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September 29, 2023

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Play time is over

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – LeBron James ditched the 1980s get-up – the curly wig and skintight dancer’s outfit.

Play time’s over for now.

James slipped into his work clothes yesterday and returned to the stage where he performs best.

Fresh off his hyped stint hosting the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live,” James got back on the basketball court as he and the Cleveland Cavaliers opened training camp with their eyes on winning an NBA title.

“That’s the goal,” James said. “It should be every year.”

Last season, the 22-year-old star carried the Cavs to their first Eastern Conference title and a trip to the finals, where they were swept in four straight games by the vastly superior San Antonio Spurs.

The experience was humbling for James and his teammates, who understand that getting back won’t be easy.

“We didn’t realize what it took to win a championship,” guard Larry Hughes said. “And we know now.”

Maybe so, but coming off the most successful season in franchise history, the Cavaliers regrouped for the first time in three months in their new, $25 million training facility under a cloud of uncertainty. Two key players remained unsigned and another awaits knee surgery.

Restricted free agents Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao are still overseas as contract negotiations with the Cavaliers have reached a stalemate. The club has made long-term offers to both.

Pavlovic started 28 games last season and averaged career-highs in points, rebounds and assists. The 23-year-old guard, who is still in Serbia, had until midnight to accept a one-year $2.8 million qualifying offer.

Varejao, the frizzy-haired forward and 6-foot-10 bundle of energy, averaged 6.8 points and 6.7 rebounds coming off the bench last season. His agent, Dan Fegan, is reportedly seeking a deal worth as much as $11 million a season.

Pavlovic’s agent, Marc Cornstein, has said his client might play in Europe if he can’t come to terms with the Cavaliers.

James understands the business side of things, but he also appreciates the value both players bring.

“We don’t make that run we had last year without Andy and Sasha,” he said. “We need those two guys. I hope we can bring then in soon and not waste too much time.”

General manager Danny Ferry, too, wants both reserves back.

“We want them here in Cleveland,” he said. “We have made them offers we think are respectful to us wanting them but also respectful to both the short-term success of the team and the long-term success. We’ll keep working at it, and in the meantime our focus is on the guys that are here and the guys who are going to start practice.”

Eric Snow won’t be one of them.

The veteran guard tore cartilage in his left knee last week and will have surgery Tuesday. Snow, a steadying influence in the locker room and one of the club’s better perimeter defenders, most likely will miss the preseason.

Last week, Ferry signed free agent guard Devin Brown and traded for forward Cedric Simmons in case Pavlovic and Varejao aren’t re-signed.

Those were the only offseason moves made by the Cavaliers, who stood pat while other teams overhauled their rosters.

Boston’s acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – to play alongside Paul Pierce – sent shock waves through the East, which should be as competitive as ever.

James, though, isn’t concerned about any team but his own.

“You look at a Boston team that has added some guys,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how things work out with that team. New York added a few guys. Orlando added some guys. Chicago got some great draft picks again. Detroit added. Everyone has kind of rekindled the flame in their own right.

“We’re here. We’re the defending champs, so we’re not worried about nothing.”

As for his “SNL” appearance, James got solid reviews from critics and some good-natured ribbing from teammates.

“They kill me,” he said.

In one sketch, he wore a gold headband and danced as “Alexander,” a fictitious member of the dance troupe from “Solid Gold,” a popular TV show in the 1980s. James had to do some research for the role.

“I YouTubed it,” James said. “It was before my time.”

And what about that glistening wig? Any chance of bringing it back for a throwback night?

“No shot,” he said. “I’ll wear some throwback shoes or something. But no Jheri-curl.”

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