Dan Gilbert's letter may prevent LeBron James from returning to Cleveland

LeBron James and his team have strongly considered -- and possibly even orchestrated -- a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There's just one reported problem: James would have to play for Dan Gilbert again. Update: The letter didn't matter and LeBron is going to Cleveland.

LeBron James seemed poised to sign a maximum contract to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, but instead didn't, deciding to take more time with his decision about whether to stay with the Miami Heat or return home. One major stumbling block: Dan Gilbert's infamous Comic Sans letter from when James left Cleveland in 2010, in which the Cavaliers owner called James' act a "cowardly betrayal" and much more.

Via ESPN's Chris Broussard:

One reason, if not the major reason, that LeBron James> has taken so long to decide whether to play in Miami or Cleveland next season is the infamous letter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned about James after the superstar left Cleveland in 2010, sources said.

The letter was purged for good from the Cavaliers' website last week after they realized their attempt to remove it several years ago didn't work, but it reportedly still lingers in James' mind.

Why this makes sense

Well ... have you read it? It's a horribly childish response to a player exercising the free agent rights every athlete has, albeit not in the most tactful way. Frankly, it's a surprise that a report about James' misgivings with the letter didn't surface sooner. Any self-respecting person would have second thoughts -- or worse -- about returning to work for a man who said those kind of things about them.

There have been several reports that James and Gilbert mended fences over the years, but they were all secondhand. Gilbert has not apologized for the letter and James has never said he's forgiven the Cavaliers owner. And James has recently spoken out about bad owner behavior in the league, as well as asserting that the maximum salary that the owners negotiated in labor talks is unfair to him. As one NBA executive told Broussard, James would be hypocritical to return to Cleveland after speaking out so strongly against Donald Sterling.

Why this doesn't make sense

Well, it does, but it is interesting that this information is only coming out now as opposed to earlier in the process. I find it hard to believe that James considered his options, was set on returning home, only to suddenly realize on his flight home with Dwyane Wade that he'd be returning to play for Gilbert. He surely has harbored these misgivings throughout the process.

So, why now? One theory: LeBron's team of advisors, who has been driving this process throughout, is putting word out now about the letter as a way to set Gilbert up as the fall guy if James returns to Miami. They can say they did everything possible to bring James home, but Gilbert was the bad guy that stopped it. It'd be an attempt to let Cleveland down easily or at least cover themselves from the brunt of the blame.

Likelihood

Again: it's highly likely that James is concerned about returning to play for an owner that trashed him publicly on his team's official website (with an awful font, to boot) when he left last time. Let's give that part of the rumor a 10 out of 10.

The timing as a means of framing Gilbert as the bad guy also makes sense. Let's give that part a 7 out of 10.

As to whether it is enough to convince James to stay in Miami? Who knows, so we'll go straight down the middle with a 5 out of 10.

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