Returning home for one last season is a sacred ideal for NBA vets. Dwyane Wade made his way to Chicago in 2016. Kyrie Irving’s desire to play with Durant in Brooklyn instead of Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks was influenced by the New Jersey native’s fondness for the New Jersey Nets of yesteryear. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard joined the Clippers to pursue Los Angeles homecomings. There are rumors that Draymond Green would prefer to play with the Pistons before he retires.
Last Thursday, while being presented with a key to the city — fresh off his fourth title as a Warriors — Steph Curry vowed that if there were any team he’d end his career with besides Golden State, it would be the Charlotte Hornets.
“Oh no, no, no. I am not breaking any news right now, I’m not making any promises. All I would say is if there was a team that I did want to play for that was not named the Warriors, that [the Hornets] would be it. That’s all I can say about that,” Curry explained.
Now, of course, this was probably just a fleeting moment where Steph was caught up in the emotions and pandering, but it raised eyebrows. Curry has always demonstrated an affinity for chasing and surpassing his father’s footsteps. Dell Curry was one of the NBA’s finest sharpshooters but spent the bulk of his career between 1988 and 1998 on the Charlotte Hornets. Steph is likely half a decade from hanging up his jersey for good which makes it difficult to forecast what the Hornets would resemble by then.
Steph wanting to emulate his father is the inverse of LeBron following his son at the beginning of his pro career. While Steph is too enamored with the idea of playing out the end of his career as Lamelo Ball’s sidekick for a season or two, the other generational talent of this era was also born in the same Akron hospital.
LeBron leaving Cleveland is the equivalent of Jordan’s retirements; he just keeps coming back. LeBron left Cleveland for the second time in 2016, but Donovan Mitchell’s arrival in Cleveland has shot the trajectory of this team into the stratosphere in ways that won’t reverberate until next season. The key to Cleveland’s upside being unlocked rests on Evan Mobley’s evolving into a higher volume scorer and playmaker, but in 2021, he flashed All-Defensive and All-NBA potential. By 2024, he could be a full-fledged Tim Duncan archetype.
Mitchell can’t be the No. 1 on a true championship contender, but he could become the No. 2 as Mobley shifts into his superstar mode. Mitchell is in the Kyrie Irving tier. He’s an otherworldly scorer, but he’s been a liability on defense for several years now.
Best of all, their skills don’t overlap. Jarrett Allen found his nook as the anchor for one of the NBA’s top-defending teams. Allen set a career-high of 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds and set the tone for a defense that was fifth in defensive rating until Allen went down. Unlike Steph, LeBron isn’t as betrothed to Los Angeles. LeBron should already be considering The Land as his final basketball resting place. Steph was born in Akron Ohio, but LeBron was raised there. During his playing career, he lifted the Cavs to new heights. Not many destinations could provide him with the conditions to generate a proper farewell tour and a deep playoff run. Cleveland could.
Despite being on pace to knock Kareem Abdul-Jabbar off his perch as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, this Cavs roster’s depth can afford LeBron the ability to step back and operate as more of a facilitator. Their new infrastructure would be appealing to an older LeBron. Having already led Cleveland to an improbable title in his first run, 39-year-old LeBron would be a bespoke fit for the Garland-Mitchell-Allen-Mobley Cavs. There’s a vacuum in that lineup for a versatile point forward. As the most gifted 37-year-old in NBA history, LeBron hasn’t shown significant signs of slowing down. In 2020, he led the league in assists. Two years later, he topped off the scoring. A Bronny-Bron Cleveland double whammy would make sense too. Ohio is where Bronny spent the first 14 years of his life.
From 2003 to 2010, LeBron played out his struggle years. From 2010 through 2018, LeBron flourished in Cleveland and South Beach. Since 2018, he’s had a complicated tenure with the Lakers. However, the earliest LeBron could even consider the Cavs would be 2024 when his player option can be exercised. He’d be leaving millions of dollars on the table to sign with Cleveland, but that was always going to be the case if left the Lakers.
There’s a very likely possibility the Lakers aren’t able to trade Russell Westbrook for shooters and Anthony Davis only plays half the season. If 2022 is a repeat of 2021, the Lakers could start the playoffs watching from home, leaving LeBron plenty of time to consider a second reunion.