Lebron to the Nets?
Let me start with this disclaimer. Lebron James is probably not going to the New Jersey Nets. But let’s just entertain the notion for now, OK?
After a disappointing second-round exit for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the basketball player known as “King James” ended another season without a NBA title. For the citizens of the greater Cleveland area, this begins a month and a half of panic, where the end result could be a result to the irrelevance the franchise had before James stepped through the door.
For years, it has been believed that Lebron has been frustrated with his supporting cast’s inability to help him get over the hump. Yet Cleveland has shown the ability to contend for the Eastern Conference title, reaching the conference finals in 2006-07 and again last season. But this season represented another setback, as the Cavs didn’t even make it to the conference finals.
From everything I’ve read, it seems the most likely destinations for Lebron are (in no particular order) the Nets, the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs, the Miami Heat, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chicago Bulls: This is a team that would be an instant title contender with Lebron on the roster. But I don’t see it happening, because of one man: Michael Jordan. He’s widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, and His Airness is a revered god in Chicago. James himself wears No. 23 in homage of Jordan, just like how several defensive players in the NFL wear No. 56 in homage of Lawrence Taylor (although if the rape charges amount to a conviction, there probably won’t be a lot of players jumping to pay homage anymore).
The problem with Jordan’s legacy is that Chicago will always be his town. Lebron could go to Chicago and won five titles, but it will never be his town like it’s Jordan’s. He’ll be viewed as the next Michael Jordan, and 20 years later, no one in Chicago will be talking about who the next Lebron is. Steve Young succeeded in emerging from Joe Montana’s shadow to win a Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers, but in 20 years (or 10, or 5, or probably now), Steve Young is not going to be the first quarterback people think of when someone mentions the 49ers. I just don’t see Lebron willfully stepping into a situation like that.
Miami Heat: This is a possibility. They have Pat Riley running the show, a free agent-to-be in Dwayne Wade who would probably resign with the Heat if Lebron goes to Miami, and of course…it’s freakin’ Miami! The Heat would immediately contend in the Eastern Conference, and would probably be the favorite in the Southeast Division.
The biggest hangup with Miami is whether or not Lebron could co-exist in Miami. Dwayne Wade is probably one of the top 5 players in the NBA, and Miami is his team. I don’t know if Lebron would be willing to go to Miami and take a backseat to Wade. Just like how going to Chicago would be going to Jordan’s team, going to Miami would be going to Wade’s team. He won’t be “The Man” in Miami, and I question if we wants that.
Los Angeles Clippers: This would be an enticing option. Lebron would have a solid supporting cast with Baron Davis and Eric Gordon, and I imagine getting to compete against Kobe Bryant for Los Angeles’ affection would be enticing offer. But Donald Sterling has a reputation as a cheap skate, and although he has made certain high-priced signings in recent years that might rebuff that reputation, Lebron would likely have some pause that Sterling would do whatever it takes to bring a title to the Clippers.
New York Knicks: This is the sexy pick. In fact, there are plenty of Knicks fans who already view this as a done deal. And that very well may be the case. The Knicks have Madison Avenue, Madison Square Garden, and Lebron would be a god similar to Jordan if he were to bring multiple titles to the Knicks. Head coach Mike D’Antoni runs the kind of dribble-drive offensive system that intrigued Lebron enough to meet with Kentucky coach John Calipari last summer.
