LeBron James is going back to Cleveland: What this means for the rest of the NBA

Posted by Ben Parker on Friday, July 11, 2014 with No comments


Over the past couple of weeks, talk of LeBron James going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers slowly morphed from being pie in the sky to a strong possibility. Now it's more than just a strong possibility. It is a reality. LeBron James told Sports Illustrated in an interview today that he has decided to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers after abandoning them 4 years ago to chase championships in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It's pretty obvious what this means for the city of Cleveland. It means that they have a championship caliber team with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins. Rather than talking about what this means for Cleveland, since that's pretty obvious, what I will do in this article is try to articulate what it means for the rest of the NBA.

The number one thing this means for the rest of the NBA is that the Eastern Conference just got really interesting. Now we aren't looking at another Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals. We are instead looking at the Cavaliers, Pacers, Bulls (with or without Carmelo Anthony), and possibly the Raptors as contenders in the East. In addition, this means the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Hornets will all be battling it out for the Southeast division title instead of the Heat taking it in a cakewalk.

As for the Western Conference, this means that the San Antonio Spurs without a doubt are the team with the biggest target on their backs. So long as the Heat had LeBron James, the Heat in some sense still had the biggest target on their backs, but now that LeBron is going back to Cleveland, the San Antonio Spurs are undoubtedly the team that EVERYBODY will be honing in on to beat. It doesn't mean the Cavaliers won't have a target on their backs since LeBron James by default has a target on his back, but it does mean that the Spurs are clearly the favorite to win the NBA title and clearly are the team that everybody should be most afraid of.

As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, this means that provided they can get past the Spurs, they have to really like their chances of winning a title next season. Kevin Durant no longer needs to feel like he needs to go Hollywood to chase a title like Carmelo Anthony did when he bolted the Mile High City for Broadway. LeBron James going back to Cleveland is great for the the Thunder because I think it will motivate Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to stay in their small market town of Oklahoma City and continue to pursue a championship.

More broadly speaking, this is great for small market teams everywhere. To see the world's greatest player leave Miami (technically a mid-major market) for Cleveland (a small market) has to give small market teams hope that they too can hang on to stars and build a contender if they get the right kind of players. Teams like Utah, Minnesota, Portland, Memphis, and Indiana have to feel like if Cleveland can become a contender, so can they.

Overall, I think LeBron James going back to Cleveland is great for the NBA. It energizes Cleveland, it makes the race for the Eastern Conference title way more interesting, and it gives hope to small market teams everywhere that they too can compete and contend for championships. This truly is a great day in the NBA.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord