As the world waits with bated breath for LeBron James announce the venue at which he’ll be applying his craft for the foreseeable future, it would seem all but a foregone conclusion that James is set to join forces with DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. That said, there have been lots of seemingly foregone conclusions surrounding the NBA’s free agent bonanza 2010, and so far few of them have actually come to fruition. So until LeBron makes it official in just a few hours, everywhere is still a possibility; or so it would seem.
I’m still betting on Knicks or Cavs tonight. The Knicks fan in me says, “New York was the first to begin making preparations for LeBron.” Indeed the Knicks have skirted the tampering line for several seasons now, through coaching and front office regime changes, their focus has been single minded and unwavering, get the King to the Empire City. By signing Amar’e Stoudamire already in free agency, the Knicks have provided LeBron with the best potential big man pairing amongst his suitors. Even if LeBron hasn’t figured it out yet, Stoudamire, and not Chris Bosh would be the ideal pairing for him if he hopes to advance his championship hopes. He’s an athletic marvel, capable of getting up and down the floor in a Mike D’Antonio system, an adept back to the basket player, who unlike Bosh appears both willing and ready to take on the dirty work, and do LeBron’s heavy lifting.
In Cleveland, regardless of your own feelings about the city, LeBron has security and familiarity. He also would return to the team that posted the league’s best records in each of the last two seasons, although one that hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of their NBA Finals run of 2007. As a native of nearby Akron, with a number of his childhood friends serving as confidants throughout this process, I’m still having a hard time believing that LeBron James would simply leave his city high and dry. The economic impact on the businesses surrounding the Quicken Loans Arena and throughout Cleveland would be immediate and seemingly devastating. What’s more, the Cavs still have some maneuverability under the cap themselves, and in Anderson Varejao and JJ Hickson they also have two of the most desirable trade commodities in the league, dollar for dollar.
I’d like to believe that seeing through what he began in Cleveland would be important to LeBron. Even more so, I wonder how future free agents might view the Cavs if they were unable to keep LeBron around. If there’s any such thing as karma in sports, LeBron will stay in Cleveland.
So where does Miami fit in? Going to Miami, and joining forces with 2 other max deal players seems like a best case scenario for LeBron, but would it be? If Miami is the answer to the question tonight, then you can only imagine that it’ll be a matter of time before Pat Riley pulls another Stan Van Gundy move, and replaces Heat coach Eric Spolestra on the bench with himself. You could also reasonably guess that he’ll do it anyway, with or without LeBron. In either case, the expectations would be immediate.
Using the majority of your salary cap on max players seems like such a good idea, that you have to wonder why other teams haven’t done it before. Then you look at what the Heat will have to spend in order to fill out their remaining roster spots, and the reason becomes clear. In order to be effective right away, the Heat would need a journeyman point guard – or a pure shooter since Wade and James are both adept ball handlers – on a mid level exception, they’d need Dexter Pittman to be ready to start at center, and deal with Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins or Andrew Bynum at playoff time, or get creative in trying to bring back Udonis Haslem and hope that Pittman can back him up. Rookie Jarvis Varnado will have to be ready to play too, since the Heat’s only other draft pick went to injured forward Da’Sean Butler, who surely can’t be counted on as a rookie, simply based on the injury he sustained in the Final Four. Michael Beasley and his $5 million or so in salary would have to be jettisoned, and finding suitors for him hasn’t been easy, and Mario Chalmers will have to be ready to run the offense for stretches in the third and fourth quarters of games. Let’s not forget how many games in this year’s playoffs alone were decided by the second units.
Have I mentioned that Bosh lacks toughness, and is unlikely to mix it up much in the paint? He’s not really a pick and roll player, more like pick and pop. At his best Bosh is Pau Gasol with limited range, at his worst, well Steven A. Smith probably summed it up best when he called him Manute Bol with tiny dreads. The dreads are gone, but that may be all that’s changed about that assessment when it really matters. And lastly, has anyone stopped to think about what would happen if one of these guys were hurt? Talk about scotch tape and bubble gum.
Here’s the most intriguing part for me though, and maybe the angle that provides the most insight too, depending on how you interpret it. We all remember LeBron famously sporting his Yankees cap as a guest of CC Sabathia – then with the Indians – at a Yankees / Tribe playoff game. So what does LeBron’s Yankee fandom lend to the speculation about his destination?
First, there’s the physical location angle. If LeBron simply loves New York, then Knicks it is, or maybe the Nets on an outside flyer. If it’s Yankee philosophy he embraces though, then consider this:
James’ beloved baseball team routinely scalps all of the best talent on the free agent market, and why wouldn’t they? Outside of wanting to build something where you are already playing, piling on to a team that’s already of championship timber and enjoying the ride seems ideal. Again, James own buddy Sabathia succumbed to the temptation to pile on with a winner, so for James to do so in Miami shouldn’t be a surprise. But real baseball fans understand that even while Alex Rodriguez was arguably the AL’s best player for a number of years before joining the Yankees, and while with them, the Yankees have never been A-Rod’s team. Derek Jeter is Mr. Yankee, just like, for now at least, Wade is Mr. Heat.
If A-Rod never wins a World Series ring in the middle of an order that doesn’t feature Derek Jeter, his legacy will be lessened; not tarnished, but certainly lessened. Jeter has rings without A-Rod, much like Wade has one of his own already. If LeBron joins the Heat, the expectation will be championships, 3 in the next 5 seasons I’d say. Anything less would just be lame, and we’ll remember those teams more for the ones that they lost than the ones that they didn’t. And they will lose some, Kobe and the Lakers are still licking their chops, the Magic are primed, toughened angry and cohesive already, they’ll be a factor. The Original Big 3 in Boston are setting up to make a run, and desperation is riding with them, and whether you like the Joe Johnson signing or not, the Hawks only laid a proverbial egg in the playoffs because they were a really good team, otherwise no one would have noticed when they fizzled. Atlanta is tough, defensive minded and back together with new and hopefully better leadership.
The road to the Finals might not roll through Miami for a couple of years. Still don’t believe that his team can fail? Go back and look at the 2004 Olympic team, they didn’t have Bosh, but they were loaded and coached by Larry Brown, yet lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina, not exactly the Celtics, Magic and Lakers in their own right.
Everything to lose, nothing to gain, that will be LeBron’s cross to bear in Miami. He’ll be out front for the criticism, but will have to share the praise. And multiple championships are the expectation already. Here’s betting this was all a clever rouse and it’ll be Knicks or Cavs tonight.
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