Many people thought that if the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the NBA Championship this season, that it could salvage LeBron James' career in his home state.
Now, we may never know what could've been.
With a 94-85 loss to the Boston Celtics Thursday night, the LeBron James era in Cleveland may be coming to a close. And while many Cavs' fans will point to a lack of effort or motivation for James, you can't hide the fact that he was nursing a sore elbow...on his shooting arm.
Either way, with a disappointing end to their 2009-10 season after sincerely trying everything to make him stay (most notably the additions of Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison), LeBron may be thinking it's time for a change.
And much like when the Cavaliers decided to get O'Neal after a Conference Finals loss to Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic last season, James may point to his team's problems in their most recent series loss.
One of the main areas that plagued Cleveland against the Celtics was the team's defense. Playing against Doc Rivers' defensive-minded Boston team, the Cavs gave up 93, 104, 95, 97, 120 and 94 respectively. This, mind you, was a team that averaged just under 100 points per game (99.22) in the regular season, with obvious number padding coming from games against weak Eastern Conference bottom feeders.
Still, LeBron was forced to guard the best player on the floor for Boston, Rajon Rondo, despite Rondo being a point guard and observantly quicker than James.
But even with the bum elbow, none of his teammates (most notably Mo Williams) could step up and play defense and once again LeBron found himself having to do it all on both ends of the floor.
James though, may find out that he can't win a championship by himself, and with a lackluster performance out of many of his teammates, he may decide to find a team with much more of a defensive game plan with solid young pieces surrounding him.
Enter the Chicago Bulls.
Defensive-minded ever since their inception when they chose a young Jerry Sloan (who would go on to be named to six NBA All-Defensive teams) with their first pick in the 1966 expansion draft, LeBron would easily fall in love with the passion that's been shown by gritty defenders Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah.
And let's not forget to mention his open affection towards the city and the team that's already in place in Chicago.
"It's an awesome city. Great restaurants, great shopping," LeBron said after a playoff game against the Bulls in the first-round this season. "I have nothing bad (to say) about Chicago, and I'm not saying that because of what (Joakim Noah) said about Cleveland. I'm dead serious. We all love Chicago."
And even before that comment, James spoke about young Bulls phenom Derrick Rose after a game in December.
"He's a great point guard. He's a great player," James said. "I love watching Derrick play, man, he's unbelievable. All he's going to do is continue to get better -- with every game, with every practice."
All that praise still can't bring any certainty to LeBron James' status for next season, which has been more up in the air than George Clooney. And while the Bulls are going to be a very attractive team, they won't be the most financially prominent for the young star. That benefit lies with his current team, Cleveland, who can offer him a longer contract and a larger raise using the NBA's "Bird rights".
Still, LeBron has mentioned that it's not about the money and has even said that he's not looking for anything long-term. All he cares about is winning, and who could blame him?
With ringing endorsements from every big name in the business, not to mention his own clothing line, it's not like James is strapped for cash. And with all of the constant comparisons to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, he's still marred by one category: Championships.
If he truly feels that he could have a better shot at winning somewhere other than Cleveland, then he'll probably move. A team that can offer him a hefty paycheck while still having the talent-level to contend for championships now and into the future is the Chicago Bulls.
Whether he makes the move to the Windy City or not will be determined this summer (or fall). As for now, all Chicago fans can sit back and watch their Blackhawks (along with offseason free agent acquisition Marian Hossa) go for the Cup, and dream "What if?"
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