LeBron James Turns Cleveland Cavaliers into Top Destination for NBA Ring Chasers

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LeBron James Turns Cleveland Cavaliers into Top Destination for NBA Ring Chasers
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Ray Allen is still mulling his options in free agency. So, too, is Shawn Marion. Both could very well wind up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, just like Mike Miller and James Jones already have.

Both would have every reason to follow LeBron James, the NBA's latest pied piper, to northeast Ohio. Allen, 39, and Marion, 36, will only have so many more opportunities to play professional basketball, given their respective ages and mileage counts. Why not spend those last vestiges of athletic will and energy on a squad with legitimate championship hopes?

Allen and Marion certainly wouldn't be the first twilight veterans of significant repute to seek asylum with prime-time superstars. Pick out just about any champion since 1988, when Tom Chambers became the NBA's first unrestricted free agent, and you'll find at least one late-career contributor who latched on to win a ring.

Allen fit that mold with the Miami Heat in 2012-13, after leaving the Boston Celtics' sinking ship and bringing former Seattle SuperSonics teammate Rashard Lewis with him. Juwan Howard played the part of All-Star-turned-human victory cigar on each of the Heat's last two title-winning teams. Marion was witness to a similar situation in 2011, when Peja Stojakovic signed with the Dallas Mavericks and partook in their championship chase—and retired from the NBA shortly thereafter.

The list of former All-Stars who've signed with top teams at discounts over the years goes on and on...and on.

Successful All-Star Ring Chasers Over the Last Decade
Season Champion Ring Chasers Previous Combined Rings
2013-14 Spurs None N/A
2012-13 Heat Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis 1
2011-12 Heat Juwan Howard 0
2010-11 Mavericks Peja Stojakovic 0
2009-10 Lakers Ron Artest 0
2008-09 Lakers None N/A
2007-08 Celtics Sam Cassell 2
2006-07 Spurs Michael Finley 0
2005-06 Heat Gary Payton, Antoine Walker 0
2004-05 Spurs Glenn Robinson 0

Basketball Reference

It's not limited to champions, either. Any presumed contender can clean up on discounted veterans in free agency. Just ask the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, who were able to lure Antawn Jamison away from more money and an opportunity to play close to home with the Charlotte Bobcats well before the team's superstar experiment collapsed into chaos. Or the Lakers from 2003-04, who welcomed Gary Payton and Karl Malone into their midst. Or the Oklahoma City Thunder, who added Caron Butler to the mix this past March. Or the 2009-10 Cavs, with whom Shaquille O'Neal was seeking his fifth ring.

Heck, even if James convinces Allen and Marion to come to Cleveland, the Cavs' upcoming store of aging stars would still pale in comparison to that of the 2010-11 Heat, who saw Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire, Mike Bibby and Jerry Stackhouse follow LeBron to South Beach.

And let's not forget about the non-All-Stars who've sought jeweled refuge just prior to retirement. Along with Miller and Jones, you'll find names like Derek Fisher, P.J. Brown, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen, Brian Cardinal, Brent Barry, Robert Horry and Tony Massenburg among those littering the rolls.

Not all fading stars are so amenable to arrangements like these, though. Take Kobe Bryant, who made clear back in 2012 his desire not to fall into that category.

"Why would I want to go somewhere else, that ship sailed," Bryant told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin). "If there was ever a time I was going to move to go play someplace else, that was it. I’m not going to jump ship to chase a sixth ring, it’s just not going to happen."

Bryant, though, is probably closer to the exception than the rule here. Among his generation, Kobe's joined by fellow one-team lifers/non-ring-chasers like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, though those three have been outnumbered just this summer by Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Pau Gasol and Richard Jefferson, all of whom have switched their allegiances to potential contenders.

Interestingly enough, Pierce's decision to hop on with the resurgent Washington Wizards was fueled, in part, by a former fellow ring chaser—Sam Cassell. As The Washington Post's Michael Lee wrote:

Immediately after coaching the Wizards to a 90-74 summer league victory, Cassell got on the phone with his former teammate in Boston and convinced Pierce of the talent on Washington’s roster, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Pierce’s friendship with Cassell contributed to his trust that the Wizards could make some moves in a wide-open East that was leveled with LeBron James’s reverse decision to leave Miami and go back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Pierce's case isn't entirely unique. Impending retirees have been known to take less money for one last shot at glory at the behest of someone within the organization they're about to join, though the incumbent stars are often the chief draws. For instance, according to The Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, Derrick Rose played an active role in recruiting Gasol to join the Bulls this summer.

There's little doubt that James had something to do with Miller and Jones—two of his closest confidants from his days in Miami—winding up in Cleveland, and that he'd have a hand in Allen and Marion signing with the Cavs if they so choose.

"I’m pretty sure he [Ray Allen] knows the guys that are here up front, and LeBron would love for him to play with us," Jones said at his introductory press conference with the Cavs, via The Seattle Times.

And, really, who in Allen's shoes could resist such an appeal? He's won a championship with James, gone to the Finals with him the last two years and taken his family on vacation with LeBron's and Jones' families as recently as this summer (h/t NBA Central):

The personal side helps in any pitch like this, but there's plenty here that's generalizable to ring chasers at large.

Suppose you've been playing basketball for most of your life, have made millions of dollars and garnered gobs of honors in the process and are left with but a fleeting few years to play the game at an NBA level and endure all the challenges that it entails. Suppose, too, that you're approached by one of the league's preeminent players about being a part of a potential champion, albeit at a cost to your final paychecks as a pro and/or as a delay to your long-awaited retirement?

Marion could make more money as Paul George's temporary replacement with the Indiana Pacers. Larry Bird, though, doesn't anticipate that happening—not with a more championship-ready situation in Cleveland beckoning.

"What I came away with is that he’s undecided with where he wants to play and what he wants to do, but he did say he wants to play for a contender with a chance to win a championship," Bird said at a press conference addressing the state of the Pacers, via The News-Herald's Bob Finnan.

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Per Finnan, Marion could wait until September to make his decision. The same goes for Allen.

"It's August and I don't want to rush to judgment," Allen said during an appearance at the seventh annual Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut, via The Hartford Courant's Dom Amore. "I want to get to September and see how I really feel."

That sort of extended timetable is a luxury that guys in positions similar to Marion's and Allen's enjoy nearly every summer. Their experience, skill and savvy make them wanted commodities around the NBA and particularly among championship hopefuls. As such, those two can take their sweet time figuring out what their respective next steps will be.

And if those steps take them to Cleveland or any other top-tier team—and onto the trail blazed by so many All-Star ring chasers before them—there should be no harsh judgment, only appreciation of what they've given to the game and hope that they'll be able to get another something special out of it before they go.

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