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Free Agency

Courting the King

05
July
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The summer of 2010 in the NBA has been a long awaited event. Starting in 2008, teams such as the New York Knicks have gone as far as conceding respectability just to clear enough cap space for hopes of signing some of the league?s elite free agents. Players at the top of this summer?s free agent list include LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, David Lee and Dirk Nowitzki.

As things currently stand, Rudy Gay has agreed to a five-year, $81 millon deal to remain with the Memphis Grizzlies. While Joe Johnson has agreed to stay with the Atlanta Hawks for a six-year, $119 million deal and Dirk Nowitzki has agreed to stay with the Dallas Mavericks for a 4-year, $80 millon deal.

With these players presumably off of the free agent market, a wealth of talent still remains. However, the one question everybody wants answered is where will LeBron James decide to sign? He is the crown jewel of the 2010 Free Agent class. James exhibits all the attributes of the ideal NBA superstar. He is 6-8, 250lbs with a rare combination of size and speed. Athletically, he is unmatched by any player the NBA has to offer. James also has the show-stopping ability to impose his will on a game by facilitating, scoring and playing lock down defense on the opposing teams best perimeter player. At just 25 years of age, he is the reigning two-time NBA MVP, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2003-04, and has been both All-NBA and an All-Star every season since 2005. On top of that, he has won the All-Star game MVP two times and is a two-time NBA all-defensive first teamer. Hopefully this gives you some perspective to why the Knicks have sold the farm just for the opportunity to sign LeBron James.

Over the past couple of seasons, teams have done their best to clear enough cap room for the opportunity to sign LeBron James. Six suitors have emerged as the favorites for LeBron?s future home. These teams have met with James this past week to try and sell their city and franchise in exchange for his services. These teams are the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Chicago bulls. Each team brings a little something different to James.

The New York Knicks bring the biggest market in sports which would allow LeBron?s fame and fortune to grow even more. In their pitch to him this past week, the Knicks emphasis was not on winning but on the $1 billion Lebron would most likely make if he were to sign with the Knicks. Also, there have been rumors that the Knicks are nearing a max contract deal with Amare Stoudemire which would give LeBron a nice running mate to play with next season. Ultimately, if LeBron were to sign with the NY Knicks he would come off as greedy and selfish.

The Miami Heat bring James the chance to play alongside both Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. At this current point in time, the Miami Heat only has two players under contract which has freed up $44 million in cap room. That is enough space for the Heat to sign three max players with one player (Dwayne Wade) sacrificing a couple million to make it work. The Heat would then fill out their roster with draft picks and veterans who are willing to play for the league minimum. This trio of stars has already won a gold medal together in Beijing and there is no reason why they cannot win together in the NBA. It is a risky but interesting proposition that I would not mind seeing happen.

The New Jersey Nets can offer LeBron a similar deal to the Knicks, however, unlike the Knicks they have a young squad of players in place that LeBron can lead to playoff success. Guys like Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and Derrick Favors all have the potential to be very good NBA players. The Nets also have a new owner, Russian Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who will have no problem spending money to bring in more talent to surround James. In addition to a new owner, the Nets will relocate to Brooklyn once their new arena is completed in 2012. Oh yea, I almost forgot to mention that LeBron?s good friend Jay-Z is also a minority owner of the Nets franchise. This would also be an intriguing situation for James to consider, he could turn the team with the worst record in the NBA last season into a playoff contender.

The Los Angeles Clippers most likely have to worst odds of getting James, however they can offer him a very solid, young group of talented players such as Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Baron Davis in addition to newly drafted Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe. However, if LeBron moves out to LA he will have to play second fiddle to Kobe Bryant. Los Angeles is Kobe Bryant?s town and I do not see LeBron moving to a place where he will take the back seat to another NBA superstar.

The Chicago Bulls, like the LA Clippers, have a very talented young set of players led by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. But also like the Clippers, LeBron will have to play in the shadow of a legend, Michael Jordan. No matter what LeBron does, if he goes to Chicago, he will always be compared to Michael Jordan. He will face impossible expectations for a franchise that has a history of winning in most part due to MJ. While LeBron may be up to the challenge of playing in MJ?s shadow, he will be fighting an uphill battle that he cannot win.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the only NBA franchise that LeBron has known in his seven year career. He has a deep connection with this team and its community having been born in Akron, Ohio. Although the team is in transition with a new coach, Byron Scott and a new general manager, Christ Grant, the Cavs are coming off of having the best record in the NBA for two consecutive seasons. Unfortunately, both seasons ended prematurely in the playoffs as the Cavs were unable to make it into the finals either season. One thing remains clear, LeBron has unfinished business with the Cavaliers.

In my personal opinion, I feel LeBron James will resign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is a student of the game and he more so than anyone else is aware of his own legacy. If he leaves Cleveland, a city that has not won a professional sports championship since 1964, his legacy will take a major hit in my eyes. That tells me he has failed as an Ohio native to win his city a championship it has been waiting so many years to get. His name will never be held in the same sentence with the great Michael Jordan who won six championships in one city. Jordan never faced a challenge he could not meet in the NBA and if LeBron leaves, he will have in fact failed his legacy and quit his city.

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