After all the nostalgia of the 16th title for Los Angeles has subsided and the NBA draft festivities have concluded, the one thing that is bubbling is free agency.
The potential of blockbuster deals is the talk of the summer and certain players are at the center, but what makes these players a commodity?
Is it actual performance or is it the potential of dollars that can be brought to a franchise for years to come?
While we examine this, let’s look at LeBron James and Allen Iverson. These are two players who revived their initial franchises desperate need of winning. Their transcendent impact also put them at the forefront of the NBA.
After years of facing tremendous pressure, one was forced to leave under bad circumstances, and the other has a chance to change the face of his city and the league forever.
In Iverson’s case, he peaked early in terms of winning with the Philadelphia 76ers. From year one to year five Iverson’s teams went from 22 wins to 56. Every year, they showed steady improvement, with the only constant being Iverson.
In year two, Larry Brown came and forced Iverson to become more efficient with the ball, averaging 22 points a game, which was a point and a half down from his rookie season, but raising his field goal percentage to 46 percent (a career high to this point).
Brown knew he needed Iverson’s scoring prowess and in the process put hustle players around him who would rebound and play defense to go along with Iverson's flair and grit for Philadelphia.
In Allen’s third year, the 76ers finished sixth in the East and upset the Orlando Magic and all things were looking up. Iverson won his first scoring title and was selected to his first All-NBA team.
In the next two seasons, Iverson continued to increase his scoring and individual success followed, with two All-Star games to his belt, including one of the most memorable All-Star game performances ever leading the East squad back from a 21 point deficit.
He took home the game's MVP award in the process. That season also saw Iverson lead the Sixers to the finals, even winning the first game against the Los Angeles Lakers, which capped a legendary playoff run.
Despite losing the next four games, all looked well in Philly, but it clearly wasn’t.
Individual success over the years came easy for Iverson, but wins were hard to come by because of the teammates Allen had around him.
Throughout the years in Philadelphia Iverson had run-ins with management and his off-the-court activity often overshadowed the fact that Iverson was forced to play with players that would never start on any other successful team, but Philadelphia was a constant in the playoffs throughout the prime of Iverson’s career.
The same can be said for LeBron James. Cleveland has not really placed the necessary pieces around him for them to win a championship, but somehow James has found ways to get the best out of the talent around him.
Like Iverson, he has never complained about any of these circumstances.
That silence was Iverson’s gift and curse. Players such as: Glen Robinson, Keith Van Horn, Todd MacCulloch, a well past his prime Chris Webber and countless other over paid players put management in a position where they could not get quality players.
This also made management lazy, because they saw that Allen could be very successful with less talented players, which took pressure off of them.
From 1999-2006, Iverson scored 15,570 points, averaging 29.6 points and playing just over 42 minutes a game. He also averaged 5.9 assist being the primary play-maker for teammates for players who could not create for themselves.
His brutal style of play also took a toll on his body while age and attrition had the last word.
In that eight-year span, Philadelphia went to the playoffs six times, averaging 44 wins in seven full seasons (28 wins in the strike-shortened season), but other than the Finals run in 2001, Philly did not get past the second round.
Some would say that Iverson could not carry his team, but contrary to popular belief each team the Sixers lost to was clearly better than them and some of the series that they won Iverson was the reason they were in that position.
In the process, Iverson contributed some of the best playoff performances of all-time and often pushed those better teams to the brink with extraordinary performances. Perception is seen totally different though.
This is something that James can escape with one summer.
In LeBron’s seven years with Cleveland, he has averaged 27.8 points while playing just over 40 minutes per game.
He also has been the primary play-maker for his team averaging seven assists. He also played with role players who needed to develop much more skill, but he put it together.
With six All-Star games, back-to-back MVP awards and one NBA finals appearance under his belt, it seems that James did all he can for a city in need of sports reconstruction.
Unlike Iverson, LeBron can release all of that excess baggage by leaving just in time.
Iverson stayed around too long, and his loyalty did him in. After his MVP season, five-plus years of Iverson’s 76er career saw overpaid veterans and past their prime stars as his foundation.
In December 2006, the 76ers went their separate ways, with Iverson citing irreconcilable differences and the divorce was ugly.
Iverson was told to stay away from the team while they search for a potential suitor to trade him. A trade that Ed Snyder, owner of the Sixers said that Iverson demanded, but Iverson denied that claim.
With seven All-star selections, seven All-NBA selections, a season MVP and four scoring titles, and two All-Star Game MVP awards Iverson left as an all-time great for the franchise that made him a household name.
They traded Iverson to Denver, and from that point on the perception of his legacy was never the same.
Now Iverson is searching for a team with diminished skills and a bad reputation as a team killer despite being loved by all his teammates.
James has control of his career and Cleveland can only watch as he can put the last two seasons behind him with one decision.
James has led the Cavaliers to the best record in the East for two consecutive years, but unexpected playoff exits have changed perception of James, but are they really unexpected?
Orlando in 2009 was clearly a better team than Cleveland, despite what the regular season said and the Cavaliers clearly had holes that were exploited by the Magic’s perimeter, but LeBron still had a series for the ages.
He averaged 38.5 points, eight assist and just over eight rebounds in six games. In the two games that Cleveland did manage to win, James hit an impossible game-winner in game two and in game five, James scored or assisted on every point for the fourth quarter and getting a triple-double.
In 2010 Cleveland went into the playoffs with two new pieces expected to put them over the hump.
Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal were supposed to be the missing pieces, but they clearly were not. This showed LeBron in so many ways that Cavaliers management once again settled in the trade market and free agent pool.
The loss to the Boston Celtics left a bad taste in the moths of Cleveland fans and James himself. As his decision deadline draws closer Cavalier management can only think about what they should have done. That is if James does decide to leave.
Leaving Cleveland may be the wrong thing to do to the fans of Cleveland, but James’ has a previous predecessor in Iverson who shows him how he does not want to end his career; a misunderstood winner who is blamed for losing.