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James returns to Cavaliers for defining challenge of his career

James heads for biggest test yet in Cavs return
Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

LeBron James has had his legacy redefined on several occasions. The latest came on July 11, as James erased the seemingly legacy shattering effects of "The Decision" four years ago to join the Cleveland Cavaliers once more. But now that James has gone from Cleveland's arch-nemesis to its savior again, he now faces a challenge that will be the final referendum to his place in history.

When James carried the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals, he seemed on his way to becoming the next Michael Jordan. When he and the Cavaliers collapsed in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs, then separated four years ago, he became the biggest villain in sports. But when he and the Miami Heat finally won it all in 2012 and 2013, it seemed his reputation was salvaged, only to take another hit in the 2014 finals.

Yet everything James has done -- both positive and negative -- won't compare to his second stint in Cleveland. Instead of trying to win five, six or seven titles -- or at least a number even close to Jordan's six -- he will go down as an immortal if he just brings "one trophy back to Northeast Ohio," as he said in his Sports Illustrated essay.

The best case scenario for the Cavaliers is that they bring Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, to forge a Big Four with James, Kyrie Irving and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. However, Love, Irving and Wiggins have a combined total of zero playoff games -- let alone wins -- on their resume. At the very least, there was some experience on James' much derided supporting casts with Cleveland years ago.

The biggest difference is that this cast would have star power, if not proven championship success. While James may get some leeway developing them in the immediate hysteria of his return, Cleveland may lose its patience after a few years of failure, just like last time.

Not only does James have to fight the inexperience of his teammates and a barrage of other contenders -- even if they're not in the Eastern Conference -- he also must fight 50 years of sports heartbreak and near-misses in the Cleveland area, much of which he was responsible for himself years ago. For all of James' trials, none may be tougher -- and more defining -- than this one.

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