According to sports writers, there is only four legit possibilities for LeBron James in the summer of 2010: the New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and lately the Miami Heat.
Now, you can't blame them for speculating, but seriously, two of those options are just ridiculous.
If James cares about winning titles (which might be still up in the air), then there's no way he signs with the Knicks or the Nets.
The Knicks' bargaining chip was the ability to sign two max contracts, but with the shrinkage in the salary cap, that won't be possible. Plus, they don't have a first-round pick, and with the collection of young players they have, they're a good three years away from being contenders, even with LeBron.
It would be like starting over for LeBron, just like he was coming onto the 2003 Cavaliers.
As far as the supposed "marketing opportunities" in New York, get real. In today's age, you can live anywhere you want and your going to get chances regardless of where you live.
And if LeBron wants to go to be the "King of New York," then it would become pretty clear that success on the basketball court is secondary to him, after becoming, in his words a "global icon."
The Nets have an interesting collection of talent, but it's young talent, and like the Knicks, they're probably a few years away from putting it all together.
The Heat have Dwyane Wade and while that looks good on paper, is it really wise to combine two alpha dogs, both of whom are used to the offense running through them, on the same floor at the same time?
However, there is another viable team that no one has yet mentioned, but makes much more basketball sense for LeBron than the Knicks or Nets especially.
The Dallas Mavericks.
You're probably yelling "homer," "idiot" or some less-flattering terms, but hear me out. Point by point, the Mavericks make sense for LeBron James.
I've mentioned this in another article, and it is explained in more details here, but I'll break it down.
Due to minutes requirements that Erick Dampier will not meet, his contract is an expiring one. A $16.4 million one at that.
So, another team can sign-and-trade for Erick Dampier, and get an instant $16.4 million in savings, because they can simply waive him after the trade.
Why is this important? Because a team re-signing its own player can sign them to a higher max contract than a team signing a free agent.
This mean that if LeBron wants to re-sign with the Cavs, he can get six years for $121 million, as opposed to five-year $95 million from another team.
For the Cavs, who might be on the verge of losing their superstar for nothing, getting some savings from the Mavs, as well as some cash or picks, is much preferable.
We can all agree that unless LeBron wants to go to the Celtics, Lakers, Nuggets or Magic (most of which have an all-star or better at the small forward), Dallas has more talent than anyone else that would court him.
Everyone wants to play with Jason Kidd. His recruiting abilities are one of the big reason that he was inked to a three-year deal.
The fact that you've got Dirk Nowitzki, another Hall of Famer, who is currently submitting one of his best seasons ever at age 31.
You've also got someone like Shawn Marion, who can defend three positions, and play three as well. While his numbers haven't been stellar, he's playing some great team basketball as the team's top defensive stopper.
Role players like Jason Terry (who could start on most teams), J.J. Barea and rising star Rodrigue Beaubois are a much better alternative than players like Udonis Haslem, Jordan Hill or Trenton Hassell.
Say what you will about Rick Carlisle, but he's better than Mike Brown. I think the pair of sandals I am wearing could draw up a better inbounds play than Brown.
Carlisle has proven to be exactly what the Mavs needed, but sorely lacked, during the Avery Johnson era: flexibility.
Carlisle isn't afraid to cede control, shake things up, or go with unconventional lineups when he thinks it's best. And when it doesn't turn out well, he shows the willingness to abandon it for something better.
He's helped transform the Mavericks into a strong defensive team, even with a lot of players who have carried the offense-only stereotype their whole careers.
That's something you won't get from Mike D'Antoni (too fixed on run-and-gun, no defense), Erik Spolestra (too inexperienced), or whoever draws the short straw for the New Jersey Nets job.
Whatever his faults, no one can deny that Mark Cuban's number-one priority is to win. If he has to lose money to do it (he has), then he's willing to do it, which is more than can be said for most of the owners in the league.
If you don't think a lot of players want in on that, then you're wrong. Not only does it lead to overinflated contracts for free agents (cough cough, Erick Dampier), but it also means that it's an attractive destination for free-agents in search of a ring. That's how the Celtics did it, even for just one year.
The Mavs have proven that they're able to make good with draft picks, too. Since they're regularly picking in the 20-25 region, they don't exactly have the pick of the litter each year. Beaubois and Josh Howard have been finds, but the Mavs have missed on their share as well.
Style of Play
Rick Carlisle has brought the Mavs back to the style of play that helped get them to the Finals in 2006: flexibility.
The Mavs can run, with Jason Kidd leading and people like Terry, Marion or Howard finishing. They can run a half-court set that isn't dependant on isolations (unlike with Avery), and they've got a good combination of passers, outside shooters and jump shooters.
What they really need is someone who can penetrate regularly, get to the foul line, and use a jump shot as a second resort. Sound like anyone you know? LeBron James perhaps?
Picture a lineup of Kidd, Marion, "King" James, Nowitzki and a free agent or traded center from Howard's contract, say Emeka Okafor or Marc Gasol.
(Note: Josh Howard's contract is expiring as well, stay tuned for an article about how the Mavericks can use his contract.)
Hold on, I need to take a cold shower.
Whew! That's better. Tell me that lineup couldn't beat you six ways from Sunday in just about every dimension. They can pass well (Kidd, LeBron), shoot the lights out (Dirk) defend the wings (LeBron and Marion), post up with regularity (Marion, free agent center) and drive to the rack to draw fouls (LeBron, and Nowitzki to a lesser extent).
From the bench, add in shooters (Terry), defenders (Quinton Ross, Rodrigue Beaubois), and bangers (Kris Humphries, possibly Drew Gooden).
Sounds like a pretty good recipe to me.
Dallas is no Miami or Los Angeles or New York, but it's a pretty good city. A city that has been damaged by some horrible sports misfortune as of late (Tony Romo's botched snap, Cowboys-Giants 2007 playoff loss, 2006 Finals, Mavs-Warriors 2007 NBA playoffs), but is ready to embrace something.
The Cowboys, even if they are able to snap their December funk, probably won't be making any waves in the playoffs this year, and the Mavericks, barring an injury to Kobe or Pau Gasol, probably won't be getting out of the West.
So the city of Dallas is ripe for the sports picking. You don't think LeBron would be the biggest thing in that city since the Smith, Aikman, and Irvin trio?
That's not the only reason to go to a city (unless LeBron goes to New York, then we'll know it is), but it's not like Dallas is Minneapolis or Oklahoma City.
LeBron James would be an idiot to ignore the obvious perks of playing in Dallas. As far as the big free-agent destinations go, Dallas is clearly number one, due to its combination of talent, cap space and willingness to spend for talent.
Sure, fill the comments below about how Miami or New York are better for him, but you're flat out wrong, for all the reasons above.
Conversely, the Mavericks' brass would have to be idiots to not try and snag the biggest free agent signing ever.
While it's clearly not what the pundits have even considered, the stark reality is that Dallas is a very viable free agent option, for LeBron, for D-Wade, for Joe Johnson, for Chris Bosh. Some of those players would fit better than others, with LeBron clearly at the top of the list.
The Mavericks are a top-five destination for LeBron, given the lack of chatter about the I would put them at number three, below Cleveland and Miami, as far as the chances he goes there.
Clearly a lot of teams are going to make a play for LeBron, but as far as options go, the Dallas Mavericks and LeBron James is a union that could bring multiple rings, and you'd think that would be the goal for everyone involved.