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His legacy secure, LeBron James is a Cleveland hero forever even with Lakers decision

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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt discuss LeBron James’ decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, $154-million contract.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers – once again – will need to get used to life without LeBron James.

After coming back in 2014 to the franchise he left in 2010, James, who led the Cavaliers to four consecutive NBA Finals, including a championship in 2016, is leaving the Cavs once again.

This time, it’s for Hollywood and the Los Angeles Lakers where he will try to lead that storied franchise to its 17th NBA championship under team president, Lakers legend and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.

In a brief, low-key 36-word announcement made on Twitter and via email, James’ agency, Klutch Sports, said James will sign a four-year, $154 million deal with the Lakers.

On Instagram, James posted a photo of the championship parade from two years ago and wrote, “Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible 4 seasons. This will always be home.”

The sting of James leaving the Cavs the second time will be so much easier for Cavs fans, the city of Cleveland and northeast Ohio to stomach. The vitriol and anger will be tempered for this very reason: he delivered a title to a championship-starved city in the most dramatic fashion.

Trailing Golden State 3-1 in the 2016 Finals, James led the Cavaliers to a Game 7 victory, giving the city its first major sports championship since 1964. That absolved him and made him a Cleveland hero forever.

James came back to Cleveland because, as he said during the Finals, “I felt like I had some unfinished business. To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we’ll all remember that.”

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There will be no – or at least shouldn’t be – any burning of James’ Cavs jersey. Cleveland resident Jason Herron was the one who infamously burned James’ jersey in 2010. He doesn’t feel that way today.

“It’s a lot different this time,” Herron said in a Twitter direct message. “LeBron fulfilled his promise, and obliterated the Cleveland Curse, by bringing us our first championship in 52 years. There’s a lot of sadness right now but no anger. I still think LeBron finishes his career in Cleveland. He will always be our hometown kid. His jersey will hang in the rafters. A statue will be built. His legacy is secure in Cleveland forever.”

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James’ 11 seasons with the Cavaliers were exciting and tantalizing with highs and lows. Leaving the team in 2010 crushed Cleveland. His return lifted the team and the region, and the championship made everything whole. He leaves this no team with a fraction of the drama.

While the Cavs wanted to keep James, they also had to prepare for the fact they could lose him. So, what next for the Cavaliers? They have a hefty payroll even without James. With Kevin Love, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver and the rest of the roster, the Cavs are over the $101.89 million salary cap for the 2018-19 season.

Don’t be surprised if the Cavs look to shed some of that salary and rebuild. What can they get for Love and others to jumpstart that rebuild? Playoff-caliber teams will call about Love’s availability, and he has two years and $49.7 million left on his contract.

Looking at future payroll, Cavs general manager Koby Altman can create cap space over the next few seasons, giving Cleveland financial flexibility to rebuild.

The Cavaliers just selected Alabama guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 pick in the June draft, and they have Clarkson, 26, Cedi Osman, 23 and Larry Nance Jr. 25 on the roster, and Rodney Hood, 25, if they keep the restricted free agent.

Cleveland owes its 2019 first-round pick to Atlanta, but that pick is top-10 protected in 2019 and 2020. The Cavs also owe their 2019 and 2020 second-round picks to other teams.

Altman and his staff need to work hard to regain first- and second-round draft picks. But at least he has players on the team now that can help him get those assets if that’s the direction in which the Cavaliers go.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter. 



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