Reunions are sweet, aren't they? They're lathered in sentiment, everyone remembering the good times, lots of laughter and tears and tight hugs, and then somebody wonders if all that bliss can be recaptured once again. If nothing else, the Cavaliers are guilty of that today. They're dreaming, living in the past and hoping it catches up with them again.
They officially rehired Mike Brown, the coach who took them to their only NBA Finals, the coach who squeezed out a few 60-win seasons, the coach who was on the bench when the building shook and was sold out and oozing with joy. When it was the place to be in Cleveland.
Well. All that sounds nice and syrupy, a cute little tale of forgiveness and letting bygones be bygones after they fired the guy. But it doesn't address the elephant in the room, the one with the receding hairline and collection of MVP awards. It doesn't totally answer The Question that hangs over the head of the franchise like a guillotine:
What does bringing Brown back have to do with bringing LeBron James back?
Because, and let's face it, everything the Cavs do between now and next summer will have a dual meaning. On one hand, they're trying to build their team under the assumption that LeBron will stay in Miami. On the other, they're trying to build their team to LeBron's liking, just in case he gets the itch to return to Cleveland.
Maybe those two methods are mutually exclusive, and that would be best of all for the Cavs, who really can't favor one over the other. They must move on from LeBron, and at the same time, they must apply lipstick just in case he decides to boomerang back home to Ohio.
There are no guarantees of that, obviously, and the Cavs would be setting themselves up for a double whammy if LeBron rejects them for the second time. They can't allow a player to hold the franchise hostage like that, especially after he torched the town on his way out, even if he's already one of the greatest of all time and still in his prime.
But here's where it gets sticky. Remember, players like LeBron come around only once or maybe twice a lifetime. If you have a chance, any chance, of getting someone like him, someone who can change a franchise and invite the possibility of championships, you can't give up. You can't totally dismiss the idea. You must keep that option open as best you can. You owe it to the franchise, to a city locked in sports depression.
You must recognize that LeBron's family has remained nearby in Akron and will never consider Miami home. You know that, as a student of history, he's aware of what it would mean to win a title in Cleveland. That makes Cleveland the most sensible place to go if he trades Miami and an aging Dwyane Wade for Cleveland and Kyrie Irving -- a younger Dwyane Wade.
The thaw between LeBron and the Cavs began a while ago, once owner Dan Gilbert stepped away from the typewriter and stopped sending hate mail. Gilbert swallowed his pride and ego and congratulated LeBron for winning a championship -- actually mentioning him by name! -- on Twitter last summer. Then Gilbert admitted how insane it was for him to promise a championship for the Cavs before LeBron won one, and how silly it was for him to pound out that "Dear LeBron" letter in the immediate aftermath of the Decision, when feelings were rubbed raw.
Also, LeBron floated the idea -- not strongly, but still -- of leaving the door open when 2014 arrives. And about that approaching free agency, this will definitely happen: LeBron will exercise the escape clause in his contract if only to get more money from Miami. By then, he could have three rings and will either be hungry to keep a dynasty going in Miami, or willing to return to Cleveland and amp his legacy even higher by helping a championship-starved town finally realize a dream.
From the standpoint of history and accepting a challenge, which option would be greater for LeBron? That's an easy call. Cleveland all the way.
By 2014, who knows what condition the Cavs will be in? They do have an All-Star in Irving, who'll only be 21 next season. And Dion Waiters is coming off a promising rookie year. And the Cavs will get a lottery pick in June and likely another next summer. Plus they'll have money to spend. With the right moves, a little luck and lots of mascara, they can make themselves attractive enough for LeBron, even if half of Cleveland would rather lose without him than win with him.
But they can't assume anything. They can't raise their hopes, only to see them come crashing down again. Which brings us to the rehiring of Brown and what it all means, if anything.
Once Phil Jackson turned them down, the Cavs were done looking for the right coach for LeBron. From a coaching standpoint, only Jackson would've made it hard for LeBron to resist. Without Jackson, it really didn't matter who the Cavs hired for the job. And now that they gave it to Brown, we definitely know LeBron won't factor in the coach at all when he weighs what to do in 2014. Remember, Cleveland fired Brown in a desperate attempt to keep LeBron, who liked Brown personally but didn't listen to him. This time the Cavs hired Brown more for Irving, who liked Byron Scott personally but didn't listen to him.
Hiring Brown, said LeBron, in his only comments on the subject, will "be good for those young guys that they have."
With Brown back, the good times aren't following him through that door. Not right away. This is a 24-win team that will get even younger after the draft. There are no quick fixes for next season, no game-changing free agents to buy this summer, and even then, Cleveland isn't exactly a destination city. With Brown, the Cavs will struggle to make the playoffs, and those 60-win seasons they once enjoyed with him are sure to be a faint memory.
Yes, the coach from the glory days is back on the bench, but a true reunion in Cleveland won't be possible, or even worth the nostalgic journey, unless a certain superstar makes a pretty big decision to return home next summer.
The Cavaliers can't afford to put their franchise on hold for him, only their hopes.