Five teams are in serious contention to get Lebron James- the Cavs, Heat, Bulls, Knicks, and Nets.
That much we know.
Meanwhile, because Lebron and his team have been so tight-lipped, the media has had to go off even the smallest of leads, which have resulted in contradictory reports of who the front-runner is on almost a daily basis.
So, let's try and settle this debate the old-fashioned way- Pros/Cons of each team.
Pros: Cleveland is, undoubtedly, the sentimental favorite. Lebron was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and has a kinship to it. Ownership has, unofficially, allowed Lebron free reign in deciding who stays and who goes, essentially making Lebron the second domino in the hierarchy behind Dan Gilbert. The Cavs, meanwhile, have been the best regular season team for the past two seasons and have tradable pieces that could fetch them a player like Al Jefferson. Lastly, Lebron being as much a student and admirer of the game of basketball as any one of us here, he can appreciate the legacies that players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan (the Wizards years were only a blemish) built not only by winning, but sticking with their same team to do it for years to come. Lebron single-handedly rejuvinated sports in the city of Cleveland, and he knows that he can be the savior of the state he was born in. "The local product that made good" has to be a HUGE factor weighing down on him.
Cons: There are two sharp drawbacks that the Cavs have in their bid. One is that Lebron's ultimate priority is winning, and the Cavs inability to do so in Lebron's first seven years in the league is an IMMENSE hurdle to overlook. On top of that, it seems that Lebron never really had faith in the Cavs management, as both the head coach and the GM have been let go on the eve of Lebron's free agency. This leads to the second issue the Cavs face. With no GM or head coach, how can Lebron feel comfortable going back to this situation and feeling assured that the team is headed on a better course. I say this, keeping in mind, that Lebron at least did seem to enjoy himself on the teams he was on, and they were dominant in the regular season. With a new head and voice in place, is there any assurance that those dynamics will still be in place? Ultimately, there are a lot of questions and Lebron may have finally gotten to a point where he feels as though he shouldn't have to sign his name before a situation is good.
Pros- Sentimental favorite, legacy implications (the local kid who made good or the local kid that put the final nail in the city's overall coffin), ownership has shown willingness to do whatever it takes, and trade possibilities for a sidekick still available.
Cons- The last seven years and a very plausible impasse that Lebron does not want to be forced to put his team before himself so that all of the Cavs questions and drawbacks can be fixed. AKA- the lesson of KG in Minnesotta before going to the Celtics effect.
Pros- The Bulls have a nice core in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, who happen to play two of the hardest positions to fill in the NBA. Meanwhile, if Lebron joined, the team would still have enough money to add another star free agent to a max contract, like Chris Bosh or Amar'e Stoudemire. In addition, Lebron's best friend in the NBA happens to be Derrick Rose. Furthermore, Lebron could also revitalize the franchise of a city that hasn't been the same since his basketball idol left. Let's stop and chew on this point for a second because there is a foundation to it. What I mean is that Lebron wants to be discussed in the same vein as Michael Jordan. He wants to be an icon, a winner, and someone whose name will be revered for the next millenium. With everything that Chicago has in its disposal as a franchise and a city, Lebron has all the tools to make that happen.
Cons- Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Bulls, doesn't have the best reputation as an owner that is willing to spend top dollar on a regular basis, and he has left a noticeable stain in the organization's due diligence capacity by its lack of alumni affiliation. There is also the cloud of MJ, which will immediately hover above Lebron just as soon as he'd sign. He may relish it, or he may be turned off by it. There is really no way to know. But there is also no way to deny it as an influencing factor.
