Like everyone else, I was more than intrigued with the buildup to this year's free-agency frenzy. The idea of multiple superstars either changing locations or colluding to create super-teams with the potential to completely change the dynamic of the NBA's landscape was scintillating.
And just like everyone else, after the past couple weeks of ad nauseam analysis and LeBron James jock sniffing I'm already sick of it.
In fact, It's become especially irritating when one realizes that beyond all the hype, speculation, and hoopla, the answer is clear—and it has been for quite some time: LeBron James is staying in Cleveland.
The reality is that no one factor is going to sway his decision. Despite what his PR spokesman and agent may say, it's not all about winning but it's not all about the money either. It's a fine balance money, power, fame, pride, marketing, and the continuation of a legacy.
Within the first couple days it became apparent that the front-runners for James' services would be Chicago, Miami, New Jersey, New York, and of course Cleveland. And while Cleveland may not be a perfect location by any means, there are certain faults with every other scenario that make James' return very likely.
At one point the presumed front-runner, Chicago is now all but out of the equation after the announcement that Chris Bosh will be joining Dwayne Wade in Miami.
The situation presents a strong nucleus that includes an All-Star Point Guard in Derrick Rose, a scrappy defender/rebounder in Forward Joakim Noah, tradable assets in Forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, and cap-room to bring in another max-contract player.
Had Chris Bosh signed with Chicago then the situation would have really gotten interesting—Chicago could have become an instant title contender with the addition of James.
But once Bosh elected to go to Miami, Chicago opted to sign Carlos Boozer to a five year, $80 million contract.
Boozer is a solid player, but he's not at Chris Bosh’s level.
If Bosh had signed with Chicago the opportunity to play with Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose might have been too good for James to pass up. But once you replace Bosh with Boozer the Bulls’ title hopes, even with LeBron James, would still be uncertain.
The expectations that come with playing under Michael Jordan's shadow just don’t seem as appealing without a bona fide All-Star roster.
All things considered, Chicago's got pretty much no chance.
Ah, the possibility of a new big three in South Beach: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. It sounds nice—but it's not happening, for many reasons.
The first being what it always comes down to: Money. The Heat do not have enough cap room to offer all three of those players max-contracts, and even if they did they then would only have five players under contract (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, and Michael Beasley). So for it to work somebody—or more likely all three players—would have to take less money.
Yeah, That's not happening.
Despite what they may say (Bosh and Wade both said they would consider taking less money to strengthen the roster), too much pride is at stake.
These guys have been the alpha-dogs on every basketball team they've been on since probably elementary school. In a summer when a 29-year-old Joe Johnson is signing for $120 million, and Darko frickin' Milicic got extended for a cool $20 million, there is absolutely no way any of these guys are take less than the maximum amount of cash that they can get.
Remember, Chris Bosh will already be giving up $29 million and a year under his contract if a sign-and-trade can't be worked out with Toronto.
Which brings me to my second point: Pride not only plays a role in contract negotiations, also in each player’s image.
The Miami Heat are Dwayne Wade's team.
He has won a championship there; he has established himself as one of the greatest Heat players of all time. If James signs with Miami, he would have to share the spotlight and even (gasp ) possibly play second fiddle to The Flash.
For Bosh this isn't a big deal. He's a star no doubt, but he's not quite at the level of James or Wade.
But for James, who has been a prodigy since he could hold a basketball, this would never work. The guy is doing a one-hour special on ESPN for Christ’s sake called "The Decision." The King needs the spotlight to himself.
Not to mention that even if this team won multiple championships it might hurt James' legacy maybe more than it might help it. People would always wonder if James could carry a team on his own or whether he needed All-Stars like Wade and Bosh to do some of the heavy lifting.
That's too much of a risk for LeBron James if he wants to be known as one of the greatest when it’s all said and done.
Jersey could be a wild card based on James close friendship with hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and his fascination with New York (The Nets will be moving to Brooklyn 2011).
I guess we’ll find out just how close this friendship is after all.
That being said, the move still seems unlikely based on the uncertainty of the roster and the strength of the organization. New Jersey doesn't have the greatest basketball history and while new owner Mikhail Prokhorov is an interesting man to say the least, we still don't know if he can run a basketball team.
New Jersey does have some talent. Point Guard Devin Harris is a stud, Brook Lopez is more than solid at Center, and Guard Terrence Williams has potential. But the Nets probably won't be a contender for a couple of years and it doesn't seem as if James will have that type of patience.
If this move happens it will be because of the market and the influence of Jay-Z—two indisputable forces whose impact on James is still uncertain.
Though this is still an unlikely scenario, don't be surprised if James signs three-year deal with Cleveland and keeps an eye out for the Nets in the future.
July 1 came around and everyone seemed to count New York out. Their roster is a mess, and their organization is in flux. But it's still New York and LeBron James loves the bright lights.
Well The spotlight doesn't get much brighter than Madison Square Garden - the Mecca of hoops.
You'd have to think New York helped themselves by inking Forward Amar'e Stoudemire to a five year, $100 million contract.
Say what you want about his lackluster defense and frustrating rebounding. The guy can be an absolute beast in the paint when he wants to be, and he's developed a nice mid-range jumper.
The Knicks could pair James up with Stoudemire and a couple of role players, give him the biggest stage that he could ask for, and promise to pursue Carmelo Anthony next year (a New York native and Syracuse alum).
Plus, win a championship in New York, return that franchise to relevancy, and James would truly become a God in a city known for elevating their sports icons to new heights.
If you give Jared Dudley's and Chad Ocho Cinco's tweets any merit, it's already a done deal (Remember, Dudley was a former teammate of Amar'e Stoudemire's in Phoenix). I wouldn't go that far, but I'd give the Knicks a puncher's chance.
And then there's Cleveland—the city whose fate lies on the surface of LeBron James' shoulders.
Don’t worry. He's not going anywhere.
From the financial perspective, Cleveland can offer James more money than any other team. (Not that that matters too much for the established multi-millionaire but it certainly is something to consider).
But the biggest factor is his hometown ties.
People don't give enough merit to the influence of James' roots. LeBron James doesn't just play basketball for Cleveland, he grew up there. He watched for years as the city suffered through The Drive, The Fumble, and the shot over Ehlo. If anyone understands the pain and misfortune Cleveland, Ohio has endured it's LeBron James.
So think about it logically. Do you think he's now going to show up for an hour long special on ESPN, with the city's desperation in the back of his mind, with all his friends, family, and supporters, counting on him, and turn his back on the place that raised him?
It's just not going to happen.
Not when there's no other option that his head and shoulders above Cleveland. The team may have had some playoff disappointments, but correct me if I'm wrong—didn't the Cavaliers have the best record in the regular season for two straight years? Weren’t they the favorites in the East going into the playoffs this year?
That’s easy to forget because of the perception that Cleveland is worse-off than it actually is.
Which by the way, also happens to work in favor of James coming back.
James might love the spotlight, but he's not a great fan of the pressure. Whether he admits it or not, it gets to him. Not only has he had a history of clunking free throws in late-game situations, every year it seems as if his team never lives up to the expectations (except for the 2007 Finals run). This year the LeBron James Cavs took disappointment to a whole new level by seemingly giving up in an elimination game against Boston.
But this year, if he comes back the outlook will be far different.
It seems as if everyone has unanimously discounted the Cavalier as mediocre. If James comes back, it will almost be seen as if he's doing the city a favor by treading back to their pedestrian roster despite the lucrative offers and opportunities that await him on the other side.
Now If LeBron James happens to win a championship for Cleveland he will become the ultimate savior, never to be forgotten and immediately placed on the highest pedestal of Cleveland sports history.
But no one expects him to win with Mo Williams and a 34-year-old Antawn Jamison. He has a built in excuse until the roster is revamped for contention.
It's a win-win for The King's image. He comes away as the hometown hero that stuck to his roots through the good and the bad, and if he happens to put together a miracle run and win it all, he becomes immortal.
Even if he loses again in the playoffs, the perception will be that he never had enough talent around him. The blame may still fall on his shoulders, but not quite as directly.
But if he walks for the bright lights, he becomes a pariah in his own home. A sell-out. A phony.
And if he walks for a better team and still doesn’t win, then there will be no mercy. His legacy will be absolutely tarnished.
Forget Chicago, Miami, New York, and New Jersey. When it's all said and done, all the energy said speculating and debating will fall nothing short of wasted breath.
The man's not going anywhere. He’s got too much to lose.