ORLANDO, Fla. -- LeBron James' hijacking of NBA free agency with his drawn-out decision-making process has created so much tension around the league that not even an archrival executive of Heat president Pat Riley can revel in Miami's anxiety.
"No, I don't take any pleasure in anyone's pain," Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge said Thursday between games at the Orlando Pro Summer League. "I know this is a tough business [with] free agency, and it's all part of what we go through. I certainly don't take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them."
Ainge and Riley have been known to exchange their share of barbs in recent years. And it was just two summers ago when Ainge watched Ray Allen walk away from a more lucrative offer to remain in Boston to sign with the Heat, which at the time was the Celtics' top conference rival.
But Ainge's show of sympathy for the Heat's current plight reveals just how torturous the free agency waiting game has been on just about everyone involved. Thursday was the first day free agents could consummate their new deals by signing contracts with teams.
There hasn't been an inkling of movement, however, from James on his latest decision.
Thursday marked the 10th day that's passed since free agents could have committed to teams, although the league's moratorium prevented them from officially signing contracts. James met with Riley and Heat general manager Andy Elisburg in Las Vegas on Wednesday, but the summit has yet to produce a clear indication on where either the team or the best player in the league stand entering the weekend.
But that didn't stop fans from lining up and standing outside of James' home in Akron, Ohio on Thursday in anticipation of the four-time league MVP announcing he'd return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile, James was more than 2,000 miles away in Las Vegas, where he conducted his annual skills camp for high school and college basketball players.
Four years ago, James spurned the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003 in a controversial decision to sign as a free agent with the Heat. After leading Miami to four straight trips to the NBA Finals, which produced the first two championships of his career, James is torn between remaining with the Heat and a reunion with the Cavaliers. Cleveland has stockpiled young talent, anchored by All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and rookie No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, in addition to clearing a maximum salary slot.
A strong case can be made that if there was ever a perfect time to go back and mend fences in Cleveland as the savior of the franchise, it's now. The Cavaliers are as ripe with assets and potential and cap flexibility as they'll likely ever get in this window of LeBron's prime.
Understandably, the lure is strong. And it's also possible that any of the bridges that were burned between James and the Cavs have thawed since owner Dan Gilbert ripped his departing superstar in an open letter to fans moments after "The Decision" aired four years ago.
Few have to be reminded how classless Gilbert was in the letter that drew a heavy fine from the league. And it would be an understatement to suggest that James was both immature and unprofessional in how he treated the Cavaliers leading up to the decision.