LeBron James is going home.
The Akron, Ohio, native and four-time NBA MVP told SI.com on Friday that he will be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers four years after leaving his hometown team to join the Miami Heat.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” James told the website in a first-person essay. “I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
Alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James reached four consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles with the Heat after bolting the Cavaliers in a disastrous television announcement in which he said, “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach.”
But now, the same Cavaliers fans that burned James’s jersey when he left were rejoicing in the streets.
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there,” James wrote. “I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.
“I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
James’s decision shifts the balance of power in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, making the Cavaliers the new powerhouse, though James noted, “We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested.”
The Cavaliers have a rookie NBA head coach in David Blatt, the first to come straight from the professional European leagues. They also have a new general manager in David Griffin.
‘‘I do want to say that to have the opportunity to coach the best player in the world is a blessing I would wish for everyone,” said Blatt. “And I know that because of the type of player he is and the type of man he is, our team will be better for it in every respect.’’
But the Cavaliers are still chasing talent to add around James, specifically Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. The Cavaliers are “all in” to try and acquire Love, who is open to the idea of signing with the team now that James is there, a league source said.
The linchpin in that deal is Cavaliers swingman Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick out of Kansas in last month’s draft. The Cavaliers are reluctant to part with Wiggins in a potential deal, but the Timberwolves are expected to demand that he be included, league sources said.
With a trio of James, Love, and star guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers would easily be title favorites. Even now, the Cavaliers are strong contenders with just James and Irving.
Several league sources noted that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge must have been pleased when he learned that James left Miami. Ainge has had tense moments with Heat president Pat Riley, who released a statement on James’s decision.
“While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home," Riley said.
Ainge helped facilitate a three-team deal Wednesday that gave the Cavaliers enough salary cap space to offer James a maximum contract. Ainge said Thursday that he wouldn’t celebrate if James left the Celtics’ bitter rival.
“No, I don’t take any pleasure in anyone’s pain,” Ainge said. “I know this is a tough business and free agency and [it’s] all part of what we all go through. I certainly don’t take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them.”
The Celtics were able to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ desperation to clear about $20 million in cap space to accommodate James — a move the Cavaliers were determined to make whether it involved the Celtics or any other team, league sources said.
The Celtics jumped at the chance, and for the low price of a future second-round draft pick, they netted center Tyler Zeller and a first-round draft pick from Cleveland and guard Marcus Thornton from the Brooklyn Nets. Boston was also able to use a rather large $10.3 million trade exception before it expired Saturday.
But in making that deal, one league source noted that the Celtics almost certainly took themselves completely out of contention for Love — if they were ever in serious contention at all.
“That’s done now,” the source said.
The source noted that, at the moment, the Celtics simply don’t have assets that interest the Timberwolves — and that the Cavaliers do. There is also the likelihood that Love would now commit to staying in Cleveland long-term.
However, the Celtics remain hopeful that they can get a deal done, even if it means involving additional teams.
James posted this photo to his Instagram account shortly after the news broke:
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