AKRON, Ohio — LeBron James is facing another summer of decision.
Not much is being made of it, or at least not as much as last time, when James (perhaps unintentionally) punched the Cleveland Cavaliers in the gut, leaving for the Miami Heat in 2010 via free agency and a national television special.
It’s worked out OK for James, who joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to push the Heat to three straight Finals appearances and two consecutive championships.
It’s worked out rather miserably for the Cavs, who appear to be on their way to missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season — or every season since LeBron has been gone.
Those are the facts. And when it comes to what James may do next, that is where they end.
Just like last time, those close to LeBron say he is keeping all future possibilities to himself. Most likely, say some in his circle, because not even LeBron himself is sure.
James can opt out of his Heat contract at the end of the season. The same is true of Wade and Bosh. All three, of course, can also opt in, and then test free agency in the summer of 2015.
Most league insiders seem to feel that is the least likely of the potential paths. Superstars such as James tend to like the recruiting process, if for no other reason than to experience the pure adventure of it all.
Other factors are in play as well.
Wade, while still plenty capable of big nights, is clearly declining and in need of occasional time off to rest. Bosh, while still an All-Star, can be maddeningly inconsistent. And the surrounding cast, while far from awful, would probably win in the neighborhood of 22 games without the aformentioned Big Three.
So what James decides is likely dependent on what Wade decides — which is likely dependent on what Bosh and James decide. In the summer of 2014, it’s not just The Decision. More like The Triple Decision.
If there is one overriding theory among those around the league — those playing the guessing game about how all of this might play out — it’s that James, Wade and Bosh will return for one more run. The status quo, for now, is winning in the poll of popular opinion.
But even if Wade and Bosh should pull a surprise and determine the run is up, a lot of folks feel James would still stay put. After all, it’s Miami. Free agents are always willing to go somewhere warm. And even if the free agents don’t care about warmth, the people they care about (or live with) so often do.
As Heat forward Shane Battier once pointed out, he’d have no problem playing pro basketball in Anchorage, Alaska. But Anchorage, he said, may not sit so well with Mrs. Battier.
All this and more are among the items James will likely consider when the time is right. Today, he will tell you he’s focused on nothing beyond chasing the big prize at the end. The summer, he has strongly suggested, can wait until the summer.
So as the Heat pay their second and final visit to Cleveland on Tuesday night, James will drop no hints, and those expected to be familiar with his thinking are anything but.
Could James return to the Cavs? Why sure, say several folks close to him. Could he stay with the Heat? Even surer, say many of those same folks. Could he pull a stunner and bolt for a third team that may not appear to be on the radar? It seems unlikely, given the salary cap and what the NBA’s best player is undoubtedly worth.
But like the first time, it’s all just a bunch of guessing, and if you ask those in LeBron’s network, that is about the only thing they can say for certain: The guessing, it seems, is precisely how LeBron James likes it.