LeBron’s return to Cleveland Tuesday sparks more crazy “return in 2014” speculation

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If you don’t think some Cavaliers fans are a little bit over the top about the slim possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland in 2014, you didn’t see the shirt of the guy who ran on the court in the fourth quarter Wednesday night of the Heat’s dramatic win in Cleveland. The fool disrupted the game before he was hauled off in handcuffs, all while wearing a T-shirt saying:

“LeBron 2014 Come Back.”

After the game LeBron told reporters the guy said he missed him and asked him to come back.

Let’s put aside the fact that running on the court mid-game may not be the best way to convince a player your idea is a good one, this guy is a tip of a Cleveland iceberg. There is a real sense there — and in some other circles around the NBA — that this could happen.

LeBron didn’t quell that speculation Wednesday at shootaround when he refused to discuss it altogether. Here’s the quote, via Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“My only focus now is to win another championship, I can’t worry about speculation or rumors,” James said recently when the subject was raised. “What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship.”

If you know anything about how over-zealous fans think, you know that not talking about it means you are tacitly confirming everything they are thinking.

Does a game like Wednesday then give the Cleveland fans more hope? In their minds you bet it does. Sure, LeBron got booed a little, but he saw that the Cavs have a good core of hard working players, right? He realizes he can win here, right?

No. Not to throw cold water on the shooter on the grassy knoll theory, but no. The reality is the Miami Heat remain far and away the leaders in the 2014 LeBron sweepstakes. Everyone else is grasping at straws.

It’s not hard to draw up the LeBron returns to Cleveland scenarios. Even regular Miami Heat beat writers like our friend Ira Winderman writing for NBC will help you connect the dots — LeBron can opt out in 2014, the Cavaliers have 2014 cap space, LeBron said he would consider coming back one day, his new agent/manager is based in Cleveland and LeBron spoke highly of Kyrie Irving at All-Star weekend.

All that can’t be a coincidence, right? It’s not like every coach and player in the NBA speaks highly of Kyrie Irving… oh, wait, yes they do. It’s not like LeBron’s new agent is both from Cleveland and has another client there (Tristan Thompson), so he would likely locate there anyway. It’s not like a bunch of teams have 2014 cap space, including the Lakers. It’s not like… oh, you get the idea.

LeBron is almost certainly going to opt out in 2014 — he will want the security of a longer five-year deal (and he can get more money, if he so chooses). Money is not a big factor — Lebron is a max player, he can get that or take less if he chooses, and he can get it anywhere (plus he makes far more off the court in endorsements anyway).

What he will do is make a decision based on his legacy and winning titles (which go hand-in-hand). The win streak they are on will be part of that Heat legacy.

So would jumping ship to another team, leaving another fan base angry, really help him with that legacy? While you can make a case it will be hard with the salary cap for Miami to surround LeBron with the same talent he has enjoyed so far. Of course, those same rules apply to other teams as well. Plus, convincing guys to come to South Beach for less money and to win rings is not all that hard.

Most importantly, do you really think LeBron is leaving his buddy Dwyane Wade, especially if they win another title or two here in the next couple years? With LeBron’s newfound maturity may be a sense of loyalty. To his friends, to the organization that got him rings.

But we are jumping the gun here. LeBron has to decide what to do by June 30, 2014, what to do. He doesn’t fully know what he will do then (things can change). Although next season he’s going to have to address this in a more concrete way than “I’m not going to talk about it.” Otherwise the distraction will be too big.

Bigger than crazy guys running on the court. But that’s where we are now.

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.