For Lebron James, July 1 cannot come fast enough. He wants to explore his options and there are several teams hoping that he will decide that they are the best fit. So, in the cap era, how can a team best mesh with Lebron?
First, there has been only one team to win a NBA title without at least two multiple all-star type players on the team: The 1994 Houston Rockets. The Rockets got lucky and played a similar team in the Knicks that year. So, to win a title, Lebron needs a true second all-star on his team, preferably a post player.
Lebron is a point forward, which means that he needs the ball in his hands on offense so his team does not need a great point guard. He needs a point guard that can defend and hit open shots. A great example is B.J. Armstrong when he played point guard with Michael Jordan.
Lebron can play either the 2 or the 3 effectively on defense. So what is most important here, is a pure shooter that can drain 3 point shots with ease off of the double teams that Lebron draws. A good example is Glen Rice from the Shaq-Kobe era.
Lebron needs open lanes to maximize his driving ability. A true power post player like Shaq is not a good fit. He needs mobile big men who can run the pick and roll, rebound and block some shots.
Hence, the power forward/center combination must be able to draw a double team in the post, but also be able to make plays from the perimeter. At least one of the two should be able to block shots. This is the hardest part of building a team. Kevin Garnett and David Robinson types are the ideal big men.
There are five teams with enough cap space to sign Lebron outside of Cleveland in New York, Chicago, Miami, New Jersey and the Clippers. While the Clippers have a nice team, the odds of Lebron going to play for Donald Sterling are very small. That leaves the other four teams.
The Nets are suprisingly viable. They have a young, mobile center in Brook Lopez and a point guard who can be effective without dominating the ball in Devin Harris. Plus, they have a guaranteed top 4 draft pick in a draft of 4 top prospects. The Nets will get better quickly.
Unfortunately, from Lebron's perspective, the Nets are not in Brooklyn yet. And, New York is a Knicks' town. It is difficult to see Lebron going to a team that will always be second in the same town no matter how successful it is.
And then there were three.
Miami is exciting because Dwyane Wade would be his teammate. However, Beasley disappeared in the playoffs, plays no defense and is not known for his basketball smarts. Plus, the Heat would have to renounce the rights to Udonis Haslem to get him without enough cap space to sign a better big man. A real possibility, but the Heat would need to find better post players to contend and that would be hard without cap space.
Chicago has a good talent core in Rose, Deng and Noah. Noah is a superior defensive center and Rose is a rising young point guard. However, for Rose to be at his best, he needs the ball. If he has the ball most of the time, it limits Lebron. Plus, Lebron would need to win seven titles to be the man in Chicago and that would be very hard without a true second scorer. However, Chicago is well run and would instantly be better than the Cavaliers were this year. The Bulls are a strong possibility for Lebron.
The Knicks are a virtual blank slate. This is both good and bad. The good is that the Knicks can add a second star player immediately with Lebron and there happens to be a PF who Lebron likes and is looking for a new home in Chris Bosh. So, the Knicks can meet the most important need for a true contender, which is two studs. The next question is what about the rest of the roster?
The Knicks lack a true point guard. What they do have is a young player, Toney Douglas, who plays defense and is fearless and knocks down open shots. What he has trouble doing is creating offense for others. On a Lebron-led team though, Douglas' glaring weakness as a point guard is unimportant because the offense is run through Lebron instead of the point guard.
The Knicks do happen to have the best pure shooter under the age of 25 in the NBA in Danilo Gallinari. He plays decent defense, and wants the ball in the clutch. He is in range from 35 feet. Teams cannot leave him alone as he is deadly when left open. So, he fits the need for a pure shooter.
Unfortunately, the Knicks currently do not have a center, nor do they have the cap space to sign a quality center after signing Lebron and Bosh. However, they do have Eddy Curry's expiring $11 million contract. It just so happens that there is another team in the NBA which is looking to dump contracts with a center who can defend, rebound and block shots. While he is less than an ideal fit with Lebron, his contract matches Curry's for cap purposes: Emeka Okafor.
The Hornets would save over $30 million by making this trade. It makes sense for them because they can draft a young center who would be a better fit for Chris Paul this year and save a ton of money. The Knicks will then get a center who can actually play.
The last objection to the Knicks scenario is often that the Knicks have Gallinari and no one else. This is not actually true. The Knicks have a young athletic player in Wilson Chandler who can play either the 2 or 3 positions. He is not a great shooter, but he is smart and a quality defender. He would be a backup.
The Knicks also have Bill Walker for cheap. He can score. He has trouble defensively, but he can shoot and score off the dribble. He provides instant offense off the bench.
Believe it or not, the Knicks would still have another $4 million to spend. They can re-sign Earl Barron to back up Okafor. Barron has no post game and can't block shots, but he does defend the low post well positionally and rebounds very well. He is a quality backup center who can consistently hit a 15-foot jump shot.
With the remaining money, the Knicks sign a decent backup point guard so that the Knicks have enough NBA level players for a nine-man rotation. That is enough to win a title.
Finally, New York is a basketball town and if Lebron wins a title there, he will feel love for the rest of his life. He can ask Walt 'Clyde" Frazier about how much fun it is to be a New York legend.
So, if Lebron chooses to leave Cleveland, then New York makes the most sense.