Each Suitor's Potential Pitch to LeBron James in 2014
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That'll be nothing compared to what happens if James decides to exercise the early termination option in his current contract and becomes a free agent following the 2013-14 season.
Back in 2010, James was teeming with talent, but had nothing beyond two MVP awards to show for it. Three years later, he's a four-time MVP winner and, more importantly, a two-time NBA champion.
By now, the questions about James' ability in the clutch have faded into oblivion. He's the one who drained the championship-icing jumper in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, putting his Miami Heat up by four points with just under 30 seconds remaining.
That's why all 30 NBA teams will be lusting after James in 2014 if he does become a free agent. The best basketball player on the planet merits that type of universal fawning.
Five teams stand out above the rest in the quest to secure James' services beyond the summer of 2014: the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks and the Heat.
Here's a look into how each team might sell James on what they have to offer.
Note: Teams are sorted here by alphabetical order, not the likelihood James will sign with them.
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LeBron James' appreciation for Kyrie Irving is already well-documented.
James couldn't help but gush over the Cleveland Cavaliers' young point guard during All-Star weekend in 2013, when Irving was the unquestioned breakout star. Irving broke poor Brandon Knight's ankles during the rookie-sophomore game on Friday, won the three-point contest on Saturday and started the second half of the All-Star game on Sunday, dropping 15 points in total.
"I said earlier this year or last year that in a couple years, he'd be top two or top three best point guards in the league," James said during All-Star weekend, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal. "He's headed there already. His ability to shoot the ball, his ability to drive the ball and finish, I think he's one of the best finishers we have in our game."
Irving isn't the only former lottery pick on the Cavaliers' roster. Between Tristan Thompson (the No. 4 pick in 2011), Dion Waiters (the No. 4 pick in 2012) and Anthony Bennett (the No. 1 pick in 2013), the Cavaliers have a veritable cast of talented young players to build around, no matter what James decides to do in 2014.
In case the Irving-Thompson-Waiters-Bennett core isn't enough to lure James back to Cleveland, the bevy of draft picks owed to the franchise over the next few seasons should only help. If the Sacramento Kings finish outside the top 12 in 2014, they'll be shipping their first-round pick to Cleveland, while the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat both owe protected first-round picks to the Cavaliers in 2015.
And of course, the Cavaliers could sell James on the "redemption" narrative, given how ugly his departure from the franchise turned in 2010. If the Akron native returned to Cleveland to make good on his promise to deliver a championship to the Cavaliers, here's guessing the city's rampant hostility toward James would instantly cease.
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If James' primary goal in 2014 is to be in position to win as many championships as possible, it'll be difficult for any team to trump the Chicago Bulls' pitch.
While the Miami Heat's core will be on the wrong side of 30 following the 2013-14 season, the Bulls' top players will all be in the midst of their primes.
Assuming Derrick Rose suffers no complications in 2013-14 while returning from ACL surgery, he'll quickly regain his status as one of the NBA's top players. He's the only player besides James to have won the league's MVP award within the past five seasons, after all.
In the frontcourt, Joakim Noah would be the best defensive big man James ever has had the pleasure of playing with. A starting five of Rose, James, Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler would be virtually unstoppable on both ends of the court.
If the Bulls exercise their amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer in 2014, they'd have approximately $46.7 million committed to seven players, according to HoopsWorld. With the 2014-15 salary cap projected to be $62.5 million, according to ESPN.com's Larry Coon, that would leave just under $16 million for the Bulls to sign James without making any other moves.
On paper, the Bulls were one of the strongest contenders for James' services back in 2010. Four years later, they'll only be even more well-positioned to land the four-time MVP in free agency if James is willing to take a slight discount.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers may be reeling from Dwight Howard's departure to Houston, but the 2014 free-agent class has the potential to immediately wipe the bad taste from their mouths.
Barring any further moves, the Lakers only have about $10.6 million on their books for 2014-15. If they waive Steve Nash via the stretch provision, they'd have room to sign two players to maximum contracts and still have somewhere around $18-20 million to fill out the rest of the roster.
On the off chance that James feels the need to build his next team from the ground up, there might not be a single NBA franchise better suited for such an endeavor than the Lakers. Their reputation as one of the league's preeminent franchises can help attract free agents for cheap, and James' presence would only help with that, too.
The Lakers have two major obstacles standing between them and James, however: the presence of Kobe Bryant and their complete lack of building blocks.
If Bryant refuses to take a pay cut, his contract alone will eviscerate the Lakers' chances of obtaining a third star beyond he and James. The team also owes first-round draft picks to the Phoenix Suns in 2015 and the Orlando Magic in 2017, limiting its chances to pick up complementary pieces through the draft.
While the Lakers can point to their 16 championships as a reason for any superstar to sign with them, the reality is that barring a major miracle, they're ill-equipped to lure a top free agent in 2014. With James proving that he doesn't need to play in a major market to win titles, it would qualify as a huge surprise to see him sign in Los Angeles.
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The Miami Heat hold one major advantage over every other team in LeBron James' potential free-agency pursuit: They're the only team with whom he's ever won an NBA championship.
With two NBA titles already to his name, winning is the only thing that should matter to James these days. As much as he's competing against current stars like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, he's also competing against historical greats like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and yes, Michael Jordan.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh helped James open the championship floodgates after suffering a brutal disappointment in the 2011 NBA Finals. Once Miami's Big Three realized that talent alone wasn't enough to guarantee them multiple titles, they learned to co-exist on the court and began making major sacrifices for their mutual benefit.
James realized that without a post game, opponents would continue to force him into taking long, low-efficiency jump shots. Thus, starting in the summer of 2011, James went to work and quickly morphed into one of the most terrifying low-post players in the league.
The 2013 playoffs did reveal one fatal weakness of Miami, however: While James may be reaching new heights with his game, Wade and Bosh appear to have already peaked. If both players continue to decline throughout the 2013-14 season, James could be inspired to abandon ship for a younger complementary cast elsewhere.
If the Heat can follow up their back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 with a three-peat in 2014, James couldn't reasonably pass up the chance to go for four straight titles. An early knockout in the 2014 playoffs, however, would inspire reasonable panic throughout the streets of Miami.
New York Knicks
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Like the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks will especially rely on their franchise reputation during any potential pitch to LeBron James in 2014.
The Knicks' brand has long been one of their biggest selling points for free agents. The New York market opens no shortage of off-the-court opportunities for their star players, especially if/when the team is considered one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
For James, however, that marketing appeal might not hold as much weight as it would for lesser stars. He's clearly established himself as the NBA's best player, meaning that those types of opportunities will follow him wherever he may end up, even if it's a traditionally small-market team.
Even if Carmelo Anthony opts out of his $24.35 million player option for 2014-15, the Knicks still won't have the cap space to sign James without making other major moves. With Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani all but guaranteed to pick up their respective $23.4 million and $12 million player options, the Knicks will still bump up against the projected $62.5 million salary cap even sans Anthony.
The Knicks, like the Lakers, also have traded away two of their first-round picks in the coming seasons (2014 and 2016), leaving them little room to improve through the draft.
Having Tyson Chandler, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, should be the Knicks' one major on-court advantage during their potential pursuit of James in free agency. It's just difficult at this point to imagine how, even if James were interested in taking his talents to New York, the Knicks could pull it off.