Whenever you are an expected NBA Finals contender, analysts and fans count the days until you actually win the championship. As the days grow into years, the expectations turn from hopeful to chastizing. When you’re LeBron James trying to lead a Cleveland Cavaliers team to the promised land – a place the team has never come away from victorious – the pressure can get downright annoying.

James Could Leave

A recent trip to Miami to work out with former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade sparked rumors that James could be planning an exit, but that could possibly be the tip of the iceberg, depending on who you talk to. Per NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith, all of the chatter around the Cavs could eventually be so much that King James could decide to leave Cleveland again – for good. In a recent radio interview, Smith got specific:

“What everybody who’s close to him continuously reminds me of is: ‘don’t you dare take LeBron for granted or think he’s trapped into staying in Cleveland just because he came back. Don’t put it past him that he’ll get so annoyed that he’ll leave again if he feels like he’s being taken for granted, ran into the ground and, essentially, misused.”

Rumors suggested that reality last off-season and nothing came of it, but recent whispers suggest even Kyrie Irving isn’t happy in Ohio. And the more the talk keeps going on, the louder it gets.

Gauging whether or not Smith’s take is legit or not isn’t the point, though. It’s too early to lean one way or the other, as the Cavaliers – as dysfunctional as they seem – still could turn things around and win that evasive title. This is still a title contender that won two games in the NBA Finals a year ago – and did most of their damage with both Kevin Love and Irving on the shelf.

But what happens if that turn around doesn’t happen and James decides enough is enough? Does he waste the rest of his prime years fighting a losing battle simply to save face in Cleveland? Or does he start over somewhere else in pursuit of some last gasp titles? We can’t know for sure, but if he decides to shock the world with another “decision”, it’s highly likely one of these five teams would be in the running to land him next:

South Beach Return

We can talk about the Lakers and the Knicks for a second, but this is the most obvious call. In this scenario, James returned home gave it a serious go for two years, and by the time the 2015-16 NBA season dries up, he might have even gotten the Cavs to two straight NBA Finals appearances. That’s three in his history by this writer’s count, and even without a win, it’s hard to say he didn’t do all he could for the Cavs.

It’d certainly still feel like he’d be turning his back on the franchise that originally drafted him, but in a business world and league where careers are defined by rings, few can actually blame James for going back to South Beach, where he hit up four NBA Finals series in four tries and won his only two titles. Wade is aging, but Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside may have the goods to help James end his career with a nice run of titles. There’s only one way to find out, after all.

The Lake Show

What’s better than replacing the Kobe Bryant era with the LeBron James era? It’s not the prime King James, but it would certainly do, as James could bring his championship experience to a team that has dreams of quickly competing for one again. It’s a bit of a stretch in a brutal Western Conference, but James can still guide a band of scrubs to the playoffs no matter the division and we’ve already seen the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle make huge strides. Add in Ben Simmons or another huge lottery pick from the 2016 NBA Draft, and you could suddenly have a very viable team for James to lead into the fray.

The Big Apple

There is some draw here. Phil Jackson – at least for now – is running the show and the Knicks will likely spend some time deciding on a competent long-term head coaching option. Who knows, maybe if King James and another prized free agent make their way to NYC, Jackson comes down from the front office and coaches a stacked Knicks squad, himself. That’s certainly going out on a limb, but James pairing up with Melo isn’t, nor is it crazy to think Kristaps Porzingis could quickly develop into a game-changer by next year. He already kind of is, after all.

Other pieces need to come here like a point guard upgrade, but New York already has quality defensive pieces on the wing and down low in Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez. James would seal the deal in pushing the Knicks back into the playoffs and in time, potentially even back to greatness.

The Harsh Reality

Thinking about betting on a James exit? It might be a waste of money. Stephen A. Smith is just doing what he always does: saying what you’re thinking out loud. But there’s a good reason why you even don’t do that; because it’s not always smart. That’s probably the case here, as going back to the Heat with a 34-year old Wade doesn’t guarantee anything. Neither does going to New York with an aging Melo or going to the Lakers in the post-Kobe era.

James has as good a chance right now in Cleveland as he’ll get, short of ditching the Cavs for the Spurs or Warriors. The best idea as to keep plugging away and hope the right pieces get brough in to help off the bench or Irving/Love get dealt for the right players to really spice things up. The problem isn’t James or any one player by themselves in Cleveland, it’s the lack of constant flow on offense and consistency overall. Irving and Love don’t defend, and that echoes throughout this Cavs team. Maybe that will slowly change once the playoffs come. After all, the Toronto Raptors are the only real threat to keep the Cavs from making the Finals, and in so many ways, that’s no threat at all.

Betting on the Cavs to make the Finals again this year is a lock. Betting on the Cavs to win it all has some merit to it. But betting on James leaving town just because of some Twitter comments, a coaching change or some random rumors might be a bit of a reach.

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