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A simple ranking of LeBron James' priorities should scare the bejeezus out of Cavaliers fans

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Chris Webber: LeBron James is 'greatest team player of all time'

Now that LeBron James has delivered on his dream of winning a championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers, attention will turn to his impending free agency. While it may seem far-fetched to think that he would leave the Cavs this offseason, there are some reasons to think that he will leave eventually and that it could happen sooner rather than later.

One day after James lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the rumors had already started. Stephen A. Smith, who was the first to report that James and Chris Bosh would sign with the Miami Heat in 2010, was on ESPN Radio and said that he is "hearing" that the Heat and Los Angeles Lakers are possible landing spots for James as early as this summer.

Smith said:

"There are people in Miami who believe they have a shot at getting LeBron to return to South Beach. And from what I am told, the Los Angeles Lakers believe they have a very, very good chance of getting LeBron James to come out to Los Angeles ... I'm hearing that both of those teams are possibilities. But that would first involve him deciding that he wants to go, that he wants to leave Cleveland."

When James announced his return to the Cavaliers in a letter published by Sports Illustrated in summer 2014, he had one telling line that in hindsight should be a bit worrisome (emphasis added):

"When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn't had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."

It took only two seasons, but James has already fulfilled his mission for the city he affectionately refers to as "The Land."

Mission accomplished.

So, what's next for King James? A simple ranking of what is important to LeBron and where his loyalties lie should make it fairly obvious that James' future could very easily reside in a different city with a different team.

Here is a look at how LeBron James might rank his priorities and his loyalties:

1. His legacy

This one is simple. He helped the Heat win a couple of titles. It wasn't four, five, six, or seven, but it was two more than they had. He also helped the Cavaliers win their first title, and the city of Cleveland win its first major sports championship of any kind in over 50 years.

The only thing left for LeBron is to add to his own résumé. He is 31 and has three rings, the same number Michael Jordan had at the same age. It is easy to imagine that James has three to four more peak seasons left and maybe another three to four where he may need a little more help.

If he can add two or three more championships and another MVP or two, then James will solidify his spot as one of the two or three greatest players ever. And if James decides that there is a better chance of that happening elsewhere, then he will leave.

2. Nike

After himself, LeBron's next biggest loyalty is clearly to Nike. He recently signed a lifetime deal with the shoe giant that is worth north of $1 billion. Depending on how much longer LeBron plays, he might make one-fourth of that in basketball salaries over the remainder of his career.

Also consider that when James signed with Nike, it was less about endorsing products and more about the merger of two businesses: Nike and LeBron Inc. Rather than use his agent to make this deal with Nike, James brought in his business adviser, Paul Wachter, whose background is in mergers and acquisitions, a source familiar with the negotiations told Business Insider.

In some ways, LeBron just ceased being a basketball player. That side still exists, but it is now just one department in a much bigger corporation. While LeBron still has his basketball legacy to worry about for the time being, his broader legacy, that which will continue long after he stops playing basketball, is directly tied to this relationship with Nike.

And if leaving the Cavs and going to the Lakers is better for that relationship, then James will leave.

Also, if there is any doubt about how important that side of LeBron is, then just watch the personal video he made in his shoe closet shortly after the deal was reached:

3. The city of Akron

You can probably make an argument that his family is the only thing that ranks ahead of Akron in terms of his loyalty. The city is also very high on his list in terms of priorities. That is clear in the way he talks about Akron and in his actions, such as setting up scholarships to help more than 1,000 Akron kids go to college.

But what is important here, in terms of basketball, is that James can remain loyal to Akron even if he leaves the Cavaliers to play elsewhere.

Akron and Cleveland are in northeast Ohio, but the distance between the two cities feels a lot farther than the 40 miles on the map. James may someday leave Cleveland again, but he will never leave Akron.

4. Other business interests

This is like a lighter version of LeBron's relationship with Nike. He has reached the point in his career where his legacy off the court is starting to be as important as the legacy on it.

But again, like Akron, James can remain loyal to his business partners no matter what uniform he decides to wear.

5. The city of Cleveland and Cavs fans

LeBron often affectionately refers to "The Land," and there is a sense of loyalty there. But it has been clear for most of his career that James is more loyal to his hometown of Akron and northeast Ohio in general.

