Looking ahead is an American pastime. Department stores put out Christmas decorations in September. The 2008 Presidential election was the hot political story - in 2006. Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg were household names in the baseball world long before either made their Major League debut. There is a certain appeal to imagining how great things could be in the future.
Those who follow the NBA have anticipated the summer of 2010 for quite some time now. Such forward thinking is understandable. It is not often that a free agency class has the potential to reshape the league's power structure for the next decade.
Of all the high profile free agents, LeBron James has received the most scrutiny. As soon as the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron and the summer of 2010 became the hot topic in the league. It isn't often that a single player's expiring contract is as big of a story as the playoffs.
Speculating about LeBron's future is impossible to resist. Now that the Finals are over, it is the biggest story in the basketball world. It is finally the appropriate time to explore the King's options.
James should be used to hype. He received endorsements worth millions of dollars before playing a single game above the high school level. Other than still lacking a title, LeBron has not disappointed. He has the size and athleticism of Magic Johnson and makes highlight reel plays like Dr. J. Has there ever been a bigger prize up for grabs in the history of free agency?
Right now, we as fans know one thing: where LeBron will end up is still a mystery. The man himself might not even know what uniform he will wear next season.
While any team with the cap space has been mentioned at one time or another as a possible destination for James, I believe his choice will come down to two teams. The two teams I see LeBron choosing between are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New York Knicks.
Before the entire city of Chicago turns against me, allow me to explain. LeBron James means as much to the state of Ohio as any athlete in their history has. The Cavaliers are essentially his hometown team. If he leaves, it will be another catastrophic event in the city's painful sports history.
If the King finds a new court, he will break the hearts of an entire city. In my mind, there is only one place he can go without being seen as a total villain. That place is New York.
New York as a city can offer much more than Cleveland can. Playing for the Knicks would put LeBron at the center of the world (at least that's what New York is in the minds of New Yorkers). He would be in close to proximity to the movers and shakers. His goal of being a global icon would be assured.
Playing in New York would also give LeBron the opportunity to be the savior of basketball in the Big Apple. Winning a title for the Knicks would put LeBron in the pantheon of New York greats. He would be viewed with the reverence given to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willis Reed, and Walt Frazier.
It is also important to acknowledge the East Coast (read New York) bias of the major sports media organizations. If LeBron goes to New York, the heartbreak of Cleveland would be downplayed. The media would go a long way towards LeBron being viewed favorably by the American public.
Remember, the Knicks are not the Yankees. There isn't universal hatred felt towards the Knicks. I doubt LeBron going east would be treated the same as when baseball stars join the evil empire. After, if James plays in Madison Square Garden next year it won't be because of a fatter contract.
I disagree with those who analyze potential suitors for LeBron from a purely basketball standpoint. The Bulls or Clippers can offer a far better supporting cast than the Knicks. Putting LeBron James on the floor with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah would make Chicago favorites to win the championship.
That's why LeBron cannot go there. Great players have teams built around them. They do not jump ship and insert themselves into the best situation. From a legacy perspective, I don't think LeBron can afford to sign with the best team with cap space.
If he went to Chicago, a lot of people would say he turned his back on Cleveland. It would appear that LeBron took the easiest road to a title. In a sense, it would cheapen any future championships.
To be an all time great, James needs to deliver championships, not go along for the ride.
Pros for Staying in Cleveland
The Cavaliers can offer James an extra year and more money. While this is advantage, it may be a negligible one at best. LeBron can earn extraordinary sums of money through endorsements. As is the case with most superstar athletes, LeBron's salary will be just a part of his income stream.
Staying in Cleveland would be well received by the media and public. It is hard to criticize a player for being loyal. LeBron's well constructed reputation would remain intact. In fact, staying may make him even more admired.
In terms of talent, LeBron could do much worse than the Cavaliers. Granted, he could probably lead any team to the playoffs. Still, Cleveland had the best record in the league for two consecutive years. I'm not sure James could lead the Knicks to a 60 win season.
Cons for Staying in Cleveland
The Cavaliers front office has mishandled LeBron from day one. Their strategy was to immediately win by surrounding LeBron with veteran role players. The team has had success, but they may be crippled moving forward. Shaq should retire. Antwan Jamison is 34 years old. The only potential all star candidate is Mo Williams.
There isn't a player on Cleveland's roster who wants to step up in crunch time. Even Kobe Bryant, who has the reputation as the game's best closer, needed Derek Fisher to hit big shots at times during the playoffs.
If LeBron stays, he will likely go to war with a very similar group of players. I'm not sure he believes he can win a championship with Cleveland's current roster.
On a side note, I wonder if James is envious of Kevin Durant's situation. Oklahoma City is building a team around the scoring champion. The Thunder are allowing Durant to grow with a core of young players. Chemistry is vital in the NBA, and Durant is being given the opportunity to develop with his teammates. Durant, Russel Westbrook, and Jeff Green are improving together, not just individually. Imagine if the Cavaliers would have tried a similar approach with LeBron James.
Pros for Going to New York
Winning a championship in New York would be unlike winning a title anywhere else. Madison Square Garden is the best arena in basketball. If the Knicks landed LeBron, court side seats at MSG would be the hottest ticket in the world of sports. Going to New York would also allow James to perform in America's biggest sports market.
Playing for coach Mike D'Antoni could take LeBron's game to new heights. LeBron's greatest asset is his unique combination of speed and size. D'Antoni's run and gun offense could unleash James and potentially allow him to put up even greater stats.
There are few things more exciting in sports than watching LeBron James on the fast break. D'Antoni's system would put LeBron on multiple breaks each game. It's hard to imagine James being more prominent on Sports Center, but playing for D'Antoni could allow him to produce even more breathtaking highlights.
Cons for Going to New York
The biggest argument against New York is there current roster. There is no guarantee that LeBron would enter the 2010-2011 season with a legitimate number two scoring option. The past two seasons have shown that LeBron, like any other athlete in a team sport, cannot win a championship by himself. The Knicks may not be able to build a championship caliber team, even if they land James.
While being a global icon is one of LeBron's stated goals, he also needs to be a champion. In order to assume himself a place next to the all time greats of the game, he needs a ring. Cleveland and New York may not be the best locations to make this happen. However, they are the only two places he can win and not be viewed as a front runner. LeBron James is playing for more than accolades; he is playing for a legacy. If he leaves his hometown team, New York would the best place to create a legend that would rival Magic, Bird, and Jordan.
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