Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 2/19/13
If the lack of a strong supporting cast was what sent LeBron James from Cleveland, the presence of some quality players could be what lures him back. That’s the thinking, at least, to those who are trying to deduce what James will do when he can opt out of his contract with the Heat in 2014. All-Star Weekend, and the show that Kyrie Irving put on, made that line of thinking a lot more fun. While James and the Heat are set up well for another championship run, the team’s stash of talent — and commensurate salaries — may endanger Miami’s ability to keep James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the crew together much longer. Unless pay cuts happen, some or all of the team will have to be dismantled, making a James opt-out in 2014 not only a curiosity but also a real possibility. Couple that reality with the fact that James has been saying nice things about Cleveland and wanting to play in front of Cavalier fans again, and what could once be considered baseless speculation about James returning to the city that he spurned seems less far-fetched. When James was in Cleveland, he was dealing with several factors that aren’t there anymore. First, he had the albatross of never winning a championship, and he was criticized for not bringing his best game when it mattered most. Second, James was working under coach Mike Brown — who, although a fine coach in some regards, was never able to motivate James or pull the team together in a way that put the Cavs over the edge. Finally, James struggled with the supporting cast that was provided for him, with the players around him unable to perform to the needed level — or meet his approval. Now, with James having come into his own in Miami, winning big games and taking a title, and Brown long gone in Cleveland, the only question in a return would be whether James can be surrounded with the talent he prefers. His move to the Heat was as much about hand-picking Wade and Bosh as his teammates as it was anything else, so any return to the Cavs would have to include players of whom James thinks highly. All-Star weekend revealed that there’s at least one player already on the Cavs that James considers up to snuff — a link that Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald says is good enough reason to think that James could really be considering going back to Cleveland. James tracked Irving over the weekend, cheering him on in the 3-point competition (which Irving won) and playing with him on the Eastern Conference team in the All-Star game, when Irving went for 15 points, four assists and three rebounds in 25 minutes. “I watch Kyrie a lot,” James said, according to the Miami Herald. “… He’s gonna to be unbelievable. He’s already unbelievable in this league, first of all. What he’s doing right now, and what he’s going to do in the future, it’s going to be crazy. … He’s one of the best players that we have, and it’s awesome to have him here. He belongs here.” While it takes a lot more than an elite player and an elite point guard to form a championship team, James will likely be looking at a much different Heat team in 2014. Miami will have to pare down somewhere, and if the Heat can’t pull together enough players to chase more titles, jumping to a younger, more well-stocked team would make sense for James. Then there’s the storyline that would come with a return to Cleveland, and what would look like the righting of James’ biggest wrongs — if fans can buy into James’ move and not dismiss it as him just jumping to another easy situation and trying to pull one over on people after devastating the Cavs’ fan base before. This much is clear, though: If James is trying to get people accustomed to the idea of him returning to Cleveland, he’s laying all the right groundwork. Click here to read why Irving is one of the NBA’s best>>

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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