Lebron James famously took off his No. 23 jersey following Cleveland‘s 94-85 loss in Game 6 of the Second Round against Boston in the 2010 NBA Playoffs, after going for 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists, it somehow wasn’t enough once again.
James was ready to win, but his team wasn’t, consisting of Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antwan Jamison, and others. The King knew that things must change if he wanted to break through the title barrier and finally hold the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.
In real life, King James spurned his home town for South Beach in Miami, teaming up with buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for four years, winning two titles, before returning to the Cavaliers for a shot at redemption. And he brought Cleveland a championship for the first time in franchise history last season. But what if James never took off for the Heat? How would things be different for himself, Kevin Durant, the NBA, and more, if The King stayed in a Cavaliers jersey for those four seasons and beyond?
1. CAVALIERS SIGN KYLE LOWRY AND CHRIS BOSH: Cleveland obviously needed help, after bowing out too early for Lebron James’ liking again, so they would finally go out and get it. In 2010, there were reports that James would lure Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to the Cavaliers, but I’m not so sure that would have happened, because Wade seemed heart set on playing for just two teams: Miami or Chicago. So King James persuades Bosh, a five-time All-Star, to join him in Cleveland. Kyle Lowry, a 24-year-old coming off of his best season with 9.1 points per game, also signs on the dotted line. James finally has some help, forming a Big Three of himself, Bosh, and Lowry.
2. BULLS SIGN DWYANE WADE — TEAMS UP WITH DERRICK ROSE: Since Lebron James and Chris Bosh were set, Dwyane Wade was left by himself, so he returns to his home city of Chicago, making a dream backcourt with Derrick Rose, the former Rookie of the Year, who just averaged 20.8 points and 6.0 assists per game in 2010.
3. KYRIE IRVING DRAFTED BY THE TIMBERWOLVES: Kyrie Irving, the Duke standout, was the obvious No. 1 pick no matter who earned the selection, and with Cleveland out of the picture because they were still very competitive, Irving was drafted by Minnesota, playing alongside Michael Beasley, Wayne Ellington, and All-Star Kevin Love. Tristan Thompson is drafted No. 4 overall by the Wizards.
4. CHRIS PAUL TRADED TO THE LAKERS: Chris Paul, who was on the New Orleans Hornets, had a potential trade in line to be sent to Los Angeles in 2011, but David Stern and the NBA owners vetoed the deal for many reasons. But if Lebron James stayed in Cleveland, and was dominating the majority of the league, the Lakers and the NBA would be forced to do something about it. So, they allow the trade to go through, and Paul creates another incredible backcourt, next to former MVP Kobe Bryant.
5. CAVALIERS WIN TITLES IN 2011, 2012, AND 2013: After losing to Boston in 2010, instead of sprinting for Miami, Lebron James remains patient, and is rewarded the following summer with a championship victory over Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and the Lakers. It would be the first and only time we ever saw James vs. Bryant, the two best players of the 2000’s, against one another in the NBA Finals. In 2012, the Cavaliers repeat, defeating Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and the Thunder in quick fashion. And then in 2013, Cleveland fans rejoice again, going back-to-back-to-back, taking down the Spurs.
6. RAY ALLEN SIGNS WITH THE SPURS — WIN TITLE IN 2014: San Antonio is always near the top of the Western Conference, and after being defeated by Cleveland in 2013, coach Gregg Popovich realized they needed an extra push. That would come from sharp shooter Ray Allen, who averaged 16.5 points per game, over five seasons with the Celtics. Allen’s presence would push Manu Ginobili to the bench, where he became Sixth Man of the Year, and a starting lineup of Tony Parker, Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Tiago Splitter, were enough to end Cleveland’s chance at a four-peat.
7. ANTHONY BENNETT IS DRAFTED BY THE MAGIC: Similarly to Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers were not in place to own a lottery pick, so Orlando was gifted the No. 1 pick. They used it on UNLV stud Anthony Bennett, who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in college, and he would play with Jameer Nelson, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vučević.
8. ANDREW WIGGINS IS DRAFTED BY THE 76ERS: Trust the Process! Andrew Wiggins was selected No. 1 overall the following year, by Philadelphia, after going for 17.1 points in his lone season for Bill Self and Kansas. He teamed up with Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Nerlens Noel in Philadelphia.
9. THUNDER RE-SIGN KEVIN DURANT — WIN 2015 TITLE: Kevin Durant re-signed with the Thunder, who had decided to let go of Serge Ibaka, instead of James Harden, after seeing how the NBA was turning into a guard-dominated league. The Big Three of Russell Westbrook, Harden, and MVP Kevin Durant, ran through the competition, on their way to the franchise’s first championship since 1979.
10. CAVALIERS SIGN WESLEY MATTHEWS AND KEVIN LOVE — WIN 2016 TITLE: After winning three championships in a row, the Cavaliers hit a rough patch because of Chris Bosh’s health issues, going two years without a ring for The King. So they go back to the drawing board, and sign free-agents Wesley Matthews and Kevin Love, after Bosh decides to retire after a spectacular 13-year career. Kyle Lowry, Matthews, Lebron James, and Love go 57-25 en route to their fourth championship in six years, defeating the up-and-coming Warriors led by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Igoudala, Draymond Green, and DeAndre Jordan.
When big-time players make a career altering decision, it is possible that the entire league will be changed forever, as we can see with Lebron James’ choice. If King James never left Cleveland in 2010, we wouldn’t have Lob City, Ray Allen saving the Heat in 2013, Kyrie Irving to the Cavaliers, the Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love swap, or Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors.
Who knows if Lebron James made the right decision, or if he would go back and change it if possible, but one thing that is for certain, is the NBA is far different now than it would be if No. 23 kept his Cleveland jersey on back in 2010.
Photo Credit: CBS Sports, Give Me Sport, and NBA Passion.