"CLEVELAND -- From his perch in suite 212, high above the court, Danny Ferry can see it all without being seen. Sure, a few fans showed up in the seats below to snap some pics of the Cavaliers general manager as the players warmed up four stories below. But for the most part, this is Ferry's domain.
It is where he gets a few minutes of quiet before the storm. Two storms, actually.
His team having already locked up the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage all the way through the Finals, Ferry is able to enjoy an ever-so-brief respite. Storm No. 1, the Cavs' pursuit of the franchise's first NBA championship, begins swirling next weekend. And Storm No. 2, the free-agent cataclysm scheduled for July 1, is inexorably linked with the outcome of Storm No. 1.
"We're focused on this year and we're focused on continually trying to get better," Ferry said Sunday. "And this summer is an important summer, obviously, for us. But really, we're focused on right now. This is hard. You can't have one eye on all that stuff and one eye on this season and the playoffs and everything else. You've got to have both eyes here."
In truth, Ferry would need eyes in the back of his head to see all the plot twists emerging in the Summer of LeBron, the dreaded free-agency period that Ferry has prepared for the only way that made sense: by stopping at nothing to give King James enough talent around him to start winning championships.
While Ferry has been busy that past two years getting LeBron James another scorer (Mo Williams), a massive interior presence (Shaquille O'Neal), and the kind of perimeter length Cleveland lacked in the conference finals against Orlando last season (Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, Jamario Moon), some of his rivals have been taking aim at the city of Cleveland's biggest sports figure since Jim Brown. Attempts to read the tea leaves surrounding LeBron's future have been endless, even though James stopped addressing the topic back in November.
Even as James took his third straight game off Sunday to rest for the title run, the 2010 winds continued to blow. This time, Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer -- who has known James since he was a teenager and covered his high school and NBA careers -- wrote Sunday that the LeBron vibe has swung decidedly in the direction of staying in Cleveland.
In an article teased on the newspaper's front page, Windhorst cited people in LeBron's inner circle as saying signs -- both private conversations and business plans for the next few years -- are pointing to James either signing an extension or a new three- or four-year contract with the Cavs. Either scenario would protect him against falling salaries under a new collective bargaining agreement while also preserving his ability to become a free agent again as early as 2013.
"I've never been so sure that he's going to stay in Cleveland than I am right now," one of LeBron's confidants told Windhorst.
Up in suite 212, Ferry hasn't picked up any such vibe -- not that he's looking for one. His approach to James' option to become a free agent, which has been a source of dread since James signed his three-year extension in 2006, has been to let his actions -- and the money of owner Dan Gilbert -- do the talking.
"The people that are most focused on this summer are the media and obviously a lot of readers," Ferry said. "But I think all these players are more focused on what's in front of them and the next game. As far as this year being important, every year's important. We could have tried to build cap space and tried to do different things, but we wanted to win. We wanted to focus on trying to put ourselves every year in the best position to win."
Privately, Cavs brass understands what teams like the Knicks and Nets have done to create cap space for the opportunity to sign James; those teams weren't going anywhere by any other means. It was their only chance. What is puzzling to some observers has been the idea that a team like Miami, for example, will enter the free-agent period in a position of strength.
The logic goes like this: Unlike the Cavs, who will still be way over the cap this summer, Miami already has one of the marquee potential free agents, Dwyane Wade, and enough money to add another one. But the price for this strategy has not always been accurately portrayed: In doing so, the Heat have essentially wasted two years of Wade's prime with teams that don't have enough talent to win a championship. It is anybody's guess how Wade will view that part of the equation -- the naïve notion that the Heat's strategy was about something other than avoiding the luxury tax -- when it comes time for him to decide where to sign.
The Cavs, and Ferry, have taken a different approach. They have given LeBron everything he could possibly want or need to win a championship here. From the Williams signing and acquisition of O'Neal through the trade-deadline move to get Jamison, the Cavs have taken on more than $120 million in new payroll in an effort to give LeBron the winning environment and tools he needs. The result was the best record in the league (61-20) and a roster that, at least on paper, has the weapons it was lacking in its conference finals loss to Orlando last season.
"I think we have more length on the perimeter with Jamison, Parker and Moon," Ferry said. "We felt adding length on the perimeter was important and adding a physical presence -- which is hard to do -- on the inside would be good for us. I feel like we did both things. But hey, it's all got to work now. All we can do is lay it out there."
The job of fortifying LeBron for his title chase has been all-consuming, leaving little time for Ferry to read tea leaves or sniff around for vibes. The story Sunday about LeBron's inner circle, combined with revelations last week in a CBSSports.com story that LeBron's contract extension with Nike does not include any bonuses for playing in larger markets, have been the most encouraging signs to date that LeBron may stay put after all. But the Cavs have an inner circle, too, and the people in it are too realistic to believe any of it. They know the decision will be LeBron's and LeBron's alone; his inner circle will not be making it. And they also know that a disappointing or abbreviated postseason run could be the tipping point in LeBron's decision to leave.
"We've got a good team," Ferry said. "But we also appreciate that the hard part's about to come and we're going to have to be playing well."
As the players went through their warmups and the House That LeBron Built started coming to life, I asked Ferry about an interesting pregame comment from Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. It was the best interpretation I've heard about how far James has come in the seven years since he was drafted as a high school phenom/savior out of Akron and joined the NBA team up the road.
"I don't even know if Jordan was as hyped as he is," Van Gundy said of LeBron. "And then he goes out and lives up to the hype and sometimes exceeds it. That's not easy to do."
Ferry thought about it and said, "Everyone was saying he's the next 'this,' and I think at this point he's established himself as LeBron James. It's amazing."
It has been a good run. How or when it ends, nobody can really know for sure."
by, Ken Berger (CBS Sports)
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