So there I was, minding my own business, when my editor for Bleacher Report hit me with this one:
How do the potential lineups compare for the three teams that are considered the frontrunners for LeBron James’ services this summer?
I’ve tried to resist writing about the LeBron sweepstakes. After all, there’s an NBA Finals series taking place. Furthermore, it’s between the Lakers and the Celtics, meaning we’re all supposed to be enthralled, the way ABC and ESPN and TMZ and the Kardashians are.
We’re not, of course, primarily because these aren’t your father’s Lakers and Celtics. Times have changed, and this once-great rivalry has lost much of its luster.
Today’s NBA has chosen to market its stars, which is why we talk more about individuals than we do about teams. It’s why we talk more about free agents than we do about The Finals.
First, let’s look at Cleveland.
From a financial standpoint, no one else compares. The Cavaliers can dangle an extra year and about $30 million more than anyone else in front of James.
Their lineup, however, is a different story—and it all revolves around Danny Ferry’s decision to stick with J.J. Hickson last February.
Amar'e Stoudemire was there for the taking. Reportedly, Phoenix wanted Hickson included in any deal.
Ferry said no, and traded for Antawn Jamison instead. Jamison’s a solid pro, but Garnett owned him in the playoffs, something that wouldn’t have happened to Stoudemire. Ironically, Hickson watched most of it from the bench.
Now Ferry is gone, and the Cavs are a puzzle. The backcourt is a mess. Mo Williams’ name has already been whispered in trade rumors. Delonte West’s name has been whispered in other ways, all of them disturbing.
Up front, Shaquille O’Neal is probably gone. Zydrunas Ilgauskas could be, too. Even if either stayed, they’d be too old to make much of a difference.
Jamison, Hickson and Varejao are solid role players—but seriously, if you’re LeBron, do any of these names get your heart pumping?
Further, the Cavs have no coach. They fired Mike Brown because of his inability to win in the postseason, and the guy they wanted to replace him just spurned them following a long, agonizing and very public courtship.
I understand that he’s a loyal guy, but let’s be honest: There is no compelling reason, other than money, for LeBron James to stay with the Cavaliers.
On to New York, where there is also no reason to sign other than money.
I’m not talking about contractual money, which the Knicks can’t match. I’m talking about the residual wealth that would result from being a star on the world’s biggest stage.
I’m talking about it, of course, because the Knicks’ lineup offers little more than Cleveland’s.
There’s David Lee, and then…Hey, gotta love those classic, old-school uniforms!
The best shot the Knicks seem to have at signing LeBron is if they package him with one of the other big-name free agents and bring them in together. It could be Chris Bosh, it could be Carlos Boozer, it could be Dwayne Wade—but it’s got to be somebody with marquee value.
Otherwise, it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there.
Think about it: Derrick Rose…Joakim Noah…Taj Gibson…Kirk Hinrich…Luol Deng. Those guys gave James and the Cavaliers fits in the first round of this year’s playoffs, and they’re just going to get better—especially Rose, who is already a star.
The fact that they landed the coach they wanted doesn't hurt their chances, either.
Add James, and things could get very interesting.
Of the three, I give the Bulls the edge when it comes to talent.
Here’s what bugs me, however, about this discussion: Where on earth are the big men?
I’m not talking just about Cleveland, New York, or Chicago. I’m talking about the NBA in general.
There’s Dwight Howard, and then who? Where are the Russells, the Chamberlains, the Thurmonds, the Unselds, the Laniers, the Abdul-Jabbars?
Hence, my earlier point about Stoudemire and the Cavaliers. If Ferry had sent Hickson to the Suns and landed Amar'e, chances are the Finals would be over now, Ferry would still be the Cavs’ GM, and the team would have enjoyed its first ticker-tape parade through the streets of Cleveland.
Instead, the best the city can hope for this summer is to celebrate the return of its most famous star.
They will, if money turns out to be the deciding factor in LeBron’s decision.
If it comes down to talent, however, Cleveland may be left on the outside looking in.