Everyone was waiting, waiting, waiting on one man.
The entire NBA hung on LeBron James’ decision, which he finally made Friday, announcing he would return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Until his choice was made, nothing substantive could happen anywhere in the league.
No teams would risk making a major move on the ever-so-distant chance James might choose them. No elite player would sign a contract until he understood just what environment he’d be setting himself into. James had to go first.
If there was any doubt that James was the spark to the NBA’s free agency inferno, look no farther than the blaze of moves made in the moments after James announced his intentions. Kevin Love suddenly became amenable to a trade to Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony, not wanting to be overshadowed, decided to hold off his own free agent announcement for another day.
Think we’re done? Oh, no. Not even close.
Rajon Rondo might be headed out of Boston. Jeremy Lin is ticketed for the Los Angeles Lakers. Chandler Parsons is going back to the Rockets, not to the Dallas Mavericks in a reported sign-and-trade. The Cavs became the favorites to win the 2015 NBA championship. And Josh McRoberts, who agreed to sign with the Heat this week, now feels pretty sheepish, we’re guessing.
This was why so many people around the NBA were so miffed with James’ dalliance Thursday, when an announcement was said to be near but never came that day. Until James made his move, no one else could make theirs. That included former enemies like Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, but also friends like Bosh, who had a maximum offer from Houston sitting there, tempting him, waiting for James to make his call.
If that seems silly, it’s merely because James’ decision has that big an impact on the league’s landscape. He is a singular, game-changing force, and he was on the market. Critics decry this as a uniquely NBA problem, but it’s not like Peyton Manning’s move didn’t vault the Denver Broncos from a fringe playoff team to a title contender. (Granted, the Heat’s road back to respectability won’t be nearly as swift as the Indianapolis Colts’.) “Franchise” players earn that title for that very reason: Because they can alter the direction of a franchise and its place within a sport. The pursuit of such players is nothing short of frantic.
Childish? Hilarious? Perhaps. But operating any other way would be foolish.
James is back to make things right with the Cavs. That’s the big story, the easy story, the one fans and pundits will be talking about all weekend.
But now, just as importantly, the other 29 teams know James won’t be playing for them. Now, they can start focusing on more tangible transactions and not mere pipe dreams.
Now, the real work begins.
Photo via Twitter/@TheOnion