Pros: Successful team already in place that would only be enhanced by Lebron plus player X addition aka dynasty potential, big market, the MJ mystique
Cons: ownership, the cloud of MJ
Pros- The Miami Heat have almost enough money to sign three max free agents. In other words, this is the only team with a legitimate chance to make every other team's certifiable nightmare come true- Wade, Lebron, and Bosh. The only thing keeping this from happening is a Michael Beasley-for-zilch trade, which league sources say is a "mere formalty" in its plausibility. Miami has a growing market that may not be as big as New York, but is close to Chicago's caliber and dwarfs the market in Cleveland. Also, there is no state tax, South Beach, and sunny weather all year long. Not to mention that Heat owner Mickey Arison has the opposite reputation of Jerry Reinsdorf, as Miami has several of it's former players still affiliated with the team while Arison himself has been known to go as far waters as need be to get this team to a championship There is also a hidden ace up Miami's sleeve, and that sleeve just so happens to be decorated in Armani cuff links :)
Cons: Well, to put a little twist using some Jay-z terminology: "I got 99 problems but boy is this one a b*tch!" How many alpha dogs can you stockpile on a team. Who gets the ball in a tight game? Whose team is it now? How will it effect the legacies of the three players? Plus, how will Miami fill the rest of its roster out when all it can offer is minimum salary contracts to go along with second round picks like Mario Chalmers and Patrick Beverly?
Pros- dynasty potential, alluring city, great ownership, best head coach available in this lottery could make himself reappear as a factor
Cons- Will Lebron feel as though he shortchanged his legacy by playing with Wade and Bosh. Alpha dog issues. Talent options beyond the BLW (bacon, lettuce, and Wade).
New York Knicks:
Pro: They have the biggest market, MSG is a basketball haven, NY is the most alluring city Lebron could go to, his icon status would be a formality, the ownership will do whatever it takes to win no matter what the cost (refer to: Thomas, Isiah), and the Knicks have the money to add an additional max free agent like Bosh or Stoudemire. Finally, D'Antoni is supposedly a very popular coach among basketball players.
Cons: The Knicks organization has been a laughingstock/calamity for years now, and they are trying to use Lebron as their "get out of basketball jail free" card. Even with Lebron and player x, they are not the winning powerhouse that a team like Miami or Chicago could better guarantee him. Ultimately, this is the best PR/marketing move, but it doesn't make much basketball sense especially with the stakes so high.
Pro: Biggest market, Great ownership, Icon status assurance, Affable/ Competent coach, star sidekick to boot
Cons: Inferior situation from a basketball standpoint when looking at what other teams could offer Lebron on the court.
New Jersey Nets:
Pros: "Brooklyn, we go hard! We go hard!" Lebron loves the city of Brooklyn, which is where the Nets will be in 2 years. He also has a very close mentor/friend relationship with Jay-Z. In addition, Lebron has voiced his desire to play for a coach who has been a player, and that would be a seamless wish come true as Avery Johnson is a recently retired player/coach who has Finals experience with the Mavs and championship experience as a former captain of the Spurs championship teams of the past. Meanwhile, there is a yong core in place with guys like Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. Also, if Lebron comes, the Nets, like the Bulls and Knicks, would have money to sign an additional max free agent like Bosh or Stoudemire. Finally, Jay-Z may promise Lebron free Beyonce lap dances every home game, which may just be the the Alpha and Omega of decision-makers!
Cons: The Nets ownership is a huge Russian guy no one has ever heard of. Plus, word around the league is that he is more of those textbook business men that isn't willing to break the bank to make sure his franchise is in the best position to win, even if they don't. Ultimately, the Nets fall somewhere in the New York mix, except the only x-factor they have going for it is 2 years away (that is, of course, notwithstanding those Beyonce lap dances!)
Pros- Jay-Z, Brooklyn transition, decent core, decent coach, Possible Beyonce lap dances every home game
Cons: (I forgot to mention but rumor is that Rod Thorn is retiring, so) no GM in place, Brookyln is 2 years away, has an inferior Knicks situation going for it.
If Lebron's truly genuine about his ultimate goal of winning, Chicago and Miami have to be the front-runners, with a slight advantage going to the Bulls because of the alpha/legacy implications in Miami.