But there are some problems here as well. While the Knicks can offer a second max contract to a free agent, the rest of the roster is pretty barren. Currently, the Knicks’ best is probably David Lee, whose rights would have to be rescinded in order to have enough cap space to offer that second max contract. So even with Lebron and a second stud player, the Knicks aren’t winning anything in 2010-11. Of all the options available to Lebron, this would probably be the worse supporting cast he would have
One might also wonder if having James Dolan as a boss would be a detractor. While General Manager Donnie Walsh is steering the ship, Dolan is pretty much thought of as an incompetent owner. After all, the man allowed Isiah Thomas to make the Knicks a laughing stock for five seasons, and kept him around at least two years too long. Thomas being accused of sexual harassment might have been the final straw, and one wonders if Dolan might have stuck with Isiah for another year had that not happened. So you have to wonder if Dolan will really be making the best decisions for his team, and will Lebron end up paying for that. (this is probably a minor point, however)
Cleveland Cavaliers: A lot of people think that the Cavs’ lost to the Boston Celtics ended any chance that the King stays in his hometown state. After all, once again the efforts to bolster Cleveland’s roster were not enough to reach the NBA Finals. But things may be different this time around. Lebron injured his elbow in the first round against the Bulls, a 4-1 series victory. While James didn’t state that the elbow was a problem, there seems to be a perception that Lebron’s play was affected by the injury. If Lebron did not have the injury, it’s possible that Cleveland is playing Orlando right now, not Boston. So instead of blaming the people around him, Lebron could be pointing the finger at himself, and why would he feel the need to jump ship when he could have been the primary cause for the Cavs’ early playoff exit.
On the other hand, Lebron’s teammates didn’t exactly up their game to make up for Lebron’s struggles. In fact, many people seem to believe that they simply gave up in the closing minutes of the Game 6 series clincher. That’s not a good way to put a closing statement mark of an otherwise successful season, and if that’s what Lebron remembers, then his hometeam team takes a hit in the Lebron sweepstakes.
New Jersey Nets: As a Nets’ fan, I’m sure you will question how objective I can be here. Of course, I would love to see Lebron on my team, but who wouldn’t? So in an effort to appear semi-objective, I’ll start with the cons first.
The Nets won just 12 games last season. Until a last surge where they won five of their last 12 games, the Nets appeared destined to eclipse the 1972-83 Philadelphia 76ers for the most losses in league history (73). New Jersey did manage to start just 2-28, the worse start after 30 games in league history.
The Nets also suffer from playing in the same vicinity as the Knicks. Even when the Nets were winning back-to-back conference titles in 2002 and 2003, New York City was still a Knicks town. And while the attraction of Lebron James on the Nets could help the tide (by securing a lot of bandwagon fans), it’s far from a guarantee. Also, while Knicks have enough cap room to offer two max contracts, New Jersey can offer only one.
That being said, there are some reasons for Lebron to be intrigued by the Nets. Before the Knicks cleared enough space on their roster, the Nets were seen as a serious contender for Lebron’s services because of minority owner Shawn Carter, better known as rapper Jay-Z. Apparently Lebron and Jay-Z are buddies, so it’s believed that might help the team. New principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov might also attract Lebron, as he is the 39th richest man in the world, and is expected to go the extra yard to make the Nets contenders again.
Also, the Nets seem to have finally finalized the eventual move to Brooklyn. For years, former owner Bruce Ratner talked about moving the franchise to the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn (right where Walter O’Malloy wanted to move the Brooklyn Dodgers before he relocated the baseball club to Los Angeles in 1957), but the project was held up in lawsuits after lawsuit. But Ratner’s group has prevailed in some major decisions lately, and was able to break ground on the new arena back on March 11.
The Nets also seem to offer Lebron a better supporting cast than the Knicks. Brook Lopez has been a pleasant surprise for the Nets, and appears to be one of the better big men in the league. New Jersey also has the best chances of securing the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, although still only a 25 percent chance at that. But if the Nets do secure the top pick in the draft lottery tomorrow night, they would be expected to draft highly-touted Kentucky point guard John Wall. Such a move could make current point guard Devin Harris expendable. Harris was an all-star for the Nets in 2009, but injuries lessened his impact this season, and by trading Harris away, the Nets would be able to offer two max contracts instead of one.
So where is Lebron going? The honest answer is, only Lebron knows. Everything else is just speculation. The Chicago Tribune reported today that William Wesley, a member of James’ Circle of Trust, has contacted the Bulls, Nets, and Clippers about bringing in Calipari as head coach, with the belief that James would follow. But there is some doubt that Calipari would leave Kentucky, that Wesley has that much influence, or that James would demand a certain coach on his new team.
If I had to guess, I think the Bulls, Nets, Knicks and Cavs are the teams with the best chances of getting Lebron. The Bulls would surprise me, however. And if Lebron returns to Cleveland, I bet it would just be another three-year deal.