This is not to say that Cavs fans aren't important to LeBron, but it is to say that he gave them a championship and now his priorities may reside elsewhere.

Remember: When LeBron signed with Nike, he made a spontaneous personal video in a shoe closet expressing how excited he was. When he decided to return to the Cavs, he published a carefully crafted letter in Sports Illustrated and made a commercial for, yep, Nike. Signing with Nike was personal. Returning to Cleveland felt more like business and branding.

6. NBA friends

Earlier this year, LeBron James told Bleacher Report that he hopes to some day form a super team with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul.

"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together," James said. "At least one, maybe one or two seasons - me, Melo, D-Wade, CP - we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that ... It would be pretty cool. I've definitely had thoughts about it."

At this point, there is nothing to say that his dream of forming a super team with his NBA buddies is more of a priority than winning one or two more championships in Cleveland. But it is something that he has thought about and, if the situation presented itself, then he would probably at least think about doing it now.

7. The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron certainly feels a sense of loyalty to his teammates. He probably also feels some loyalty to fans in Cleveland and to try to win at least one more championship for the city. But it is hard to imagine that James feels any loyalty to the Cavaliers, and that starts with owner, Dan Gilbert.

James said all the right things when he announced his return to the Cavaliers. But it was clear that the infamous letter from Gilbert and the burning of his jerseys by fans were still fresh in LeBron's mind:

"The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned - seeing all that was hard for [my mom and my wife]. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, 'OK, I don't want to deal with these people ever again.' But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We've talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?"

James was willing to toss aside any grudges. But it is important to note that he set them aside for the sake of kids who look up to him, not for the Cavs or Gilbert. And even if there is no grudge, that doesn't mean he has forgotten what happened when he took his talents to South Beach.

James went back to the Cavaliers to accomplish a mission. That goal has now been fulfilled and, thanks to the way he was treated on the first time he walked out the door, all it means is that he is going to feel less guilty the next time he leaves.

It may not happen this summer, but it does feel inevitable. Winning a championship just makes it more likely that LeBron will pack up his talents once again, and that it could be sooner rather than later.


