So here we are, the waning days of the LeBron Era in Cleveland.
This last month has been a bit nuts, there are rumors flying every where. The NBA world has officially gone mad.
LeBron was supposed embark on a elaborate free agency tour but instead decided to host teams in Akron. LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson(?) were all set to have a Free Agency Summit but it got canceled. Except that it didn’t. But LeBron wasn’t there. Or maybe he was.
William Wesley is trying to push LeBron out the door so he can be a stronger agent (and a very convenient scape-goat). Hell, World Wide Wes is even trying to engineer a trade for Chris Paul, a player he doesn’t even represent. But apparently, Wesley won’t be a part of any of LeBron’s negotiations.
For LeBron, it all comes down to winning. And the ownership, the ownership definitely matters most. But LeBron isn’t even talking with the Cavalier front office! Except that he is. Windhorst says that LeBron will have the final word (well, duh) and that despite everything, the Cavs still have “the edge” to retain his services. And hey! The Cavs even have a coach! (maybe)
Are we having fun yet?
I don’t know how this is possible, but I’m fascinated by this whole saga while simultaneously feeling extremely ambivalent. It’s not that I don’t care (obviously, I do) but I’ve simply grown numb to the whole thing. I’ve been bombarded with so much LeBron James News, it’s insane (and that’s without watching any PTI or SportsCenter).
(I’ve embarked on an unofficial boycott of ESPN ever since the Cavs were unceremoniously bounced from the second round of the playoffs. I do this whenever Brett Favre/Barry Bonds/Terrell Owens-eque stories pop up. Why watch? I know I’ll simply get frustrated. Same reason why I never watch Cable News).
Basically, I just want it to be done.
(Also, re: ambivalence. LeBron is the first pro-athlete I’ve really followed where I’ve been older than the athlete. It’s a different experience. I still care probably more than I should but, as with ESPN, I have other things that interest me (aka books, politics, job, not-having-money, not-getting-laid, etc) and obsessively following some dude younger than me seems weird. I dunno).
Right now, it looks like Miami and Chicago are LeBron’s two most likely non-Cleveland destinations. The Bulls can sign two max free agents (New Jersey is making a last ditch effort to clear space to do the same. Fuck you, Washington) and LeBron could team up with another superstar like Wade or Bosh (while the Heat are pushing for the whole threesome). Needless to say, the Cavs cannot do the same.
While I certainly understand the appeal of playing alongside another superstar, I hope LeBron realizes it’s not an automatic championship like many believe (aka Fantasy Sports =/= Real Life).
Say LeBron signs in Chicago with Bosh and teams up with Derek Rose and Joakim Noah. Pretty sweet, right? But tell me why you wouldn’t simply back the lane against that squad? Derek Rose is many things, but a spot up shooter he ain’t (they just traded Kirk Hinrich for, as far as I can tell, nothing). Nevermind the fact that he’ll have to drive by Jordan’s statue every day heading into work. Enjoy playing in that shadow.
And Miami? So LeBron is going to head into D. Wade’s house and either A) take over the show or B) defer to Wade? Really? All while taking less than the max? And how good is Chris Bosh? On a team with James and Rose/Wade, Bosh’s offensive duties would certainly decrease. Is Chris Bosh going to be able to defend and rebound against the likes of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol come playoff time? Bosh is certainly skilled offensively but is he be willing to do that dirty work down low? Would you call him playoff tested? I dunno.
What I do know is this: two years ago the Cleveland Cavaliers won 66 games and this past season they won 61. Yes, LeBron is the reason the Cavs were contenders but his performance is also the reason they were bounced from the playoffs two rounds too early (not that he was the only issue, mind you). Leaving a 60 win team on the heels of an epic choke job is going to be his Ohio Legacy. Good luck with that (he’ll be second only to Art Model in Most Hated Cleveland Sports Figures).
Certainly the idea of LeBron teaming up with Bosh and/or Wade is tantalizing, but how many championship teams were built through free agency? Has that ever worked? I just hope that if he bolts, he knows he’s leaving a pretty damn good situation.
I also think that if LeBron decides to stay, he should sign for more than a three year deal. Take the full max and reup for six years (and make a TON more money); the Cavs can’t go through another three years of “you better win right this second or I’m gonna leave”. It’s no way to build a franchise; it hurt them last summer with free agents and it’s the reason they currently have no cap room (or coach). LeBron needs to be their rock (ala Magic, Bird and Jordan) and it’s hard to build around a cornerstone if you can’t count on him to be there in the future.
People like to point to KG’s “loyalty can hurt” comments after Round 2 as reason LeBron should go, but I can’t help but wonder if say, Paul Pierce feels the same way. Winning in Cleveland will count for more. Period. How many championships will LeBron need to in Chicago to feel validated? Three? Four? More? What if he only gets one? He’ll never be bigger than Jordan, not anywhere, but especially not in Chicago. He wins in Cleveland, he’s The Man. Period. The End.
As for what I think he’s going to do? I have literally, absolutely no idea. No one does. Everything is pure speculation. If I had to make a guess, I’d say he goes to the Bulls. Yes, LeBron would have to share the ball with Derek Rose in Chicago, but at least the end-of-game situations would be pretty cut and dry (unlike Miami). I certainly hope he stays here (the Cavs do supposedly have the edge) but I haven’t felt confident that he’d reup ever since the Cavs were bounced by Boston.
I guess if I have a plea for LeBron, it’s to finish the job here. Don’t let your last home game in Cleveland be the Game 5 stinker (or let your legacy be: Yankees Hat==> Hold Franchise Hostage==> Flirt with Other Teams==> Lay Egg in Biggest Game of the Playoffs==> Leave for Team that Historically has Ripped Out the Hearts of Cavalier Fans). If you can get the Cavs over the championship hump it’ll count for so much more. You’d have built your own legacy. Winning here, in Cleveland, in Ohio, will be sweeter.
Somehow, I think you know that.
PS: I never mix work and sports blogging, but this is a special occurrence. On July 8th (the first day free agents can sign with their new teams), the Brook Park branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library system is hosting Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto. I actually set up this particular event but I’d be lying if I told you that I purposely planned to host Pluto on LeBron’s (possible) signing day. Just a happy convergence. Sign up here.