July 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm

John Niyo

LeBron James keeps world on hold

LeBron James' free-agent decision appears to have the rest of the NBA on hold. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Its LeBron James world. The NBA is just living in it.

Groveling in it, too, in some corners. And no doubt reveling in it, in others.

Four years after The Decision held the league captive, King James is at it again, weighing his options and mulling his free-agent future while everyone else waits and wonders and shrieks and speculates and tweets and tracks flights in a vacuum created by his majestys virtual silence.

Tuesday was the anniversary of James rocking Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach back in 2010. And at the rate the rumors were flying early this week, would it surprise anyone if ESPN or maybe Oprah was busy behind the scenes plotting the sequel?

LeBrons latest hesitation move has turned this NBA offseason into a head-scratching, headline-grabbing Game of Thrones spinoff. And whether he decides to stay in Kings Landing (Miami), return to Winterfell (Cleveland) or perhaps invade some new territory, the fate of many innocents rests in his hands.

Start with the championship-starved fans in northeast Ohio. Once spurned, theyve been led to believe a redemptive homecoming is at hand. But fool me once, as the saying goes. And as cruelly as Cleveland was treated the first time and as poorly as Cavs owner Dan Gilbert handled the disappointment one can only wonder what the reaction would be this time.

Then again, maybe the greatest player of his generation really is on the move again, having won a pair of championship rings while taking Miami to four consecutive NBA Finals.

Point is, nobody really seems to know. Nobody willing to go on the record, at least.

The last words we heard from James on the subject came after the San Antonio Spurs had finished off the Heat in Game 5 of this years Finals. James swatted away a couple of questions about his future, before eventually after an uncomfortable pause answering, Me and my team will sit down and deal with it.

Now then, his team and James wasnt talking about the Heat there has been pushing the idea of LeBrons triumphant return to Cleveland for some time now. And as far back as February 2012, James himself left open the possibility, acknowledging his own mistakes and extending an olive branch of sorts to Gilbert, who had followed up The Decision with The Letter in which he ripped Clevelands former hero for his cowardly betrayal.

All of this may mean nothing, of course, though it was interesting to hear Miami Heat president Pat Riley angrily responding to reports of unrest even before James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh opted out of their respective contracts.

Youve got to stay together if you got the guts, Riley said. And you dont find the first door and run out of it.

Riley, James meet Wednesday

James agent, Rich Paul, has since held formal discussions with Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers. But itll be Riley who gets the first closed-door meeting with the four-time league MVP on Wednesday in Las Vegas, where James, who also dined and worked out with Wade on Tuesday, is attending a Nike-sponsored basketball camp.

What happens in Vegas almost assuredly will not stay there in this case, and a decision if not another Decision should come before James heads to Brazil for the World Cup final this weekend.

But whenever it does, and whether he stays or goes, the domino effect will be felt not just in Miami and Cleveland, but also in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and Houston and all throughout the league. Even here in Detroit, where the Pistons biggest offseason decision what to do with restricted free agent Greg Monroe? likely wont be made until the post-LeBron marketplace takes shape. (The Atlanta Hawks are one of a handful of teams that might extend an offer sheet.)

Going for the max

Stan Van Gundy made it clear the Pistons wont be slugging for the fences this summer, instead saying theyll be OK with a couple of singles and a double. (At nearly $20 million over three years, Jodie Meeks better be an extra-base hit, by the way.)

But plenty of other teams are going all-in in pursuit of max-contract players like James and Carmelo Anthony and, yes, even Bosh. That leaves second-tier options like Pau Gasol and Lance Stephenson in a holding pattern, along with the rest of us.

That is good for business, even if its giving general managers around the league a collectively bargained headache.

Sure, the NHLs salary-capped shuffling may be easier for fans to understand. And Gary Bettmanns league still offers an annual few-day frenzy of mad money spent with good intentions. (Hello, Brooks Orpik!)

But its hard to beat the star power the NBA cultivates or the astrology. And though the players union got rolled in the last labor deal the owners lining their pockets under the guise of leaguewide parity the players still get guaranteed contracts and shorter terms.

That, in turn, gives the league something else it craved: offseason drama thats as compelling as the playoffs. Off the court, and on to the courtship.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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