LeBron James through the years
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LeBron James through the years
U.S. men's national basketball team forward LeBron James pauses during a media availability before a practice, Sunday, July 15, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Akron Saint Vincent-Saint Mary's LeBron James celebrates with his mother, Gloria James, Saturday, March 15, 2003, after a win against Ottwa-Glandorf during the Ohio High School Athletic Association Boys' basketball Reginal Tournament in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/J.D. Pooley)
NBA draft candidate LeBron James answers reporters' questions in Chicago, Sunday, June 8, 2003. The Cleveland Cavaliers have said they will take James with the first pick in the NBA draft. (AP Photo/Aynsley Floyd)
LeBron James goes up for layup during the first half of Magic's All-Star Charity Game on Sunday, July 27, 2003 in Los Angeles. James, a 1st round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers, played for the Rookies team against a squad of veterans at Staples Center. The Rookies won 127-123. James had 23 points for the game. (AP Photo/Chris Urso)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) drives the ball as Miami Heat's Lamar Odum follows in the first quarter Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Cleveland Cavaliers guard LeBron James grimices in pain as he is attended to by athletic trainer Max Benton during the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004, in Salt Lake City. James had to leave the game with an injured right ankle.(AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
U.S. basketball player LeBron James of Cleveland Cavaliers plays with the ball during a U.S. basketball team practice in Cologne, western Germany, Monday Aug. 2, 2004. The U.S. team is preparing for upcoming matches against Italy and Germany and for the Olympics in Athens. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James dives for a loose ball during the second quarter against the Chicago Bulls, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004, in Chicago. The Bulls won 113-85. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
United States' Lebron James reacts after scoring a point during their game against Australia in the basketball preliminary round match at Hellinikon Indoor Arena, Thursday Aug. 19, 2004, at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. U.S. beat Australia 89-79. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) drives around Atlanta Hawks' Antoine Walker during the second quarter Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2005, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James looks on during the third quarter of their game with the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005, at the Rose Garden, in Portland, Ore. James had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to become the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Trail Blazers 107-101 Wednesday night to send Portland to its fifth straight loss. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
LeBron James holds his left ankle as trainer Max Benton, top, tends to the Cleveland Cavlaiers star after James was injured in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2005, in Cleveland. James traveled with his teammates to New York and may play Friday night against the Knicks after further medical tests did not reveal any more damage to his ankle. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James Monday, Oct. 3, 2005, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) looks for a teammate to pass to as New Jersey Nets' Bostjan Nachbar (7), from Slovenia, watches in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts to a shot made by teammate Anderson Varejao during the final seconds of the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 10, 2007, in Milwaukee. The Cavaliers won, 94-92. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James looks at the scoreboard in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards during their first-round NBA playoff basketball game on Sunday, April 30, 2006, in Washington. The Wizards won 106-96. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) dunks in the last second of the first quarter during an NBA basketball game against the New Jersey Nets Thursday, April 12, 2007, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
United States' LeBron James holds the first-place trophy during an award ceremony after a FIBA Americas Championship gold medal basketball game against Argentina at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2007. USA won the game, 118-81. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James holds up his New York Yankees hat during the fourth inning of Game 1 of an American League Division Series baseball game between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, pressures Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who passes the ball, in the third quarter during their preseason basketball game in Boston, Friday, Oct. 26, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) creates a cloud of dust after he clapped his powder-coated hands together prior to the team's NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
East All-Star LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks over West All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, bottom right, of the Dallas Mavericks during the fourth quarter of the NBA All-Star Basketball Game Sunday, Feb. 17, 2008, in New Orleans. James was named the game's MVP as the East won 134-128. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James wipes his face during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA Eastern Conference semifinal basketball series against the Boston Celtics in Boston on Tuesday, May 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, second from right, yells at his mother, Gloria, left, who left her seat after a foul on James by Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, second from left, in the second quarter of Game 4 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals Monday, May 12, 2008, in Cleveland. Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett is on the right. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Team USA basketball player Lebron James is shown during stretching exercises at practice at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008. 2008. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James shouts after dunking against the Detroit Pistons in the second half of a first-round NBA playoff basketball game Friday, April 24, 2009, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Cavaliers defeated the Pistons 79-68 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) and Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard tangle under the basket in the first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals Wednesday, May 20, 2009, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, jokes with Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game in Miami, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, middle, is defended by Indiana Pacers guard T.J. Ford, right, and forward Danny Granger during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009. Cleveland won 105-95. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 25, 2009, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won 102-87. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, celebrates with center J.J. Hickson during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons in an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, March 16, 2010. Cleveland won 113-101. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James talks to teammate Anderson Varejao during the first quarter of Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, April 22, 2010, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
LeBron James (6), Dwyane Wade (3) and Chris Bosh (1) show off their Miami Heat jerseys at the American Airlines Arena in Miami Friday July 9, 2010. To the right is Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. (AP Photo/J.Pat Carter)
Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) drives around Charlotte Bobcats' Nazr Mohammed during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Miami, Monday, Oct. 18, 2010. The Bobcats won 102-96. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Miami Heat forward LeBron James reacts to his dunk against the Phoenix Suns during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Miami Heat's LeBron James throws powder into the air prior to the team's NBA preseason basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) works between Atlanta Hawks' Josh Powell, left, and Jamal Crawford in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 11, 2011, in Atlanta. Miami won 98-90. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Miami Heat's LeBron James watches his shot through the net during Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Thursday, June 2, 2011, in Miami. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip; Pool)
Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem, left, and Mario Chalmers, right, check on teammate LeBron James (6) after he took a fall during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns in Miami, Tuesday, March 20, 2012. The Heat defeated the Suns 99-95. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) dunks as Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (0) and Heat's Mario Chalmers (15) watch during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, in Miami. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) blocks a shot by San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) of Brazil, during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball game, Sunday, June 9, 2013 in Miami. The Miami Heat won 103-84. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is helped from the court by guard Mario Chalmers (15), guard Dwyane Wade (3), Erik Spoelstra, front, right, and Rashard Lewis, right rear, during the second half in Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals on Thursday, June 5, 2014 in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James grabs his head after a foul by the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, in Phoenix. Looking at James are Matthew Dellavedova (8) and Tristan Thompson (13). (AP Photo/Matt York)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates after end of the overtime period of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 7, 2015. The Cavaliers won 95-93 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
A wound is seen on the head Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Cleveland, Thursday, June 11, 2015. James was injured in the first half. The Golden State Warriors won 103-82. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) hangs his head during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Cleveland, Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
NBA player LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, accepts the award for best championship performance at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

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