OK, this week LeBron James has made it crystal clear that he is no longer going to answer questions about his impending free agency in the huge NBA summer 2010 Lebron sweepstakes.
But, after watching him dominate the Orlando Magic and put on an absolute show against the Miami Heat (his running jump shot at the end of the first quarter was sick), I could not help, but imagine LBJ in an Atlanta Hawks' uniform next season.
That's crazy you say, but let's breakdown the Hawks franchise and why Atlanta is a perfect fit for King James.
Salaray Cap Situation
Hawks' GM Rick Sund would have to be creative, but the money is there.
The Hawks spent the last part of this summer trying to negotiate an extension with Joe Johnson for four years and over $60 million. Joe is making a little more than $15 million this year and becomes a free agent in 2010 as well. That money will come off the Hawks' books.
It looks like the salary cap will be around $55 million. The Hawks could use the Joe Johnson money, make a trade or two to come up with $7 million more per season, and make LeBron an offer. I have read where he might be looking to do something for only three years.
What if the Hawks offered him a three year contract for $72-75 million? Sure, LeBron would have to leave years and $30 million or so on the table by leaving the Cavaliers, but he could sign another mega-deal in the summer of 2013. Freedom is a great selling point.
Joe Johnson is the perfect complimentary player for LeBron, but he would be gone. The Hawks still have a solid nucleus of young talent to surround the King. Josh Smith is having a breakout year. Marvin Williams is solid NBA starter with three-point range. Al Horford is a rising All-Star in the paint.
In the 2010-2011 season, the Hawks could start Jamal Crawford or Mike Bibby at point guard, LeBron, Marvin, J-Smoove, and Horford. Off the bench, you still have Zaza Pachulia under contract and Jeff Teague; you re-sign Mo Evans for cheap; Sund can bring back Josh Childress for a few million a year and you have your draft choice to use.
With LeBron's passing skills, leadership, scoring, and superior intangibles, you have a better supporting class than Cleveland or the New York Knicks. Score a big basket in this category for the Hawks.
Atlanta's head coach Mike Woodson is in the final year of his contract. That means total flexibility for the Hawks. I really respect the coaching job that Woodson has done here in the ATL, but no other teams are beating down the door to hire him.
Basically, you could offer James almost total control of the head coaching situation. Do not forget that in the history of the NBA you have had player-coaches. The Celtics' Bill Russell is a perfect example.
I do not think the player-coach works in today's NBA, but coaching LeBron would be a major attraction for any coach. You could go with a low profile coach without an ego like a Donnie Nelson type. Or you could make a big splash and maybe pick up someone lured by the bright lights of LBJ like Rick Pitino. Flexibility and input from James are positives for Atlanta.
This category is a big stumbling block for the Hawks. This is ownership by large committee which hardly ever works well. The feeding frenzy in the Atlanta Spirit Group caused by a LeBron signing might be disastrous. You might have ten owners wanting to hold court with the media every night.
I worry that LeBron's persona is so big that the owners might not realize the he would be making them millions in franchise value alone. Plus, the Hawks' management structure seems to prevent competent decision-making like hiring a new coach. However, LeBron might be intrigued because he could buy a piece of the team!
Style of Play
I do not think this matters that much. You adjust your style of play to LBbron. I can see LeBron and Horford pick and rolls. I can see Bibby and Marvin spotting up for jumpers. The big key would be to have a championship caliber defensive philosophy.
The Hawks would be incredibly long and athletic with basically four 6'8'' starters and a point guard. Lots of steals and block shots should lead to a ton of transition baskets.
What does the city of Atlanta have to offer LeBron James? Not as much as New York, Miami and Los Angeles. But, Atlanta is the virtual center of the Hip-Hop world. The music scene here is outrageous. The weather is nearly perfect.
I envision James buying Arthur Blank's house in Buckhead and fitting in perfectly on Tuxedo Road and West Paces Avenue.
The moment he signed the contract LeBron would become a sensation in this city. He would be bigger here than Jordan was in Chicago. His stardom would dwarf the lingering shadow of Michael Vick in this city. For a 7 p.m. tip-off, fans would be in their seats at 6 p.m. to watch warm-ups. Oh, it would be hot in Hotlanta.
At first glance, some might disregard Atlanta's prospects of landing LeBron, but the supporting cast matches up with any other team. Yeah, there would be no second superstar, but Horford and Smith have very high NBA ceilings. The money can be figured out. There is also great flexibility in the coach and style of play.
I am saying that Atlanta would be in the top five destinations for LeBron and there is about a 46 percent chance he would sign with the Hawks. Hawks fans can take heart, because three years ago there would have been a zero percent chance.