as a Miami Heat player, and I’m happy where I am now, but I don’t rule that out in no sense.
“And if I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me.”
Cleveland fans, most of them anyway, have gotten over James’ infamous “Decision,” when he announced he was leaving on a nationally televised special. He was booed mercilessly in his first games back with the Heat, but in recent years he has been received more favourably. Maybe that’s because the Cavs haven’t been to the playoffs since he left and Clevelanders know he might be the only chance they have to see a championship in their lifetimes.
Cleveland hasn’t won a title in any of the major sports since 1964.
If he were to come back, James could repair the damage he did to his image when he left.
But that remains a big ‘if.’
In having Paul meet with other teams, James could simply be putting on pressure for the Heat to upgrade their roster. Miami has been pursuing free agents and Yahoo Sports reported team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra met in Los Angeles with Lakers free agent Pau Gasol. The Heat could have trouble surrounding James with enough talent if the reports he will only accept a maximum contract are accurate.
James is scheduled to be in Las Vegas next week to host a basketball camp, and then is expected to attend the World Cup in Brazil.
In order for James to play again in Cleveland, he and Gilbert would have to have some sort of reconciliation. Gilbert’s letter—famously typed in comic sans font—was a blistering attack on James, who had carried the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2007 but failed to deliver on his promise of a championship. Gilbert had guaranteed the Cavs would win a title before James, but later regretted the prediction.
“Looking back now, that probably was not the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Gilbert said.
He and James may get a second chance together.