Cleveland (AFP) – LeBron James might be playing his “last” game for the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second and final time on Friday as the NBA superstar ponders becoming a free agent on July 1.
James, who could opt out of his contract after the season, said Thursday he was “living the moment now” with Cleveland trailing Golden State 3-0 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals entering game four on Friday.
A loss in his eighth consecutive finals would leave James 3-6 in career finals, his first being a 2007 sweep loss to San Antonio.
“I felt like my first stint here I just didn’t have the level of talent to compete versus the best teams in the NBA,” James said.
“Not only do you have to have the talent, you have to have the minds as well. I knew that my talent level here in Cleveland couldn’t succeed getting past a Boston, the San Antonios of the league or whatever.”
It’s a similar tale this year, James saying Thursday the Warriors simply have more talent than his Cavaliers.
“Obviously from a talent perspective, top five to our top five, they’re stacked better than us, let’s just speak truth,” James said.
“The room for error against a team like this is slim to none. You make mistakes. They make you pay. They’re already more talented than you are. They also have the minds behind it.”
With Kyrie Irving traded before the season to Boston, a revamped roster struggled and a second rebuild at the trade deadline has succeeded largely thanks to supreme efforts by James.
“This has been one of the most challenging seasons of my career from the standpoint of what’s been going on with our ballclub,” James said.
“I can go into more detail once this series is over. But it has been three or four or five seasons wrapped into one.”
It’s a situation not unlike 2010 when James departed the Cavaliers to form a superteam in Miami with pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, winning two titles and losing two finals in four seasons.
He returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 vowing to end Cleveland’s sports title drought, something he did by beating the Warriors in 2016 after 52 seasons since the 1964 NFL Browns won a title.
“That was the best team I’ve ever played against,” James said of that Golden State squad. “They go 73-9 and then you add one of the best players the NBA has ever seen.”
The Warriors responded to losing to Cleveland by adding superstar Kevin Durant and are now on the verge of back-to-back titles with him, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green forming a powerful dynasty core.
With free agency upcoming, rivals are looking to unite stars as well.
“Every GM and every president and every coaching staff is trying to figure out how they can make up the right matchups to compete for a championship,” James said.
– Big player moves expected –
And there is curiosity if James might leave Cleveland again to unite with the best possible talent, potentially doing what Durant did with the Warriors.
James could join such talented rivals as Western Conference runner-up Houston with NBA scoring leader James Harden and Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers guided by Magic Johnson or Philadelphia with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
“If you have a chance to win in this league, you have to go for it,” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love, who missed the playoffs in Minnesota six consecutive years before joining the Cavaliers.
“There has been so much overhaul and so many things have happened this year… there could be something interesting that comes up for this team.”
Golden State’s success will spark imitators, Love warns.
“Somebody has to try to dethrone these guys,” Love said. “I think you’ll see a number of guys, a lot of movement. That’s going to continue to happen until there’s some sort of parity.”
– ‘Most owners would pay’ –
Three NBA players — Phoenix’s Jared Dudley, Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford and Portland’s C.J. McCollum — put their LeBron speculation on Twitter.
Crawford tweeted James needed “another superstar (and more) against this juggernaut” with Dudley saying “my money is on @dmorey” and “Houston! The Warriors done force his hand.”
When McCollum mentioned salary cap and luxury tax issues, Dudley responded, “Houston can make room easier then a Ritz Carlton” and “Most owners would pay that for Bron CP and the Beard (James, Paul and Harden) for 3-4 yrs.”