Brooklyn Nets

LeBron James' Best Bet Is the New Jersey Nets

BOSTON - MAY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands by in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA playoffs at TD Garden on May 13, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Cavaliers 94-85.  NOTE TO USER: User Expressly Acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Elliott SmithCorrespondent IMay 14, 2010

As soon as the clock ran out on another bitter playoff disappointment for the Cleveland Cavaliers, another countdown began – one that will shape the future of the NBA for the next decade.

The LeBron James Free Agent watch officially started when King James flung off his Cavaliers jersey nanoseconds after entering the playoff tunnel following Thursday’s Game 6 choke job against Boston. All the speculation about LeBron’s future is no longer the stuff of slow days on talk radio. It is stark reality that this will be the craziest NBA offseason ever.

And honestly, I think the Cavs’ defeat pretty much sealed the fate of poor Clevelanders – I don’t see LeBron coming back to his hometown team next year – the disappointments are too fresh, the feeling of “it can’t happen here” lingers.

I always felt that if LeBron had won the title this year, he could say to the people of Cleveland, “See, I brought you an NBA championship. Now, I have to go out on my own and do something different.” People would be hurt, but they’d understand – this guy had done all he could possibly do for his home state.

Now, I feel like LeBron is out the door. He could end all the speculation by saying he’s staying in Cleveland, how much he loves playing near home, and, of course, how the Cavs can pay him the most money of all, but he hasn’t.

And so, the free agent watch begins.

The heavy favorites to land LeBron aside from Cleveland are New York and Chicago, two cities with big cap space, large media markets and plenty of baggage.

But I would suggest that the best place for LeBron to continue his career, both from a basketball and marketing standpoint, is with the New Jersey Nets.

Now that you’ve stopped laughing, let me explain.

The Nets were horrific last year, yes, but those in the know realize the Nets have some potential. In Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, they have two young, All-Star caliber players that would fit right in with LeBron. Yes, the Bulls have Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, but to me, Noah is simply Anderson Varejao with a worse haircut. The Knicks? Well, they’ve got … nobody.

Like the Bulls and Knicks, New Jersey also will have enough money to sign LeBron and another A-list free agent, meaning James could have his pick of running mate with the Nets. Amar’e Stoudamire? Joe Johnson? Chris Bosh?

Thanks to their futility, the Nets will most likely have the No. 1 or 2 pick in this year’s upcoming draft, arguably one of the strongest in years, allowing them to add an impact player like John Wall or Evan Turner into the mix. They also have picks Nos. 27 and 31, giving them two more young guns that could add bench depth.

Another positive for New Jersey is LeBron’s friendship with rapper/mogul Jay-Z, who will continue to own a small fraction of the Nets when Russian kajillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov takes over. The Nets will always have money to spend, and they can bring in whatever players/coaches/cheerleaders that LeBron wants.

Oh yeah, a coach. The Nets don’t have one. Don’t you think they’d give LeBron the freedom to bring in anyone he wants? If LeBron wants Phil Jackson, New Jersey could thrown $17 million a year at him? If he wants his high school coach to take over, the Nets would do it in a heartbeat.

Of course, everyone immediately dismisses the Nets because they play in New Jersey. This year, the Nets move out of the mausoleum known as the Meadowlands into the state-of-the-art Prudential Center in Newark for a two-year stint before the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is finished.

You can yuck-yuck all you want about Newark, but it is a stones throw from New York and the same media market, which means LeBron’s aspirations as a global icon can be fulfilled for two years in the Garden State before the Nets move to New York.

Maybe this is wishful thinking form a Nets fan, but I do believe this is the best scenario for Team LeBron. He can become to the Nets what Jordan was to the Bulls. He can’t do that in Chicago or New York.

The odds of this happening are slim to none. He’ll most likely take the easy way out. But if he was really committed to making a complete overhaul, the Nets would be the place to start his journey.

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