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July 1, 2014

Cavaliers building on momentum; LeBron next?

CLEVELAND (AP) — Sitting on a stage last week alongside No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins and new coach David Blatt, general manager David Griffin said he hoped this would be a monumental offseason for the Cavaliers.

It’s already been quite a summer.

And LeBron James is still out there.

Cleveland kept its momentum rolling early Tuesday by getting All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to agree to a new, five-year, $90 million contract extension.

Irving’s deal, completed with a handshake in New York with owner Dan Gilbert, cements a commitment with Cleveland that wasn’t always so strong.

“I’m here for the long haul Cleveland!!!! And I’m ecstatic!!” Irving wrote on his Twitter account shortly after the agreement was reached. “Super excited and blessed to be here and a part of something special.”

For months, Irving’s future with the Cavs seemed uncertain. There were reports he wasn’t happy in Cleveland as well as speculation the Cavs didn’t believe he was a cornerstone player. There were trade rumors and rumblings the team was not going to offer him the maximum extension.

Whatever differences there may have been seem to have been worked out. Griffin, who likes to refer to his team as “family,” has the Cavs united.

James surely has noticed.

The Cavs have waited four years for their chance to lure the four-time league MVP back home. This may be the perfect time.

Because Irving’s extension doesn’t kick in until the 2015-16 season, the Cavs have room under the salary cap to pursue free agents.

They would have to move some other contracts if the reports are accurate that James will only sign for a max deal. Griffin has said clearing space to accommodate a five-year, $120 million contract would be extremely easy.

The hard part might be getting James to believe the Cavs, who have not made the playoffs since he left in 2010, are title contenders — now.

They’ve got some quality pieces for sure, but do they have enough?

Irving, who played in a career-high 71 games this past season, has established himself as one of the NBA’s elite point guards, and now that the contract situation is no longer an issue, it may unburden him to play the best basketball of his life.

The 6-foot-8 Wiggins would have been the top pick a year ago if he hadn’t gone to college and James has long admired the 19-year-old’s gifts.

It’s somewhat interesting that Griffin said Wiggins’ potential greatness would come at shooting guard, perhaps leaving an opening at small forward for a certain former Cavalier.

To entice James, the Cavs may need to make a blockbuster move.

They’ve got some assets to play with and a trade involving talented guard Dion Waiters could bring back a starter.

Griffin hinted that he isn’t done remodeling the Cavs.

“We need to continue to work on the defensive side of the ball,” he said at Wiggins’ introductory news conference. “We need to get better from a basketball IQ standpoint, from a shooting perspective. And all of those moves will be forthcoming.”

For several years, the Cavs have been involved in trade rumors involving Kevin Love, who has one year left on his deal with Minnesota. If Cleveland can package the right pieces together, they may be able to pry Love away from the Timberwolves.

Love and James were teammates four years ago in the London Olympics, where they helped the U.S. win a gold medal.  

Back then, James said that when he won his first championship with Miami, his thoughts quickly shifted to Cleveland and what might have been.

“I wish I could have won one there,” he said before a practice. “I could only imagine how the parade would have been down East Ninth Street. Of course I thought about it because Cleveland helped me get to that point. The days that I spent there helped me get to the point where I was able to finally win one. It’s just unfortunate I wasn’t able to do it there.”

It’s possible James will re-sign with the Heat and the Cavs will move on without him. But if they decide to pursue the two-time champion in the days ahead and get a meeting with James, the Cavs can sell their team and tug at his heart.

James has never rejected the idea of a return to Cleveland. Maybe this is the summer to mend fences and start anew in a familiar place.

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