LeBron James pal: Why he left, and Knicks didn’t have a shot

Romeo Travis, a former teammate of both LeBron James and Frank Ntilikina, calls himself “an Akron guy, really Akron.”

And on the day after “The Decision III,” Travis, James’ longtime buddy and former high school teammate at St. Vincent-St. Mary, said Northeast Ohio “gets it.”

Travis, who won the French League championship eight days ago as power forward for Le Mans, is back in Akron and reports no James jersey-burning ceremonies, as in 2010. Instead, he’s seen social-media photos of thank-you notes atop James’ jersey.

Akron-ites and Clevelanders can live with LeBron taking his talents to La La land.

“It’s definitely a different feeling,” said Travis, who had played the previous season with Ntilikina on Strasbourg. “This area was heartbroken last time. This time they had a sense he was leaving. He gave everything he had in those playoffs, and it wasn’t even close to being enough.

“People get it now. Before, they didn’t get it. Why is he leaving? We were right there. Now they are like, ‘We weren’t good enough for a title, we don’t have enough, he did everything he can. Thank you for trying.’ As much as you want to tie him to Akron and Cleveland, he’s global.”

At age 33, James played all 82 games and lifted the Cavaliers to their fourth straight Finals berth before Golden State’s sweep. So frustrated after Game 1’s razor-close overtime loss, capped by J.R. Smith losing track of the score, James suffered a hand injury punching a locker-room greaseboard.

“They had a good roster, but to win, they would’ve had to play perfect,” said Travis, who is on a regular group text with James and a handful of high school teammates. “Those guys are good professionals. To beat a team of that caliber, they would have had to play perfect. They didn’t play perfect — mental mistakes, defensive mistakes.”

According to Travis, James didn’t envision the Cavaliers being capable of making the offseason moves necessary to dethrone the Warriors and win his second title in Cleveland. James will not hold an introductory Lakers press conference and reportedly won’t speak publicly until late July at his Akron charity function.

“Now they don’t have cap space,” Travis said. “Nobody wants the guys they have. It’s been tough for them to get better from a roster standpoint. And it might be tough for him to have another amazing year like that, put them on his back again. His teammates are professionals, and you hope they play better next year, but it’s hard to gamble your career on that.”

Travis heard the Lakers rumblings from his inner circle before February’s trade deadline. Travis is close with James’ manager, Akron native Maverick Carter, who was in Europe a couple of weeks ago and attended one of Travis’ championship games in France.

“I was hearing the Lakers since January,” Travis admitted. “I was hoping he didn’t go personally. He’s got a mansion out there in Brentwood. Everything LA has to offer, it’s hard not to like LA, the weather and the opportunity for what’s next after basketball.

“I thought he’d sign a two-year, with opt-out, to give himself flexibility, but he’s locked in. He wants his kids to go to high school out there. So it all makes sense.”

It’s unlikely James ever plays for the Knicks. Travis hinted the weather could have been a factor in the Knicks’ last real attempt at signing James in 2010, when he chose South Beach. James never looked the Knicks’ way this time, even after New York hired his Miami confidant, David Fizdale. Once Enes Kanter opted in, the Knicks had no chance of creating the required cap space anyway.

“It was never the right fit,” Travis said. “And when Phil [Jackson] took over at the helm, it never seemed promising. On top of that, add the weather. You can’t discredit LA’s weather. You factor that in, it’s another bonus. The Knicks don’t have the roster. They’re still growing.”

Travis takes special notice of the Knicks to watch his former mate, Ntilikina. Travis and Ntilikina were part of Strasbourg’s club that advanced to the French League Finals last June, but the 19-year-old point guard sometimes looked lost as a Knicks rookie and averaged 5.9 points on 36.4 percent shooting.

“Once he gets confidence and believes in himself like everyone else believes in him, he’ll be fine,” Travis said. “Once he gets working on stuff, he’ll get better and I see it on his videos being in the gym a lot.

“When he plays against guys his age [in France national team age-group events], he’s aggressive and dominant, scoring 30. When he plays up, he gets in a shell and doesn’t want to upset people and make the wrong play. He wants to be the ultimate team guy. Sometimes being the ultimate team guy is to take that shot.”

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