TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writers
TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writers
When it comes to LeBron James, all that’s certain is this: One fan base is about to feel scorned, and other is about to feel absolute joy.
Miami or Cleveland?
The same choice he faced four years ago is the one facing the four-time NBA MVP now. He became a champion in Miami. He still calls Ohio home. It’s obviously not an easy decision, and the ramifications of what he’s about to say — it’s still unclear when any announcement will be coming, but it’s more than likely sooner than later — will have a massive impact on the Heat and the Cavaliers.
For the Heat, keeping James is likely the only way they can stay a championship-contending team for a fifth straight season next year. If he stays, it would seem likely that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would re-sign with Miami as well, keeping the “Big 3” that has played in each of the last four NBA Finals intact for at least another season.
For the Cavaliers, it’s a chance to welcome home the player who fans — and the team’s owner Dan Gilbert — directed so much scorn toward when he left in 2010 after seven brilliant seasons.
James left Las Vegas late Thursday, two people close to the situation told The Associated Press. One of those people said James and Wade were flying together to Miami, and that James would be continuing on from there for his long-planned trip to Brazil for the World Cup finals. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because none of the details were revealed publicly.
Earlier Thursday, James again appeared at his skills academy for the nation’s top high school and college players, scrimmaging and then watching games in the afternoon with some friends, including Wade. Meanwhile, in Bath Township, Ohio, cars lined the streets near James’ 30,000-square-foot mansion in anticipation of an announcement. People posed for photographs and TV news crews did remote reports from the driveway of his offseason home.
As he makes his choice, here’s some things he may be considering about returning to Cleveland:
BUSINESS HEADQUARTERS: Northeast Ohio is where James and his close friends grew up. He has business interests in the Cleveland area. He and his LRMR agency recently signed popular college quarterback Johnny Manziel to a marketing deal. Manziel now plays for the Browns.
YOUNG ROSTER: Although the Cavaliers haven’t made the playoffs since he left, they can offer James a young roster filled with potential and promise. They’re led by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who recently agreed to sign a five-year contract extension, and the Cavs also have two other No. 1 overall draft picks in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.
COACHING STAFF: Cleveland’s coaching situation could be a concern. The Cavs are on their third coach since James left and the team recently hired David Blatt, an international icon but someone who has not coached in the U.S. before. The Cavs did hire well-respected assistant Tyronn Lue, who has a strong relationship with James.
CAVS ASSETS: The Cavs have assets they could trade to bring another elite player to Cleveland and have had preliminary talks with Minnesota about a deal for forward Kevin Love.
OWNER: The biggest obstacle in James’ possible return could be his relationship with Gilbert. In the hours after James left four years ago, Gilbert blistered James in a scathing letter to Cleveland fans. In an AP interview that same night, Gilbert said James quit during the playoffs.
And while James has strong ties to Ohio, he has also forged them in Miami.
PROVEN WINNERS: Instead of potential, the Heat are proven champions. James has been to four straight NBA Finals with Miami, winning two championships. They have made good on the promise Heat President Pat Riley made to James four years ago: Come to Miami, be part of something special, and compete for titles every year.
COACHING STAFF: There hasn’t been turnover in Miami’s coaching staff and front office since James joined the Heat. He’s played for just one coach, Erik Spoelstra, and Riley has championship pedigree.
OWNER: Unlike the situation with Gilbert, there’s no rancor with Heat owner Micky Arison. The Heat have preached a family approach to everything, even allowing members of James’ inner circle access to the locker room and other team areas — no minor thing within the framework of the Heat culture.
BIG 3: James came to Miami in large part to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, both of whom also are free agents. It’s hard to envision Bosh staying if James leaves. It’s easy to see both Wade and Bosh recommitting instantly, if James decides to stay in Miami.
MIAMI INVESTMENTS: His wife has a juice bar in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami and James is said to be investing in a chain of pizza restaurants coming soon to South Florida. He doesn’t have Miami roots, but he’s created ties to South Florida nonetheless.
It’s easy to see why James is torn.
Whether it was one of Gilbert’s planes coming to South Florida, or movers packing up James’ luxury cars from his Coconut Grove, Florida home, or reports that a cupcake shop in Ohio had heard from people that James had already decided to return to Cleveland, any nugget of information sets the rumor mill into overdrive.
But his camp says he has all the information needed to make a decision.
The ball is now in LeBron James’ hands.
Reynolds reported from Las Vegas and Withers reported from Cleveland.
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