DENVER — LeBron James opened the door last year on returning to Cleveland. A former Cavaliers coach said he wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.
“I think LeBron is at that stage where he’s challenging himself to motivate him to do something that’s maybe more difficult,” Denver coach George Karl told FOX Sports Florida before Friday’s game against Cleveland at the Pepsi Center. “I could see him maybe doing that (returning to the Cavaliers).”
Karl, who coached Cleveland from 1984 to 1986, offered a primary reason why he could see a return by James, an Akron, Ohio, native who played for the Cavaliers from 2003 to 2010 before bolting to Miami when he became a free agent.
“I see (Kyrie) Irving maybe being a reason for that,” Karl said of the reigning Rookie of the Year, who leads Cleveland in scoring with a 23.5 average.
Irving, 20, is a rising star and has a good relationship with James. The two have known each other since James took Irving under his wing when the point guard was 15.
“I don’t know, man,” Irving said when told what Karl said. “Until it happens, I won’t really have a reaction to it.”
When asked if he ever would like to play with James, Irving said, “We’ll see.”
It’s been well-chronicled the wrath Cleveland fans have had for James since he left in summer 2010. However, last February, in his third return to Cleveland with the Heat, James left the door open to a return. He can opt out of his contract and become a free agent as soon as summer 2014.
“I don’t know,” James said at the time. “I think it would be great. 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.”
Told what Karl said about his belief James could return to Cleveland, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said: “I have no comment on that.”
Only two players remain from James’ time in Cleveland, center Anderson Varejao and guard Daniel Gibson. Varejao is out with a knee injury and was not with the team in Denver. Gibson wouldn’t rule out James’ return.
“Anything is possible,” Gibson said. “The fans are forgiving. Everybody should be forgiving. You never know.”
Gibson, though, said it’s too far in the future that James can become a free agent to speculate.
“That’s so far down the line for anybody to make a decision or even try to feel like they can say yes or no,” Gibson said. “Nobody knows.”
Gibson still talks by phone to James every now and then. But he said the possibility of James, who won his first championship last season, returning to Cleveland never has come up.
“Occasionally, he’ll check on me and see how I’m doing, and the same goes for me,” Gibson said. “It’s mutual respect.”
James will make two Cleveland appearances this season. The Heat play there March 20 and April 15.