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A 5-Step Guide to Keeping LeBron James in Cleveland Long-Term

Published by Bleacher Report on Thu, 14 Sep 2017

As you may have heard, LeBron James will be a free agent next summer.You may also have heard that a Decision Part 3 could be forthcoming.James professed his love for Northeast Ohio in his return-to-Cleveland essay just three short years ago. He proved he could win a championship in what was formerly America's most tortured sports city, yet many believe his homecoming could be cut short.According to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, several league general managers and scouts believe James will indeed leave in 2018, and one even claims his departure is a "foregone conclusion."This is a drastic change from 2014, when James told Rachel Nichols on CNN's Unguarded that Cleveland fans who wondered why he wasn't signing a long-term deal "shouldn't be nervous at all. I plan on finishing my career back home."With Kyrie Irving traded to the Boston Celtics and new point guard Isaiah Thomas' timeline to return from a torn labrum unclear, the Cavaliers have a lot of work to do to convince James to stay.How do they do it' By considering what factors James values the most and then delivering better than anyone else.Maintain StabilityThis could be the most difficult factor in keeping James in the Wine and Gold.At the top, there's still tension between James and majority owner Dan Gilbert.After former general manager David Griffin left the team when he and Gilbert failed to see eye to eye, James tweeted his support for Griffin. Gilbert's wining and dining of former Detroit Pistons star Chauncey Billups failed, leading him to pick Griffin's former No. 2 man, Koby Altman, for the job.Altman now has to prove he's every bit as clever and crafty as assembling a roster to complement James as Griffin was. Tasked with trading the franchise's second-best player wasn't an easy start to the job for Altman, but the return of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick was a promising beginning.The bond between James and head coach Tyronn Lue is strong. Gone are the days of James' second-guessing a coach, scrapping his play and going rogue. Lue gives James his freedom when necessary but maintains enough control over his superstar. There's respect on both sides.There are more established and experienced coach/GM combos in the league, but Lue (40) and Altman (34) are young, successful and could lead the Cavaliers for a long time.Realize Current Roster's PotentialAs it stands, Cleveland still has the best collection of talent of any team not located in Oakland, California.James should once again be an MVP candidate, and Kevin Love will look to increase his role now in the prime of his career. Thomas and Crowder are top-four players on this roster, with Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Kyle Korver set to fill big roles as well. The signings of Derrick Rose, Jeff Green and Cedi Osman make this James' deepest Cavaliers team ever.Of course, Altman now holds an ace in all potential trade talks.The Nets pick acquired in the Irving trade could turn out to be No. 1 overall, or at least in the top five. With the 2018 draft likely to feature Michael Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley and other potential superstars, the pick could be flipped to bring in more talent.This is where the Cavs' commitment to James could be tested. Using the pick to bring in high-level help tells James the team is all-in to win now. Holding on to it and missing out on a star acquisition in case James leaves is the smart move, but one that does no favors to bring him back.Acquiring the Nets pick means Cleveland can trade its 2018 selection, opening up another door for a potential deal. After that, the Cavs can't deal a first-rounder until 2021.DeMarcus Cousins is a name that's sure to resurface over and over again. The three-time All-Star's New Orleans Pelicans aren't making the playoffs in that loaded West, and his upcoming free agency should scare them into at least listening to offers leading up to the trade deadline. James appears to be a big Boogie fan, as he referred to Cousins in January as "the best big man in our game."Even without Irving, this is a very, very good roster with the trade assets to get even better.Pay the ManThis summer Kevin Durant agreed to take less than a max contract in his return to the Warriors, agreeing instead to a two-year, $51 million deal so Golden State could retain some of its role players.Don't expect James to do the same.Even if James agreed to play for the league minimum, Cleveland wouldn't have any significant cap room. That's how far over the cap it projects to be next season, even before factoring in a new deal for Thomas.Instead, the Cavs should want James to max out his potential earnings.If he stays in Cleveland, Altman can offer him a five-year deal worth approximately $210 million. Should he sign with any other team, James can only get a four-year contract for around $160 million. Even for an athlete as well off as James, leaving that fifth year at $50 million on the table is tough to do, especially since it will come at age 38.Make the Most of James' Local Family and RelationshipsJames and his wife, Savannah, both attended (and began dating at) St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, about a 15-minute drive from their 30,000-square foot Bath Township home. The couple has three children, and the oldest (LeBron Jr.) just entered seventh grade.Having James Jr. attend the same high school as his mom and dad has to carry some weight, as does watching him grace the same court as his pops.There's more than just memories here. The head coach of the Fighting Irish' Dru Joyce II, the same leader that coached James both in his youth and at the high school level. The athletic director at St. V' Willie McGee, a high school teammate of James who won three state titles with him. The site where James chose to hold his first-ever MVP award presentation' You guessed it.James previously donated $1 million to overhaul the gymnasium, so his heart is definitely tied to the school. If any more updates or additions were needed, I'm sure the Cavs would be happy to help out. Win, Win and WinJames isn't going to sign with the Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Harlem Globetrotters or anyone else if he doesn't believe they can compete for championships. He's won four MVPs and a scoring title, and he's made the past 13 All-Star Games. Individual accolades aren't going to cut it for the 32-year-old anymore.The road to a fourth title has become much more difficult since the Warriors machine only got stronger.Going anywhere new is going to be another process with yet another coach in another system. Both times James switched locations, it took him until his second year with two deep playoff runs to win a title. If the same holds true, he'd be 35 before winning another championship.Staying in Cleveland means continuing to build with players he's already won with (Love, Thompson, Smith) and those who complement his pass-happy game (Korver, Crowder). If Isaiah Thomas returns to his All-NBA form, he gives James a dynamic scoring option to make multiple title runs with.The Cavs' path through the East has gotten more complicated with the emergence of Boston but is still far easier than anything James would face should he move West.Of course, it all comes down to whether James believes this group can beat Golden State. Despite losing the 2017 Finals in just five games, the Cavs weren't as badly outplayed as many think."It all comes down to matchups for me. I actually don't think Cleveland is that far away," one NBA scout recently told Bleacher Report. "Tristan Thompson and JR [Smith] won't be that bad again, and they'd added some good pieces this summer."No matter what happens from October through May, James' future in Cleveland will likely be decided in June. If the Cavs win another title or come close, the financial incentives and future of his family may be enough for James to finish his career in Northeast Ohio after all. Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers' lead writer for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary numbers provided by Spotrac.
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