Why LeBron James' Next Free Agent 'Decision' Is Good for the NBA

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Why LeBron James' Next Free Agent 'Decision' Is Good for the NBA
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Admit it, this isn't so bad. 

LeBron James' free-agency extravaganza has already started, almost a year before it's technically supposed to. Free agents can't be signed or (legally) courted until July. Yet here LeBron's forthcoming summer excursion sits, staring us in the face. Leaves and acorns are falling from the trees, and everyone's already thinking about July.

And it's awesome.

Covering LeBron's free-agency process can be tireless. Information seeps out onto Twitter, select trolls in the comment section can never seem to differentiate between opinions and facts and unsubstantiated rumors run rampant.

The LeBron-a-Thon isn't bad, though. Not even close. The increased exposure and hype leading up to his decision is a good thing.

It can be a hindrance, there's no doubt about that. But it also gives everyone more reasons to watch and keep watching, both before and after LeBron decides what's next.

 

LeBron's Uncertainty Sells

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Indecision doesn't always sell. People still haven't moved on from Dwight Howard's ambivalence. LeBron is different.

When he was asked about his impending free-agency plans, LeBron both left himself an out while not prematurely exiling himself from the Miami Heat.

"I have absolutely no idea," he said, as quoted by ESPN's Chris Broussard. "I would love to spend the rest of my career in Miami with this great team and great organization as we continue to compete for championships. That's ideal."

Staying in Miami is ideal, but he doesn't know if it's possible. Deflection at its finest.

This isn't Howard making one decision then changing his mind. LeBron never did that. He didn't call a mulligan after his initial choice in 2010, and he'll do no such thing now or ever.

LeBron won't commit to anything at this point. Should Carmelo Anthony wind up leaving the New York Knicks next summer (he won't), all anyone will think about is him openly declaring his intent to stay, then reneging on his word, like an unabashed Dwight Howard.

You hated this. But you watched.

The Chosen One won't make any promises whatsoever. He won't guarantee he'll stay in Miami, won't display a fondness for the Los Angeles Lakers and won't publicly reminisce about the good old days with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mostly, he's too smart for that, but also, he genuinely has no idea what he'll do next. There's no incentive for him to be anything other than evasive, because he just doesn't know. And he doesn't know because so many other things are at play.

Ken Berger of CBS Sports addressed just a few of the questions that have to be answered before LeBron decides what to do:

  • What if Dwyane Wade doesn't physically resume being Dwyane Wade?
  • What if Pat Riley decides to retire? He's pushing 70 years old.
  • What if the Heat fall short of their third straight championship, and Micky Arison decides that spending a bazillion dollars on luxury tax to keep his three max players together isn't the best fiscal alternative?
  • What if Bosh and/or Wade, for whatever reason, wind up playing somewhere else next season? Each also has an ETO in July.

Answers to those questions, and more, will help determine the outcome of this latest saga. We'll be glued to him and the NBA every step of the way, trying to gain insight into anything. 

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We didn't know LeBron in 2010, do we know him now?

If he were to host another television special, we'd watch it. Just like we did last time. His first decision drew somewhere around 9.95 million viewers. Custom-made jerseys littered arenas across the league in 2009-10. Teams like the Heat, Knicks and Chicago Bulls, among so many others, pillaged through their rosters just so they could get face time with The King.

All eyes were on the LeBron back then, which means more eyes were on the NBA. While his delivery will change this time around, the impact his decision has and Association-wide hype the whole process generates won't.

 

A New Element to LeBron

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LeBron is the best player in the NBA. That's a fact. One that's been drilled into our heads so hard, crowning him No. 1 is a reflex.

In a way, that makes him predictable. He dominates the competition. Absolutely maims them. So we expect him to do it again. And he does it again.

He's won four MVP awards in the last five years. Two finals MVPs in the last three. We haven't seen another team come out of the Eastern Conference save for the Heat in three years. All of that's incredible, but equally expected.

Just like we expect Kevin Durant to score, Kobe Bryant to anger Father Time and Blake Griffin to dunk, we expect LeBron to win everything. That was true even before he left Cleveland.

Then he left Cleveland. 

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LeBron is a different player now, but he has the same goals.

Superteams weren't a foreign concept in 2010, but someone like LeBron switching teams and sacrificing money (however little) to chase championships—wow.

Stars force trades. It's what they do. 'Melo's escape from Denver was no surprise, and neither was Chris Paul's from New Orleans. Rarely do they leave, just like that, without looking back. Hell, a guy like Anthony has never even explored free agency. LeBron has not only explored it, he's exploited it.

Three years later, we still have trouble wrapping our heads around it. We know why he left; if we didn't then, we know now. Those two titles speak for themselves. But so does 2010.

Would LeBron catapult himself into a better situation again? This is a different LeBron, a more seasoned, savvy LeBron. And yet he's still LeBron. He left to chase championships once, he could do it again.

CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel talked about this part of the "game"—not the decision, but LeBron himself—at length, and he seems to think we're headed for a repeat of 2010:

So let me say this just one more time, and get it out of my system: LeBron wants to rig the game. He says he "would love to spend the rest of my career in Miami," but ignores the fact that nobody's stopping him. The Heat would sign him to a lifetime extension this second, if he'd do it. But he won't, because he wants to see what the Heat will do with Bosh and Wade. He wants to see how easy the Heat will make it for LeBron to win titles in 2015 and beyond before he decides to sign the extension he could have signed yesterday.

Doyel isn't saying LeBron will leave. He's just saying LeBron could, and he's right. Or he could stay. That's the painfully brilliant part of all this—we don't know. 

That indisputably ties into our uncertainty argument from before, but it's also different. The uncertainty behind his decision builds suspense throughout the NBA. The imbalance of his character reminds us that for all we think we know about LeBron, there's still a lot we don't.

 

The Aftermath Sells Too

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Still hate the Heat? You might. Maybe you always have, maybe you never did. It doesn't matter.

When LeBron joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, the Heat were fascinating. People loved to hate them or loved to love them. They just loved to watch in general—they still love to watch.

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This happened in 2010, what's next?

At first they were a new superteam, now they're a potential dynasty. Nothing is going change, either. The intrigue is only going to heighten no matter what LeBron does.

Think about it. Were he to leave, it would presumably be to form another superteam, one that slighted Heat fans and advocates of 28 other franchises could hate just as much. He could also bolt for Cleveland, fulfilling the prodigal son fantasy many are not-so-secretly hoping he embraces next July. 

There's also the (strong) possibility that he stays, at which you point you have to ask: Why? Did the Heat win a third straight title, prompting him to seek a fourth? Did Bosh or Wade leave (more likely Bosh), and Pat Riley bring in a fresh stud? Or did he perhaps, for whatever reason, opt in to the next year of his deal, thereby ensuring we'll go through this all again in 2014-15?

How do you feel about the process surrounding LeBron's free-agency decision?

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Something is going to happen next summer. Regardless of what it is, it's going to have consequences. Storylines and narratives for years to come will be formed as we anxiously await to see if LeBron's decision was the right one.

The rings he wins or doesn't win, and where he wins or doesn't win them, all matter. Every choice he makes helps strengthen or weaken his legacy. When LeBron puts his legacy and his reputation on the line for anything, our eyes remain fixated on him and the rest of the NBA's reactions.

We never stop watching.

 

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