There are 30 teams in the National Basketball Association. Of that 30, 35 them would like to add LeBron James to their roster. It’s that serious. However, only a select few have placed themselves in the position to realistically add him. Some saved funds; others had human yard sales to free up space. The whoring of the various NBA rosters to chase LeBron is finally at it’s endgame, as teams are sending everything from ex-stars, to billionaire owners to rap icons to try to swing LeBron to their side for the next half decade.
As chronicled in part 1, LeBron brings more than his presence as a MVP scoring king, Olympic Gold Medalist, triple-double machine to his future employer. He brings a media crown along with him. Regardless of where he chooses, it changes the fortunes of several teams by where he picks, because only one can win. Some will stay in good position regardless; other will have was months, and even years, of planning if he declines them.
Here, in the conclusion of the CHEAP SEATS PLEASE Free Agent Playbook series, are the primary contenders for his services, what they have to offer and what his presence means to their place in the NBA hierarchy. (Listed alphabetically, because at this point I don’t presume to assume where he’s landing either….until a future post, maybe.)
2009-10 Record: 41-41 (8th in the East)
Key Returnings: Derrick Rose (PG), Luol Deng (SF), Joakim Noah (C)
Max Contracts Available: 1.76
What’s good? The Bulls boast the best intact young core available of the teams pursuing his services. Rose is one of the best young guards in the game and can run the floor with James and take away some defensive attention from LBJ. In Deng & Noah they can offer perhaps the best secondary role players James has played with. Most likely they will make a move to add another player to complement James in the free agent market, but it would be at under the max level (Boozer, Lee, maybe Stoudemire). Also, the Chicago market and James’ admiration of the Jordan legend helps as well.
What’s bad? Inflexibility of cap room & the pieces on the current roster are bad. The Bulls do not have the ability to offer two outright max contracts. Deng’s contract makes it impossible to do, and this could keep them from being able to add Chris Bosh, a big part of the Wade-LeBron race. In order to land another max contract player it would require a sign-and-trade, and any team that does that would definitely ask for Rose or Noah, and the Bulls are not looking to move either. Also there are concerns about how Rose and James could co-exist, since both need to pilot the team as primary ball handler to be successful. Also Deng moving back to the shooting guard is not a good look and is too expensive to come off the bench. They would have to mortgage the rest of their bench and several 1st round picks to land another max player besides James. With such uncertainty, would LeBron make the jump? Tough to say.
2009-10 Record: 61-21 (1st in the East)
Key Returning: Antawn Jamison (PF), Mo Williams (PG)
Max Contracts Available: 1
What’s good? It’s home and comfortable. He has crafted his entire career there and has a setup that is familiar. Also
Cleveland can offer the most years and money to LeBron’s contract as his incumbent team. The Cavs can offer a high end contract of 6 years at a total value of around $125 million. That’s a hefty pull to be on the market again at 31 years old. Add to the new addition of coach Byron Scott, a favorite of LBJ and mix it in with the lure of home, the finances and the potential feeling of wanting his own legacy in one location, and Cleveland could win out.
What’s bad? The lack of ability to had new top notch talent. The failure to add Amar’e Stoudemire at the trading deadline doomed the Cavs. Adding Antawn Jamison instead may have been even worse, as he under achieved and holds a hefty contract. If LeBron feels he has maximized on what he can do as a member of the Cavs, there may not be anything that can be done to keep him in tow. He will find financial success wherever he goes, so the lack of ability to add another comparable talent may doom Cleveland back to the LeBron-less Lottery.
Los Angeles Clippers
2009-10 Record: 29-53
Key Returns: Baron Davis (PG), Chris Kamen (C), Blake Griffin (PF)
Max contracts available: 1
What’s good? They’re in LA. They Clips are building a solid core and it should take more leaps forward this season with 2009 top overall pick Blake Griffin finally joining the team, coming back from knee surgery. They can offer the media market in LA to James and essentially a chance to redefine an entire franchise around him, with some solid pieces in place already.
What’s bad? They are the Clippers, the worse franchise in all of professional sports. They have ruined several potentially great talents and are notorious for making the worst possible personnel decisions. Pairing him with a trigger happy Baron Davis also would neutralize much of his effectiveness as a play creator as well. It would be a leap for LeBron to put trust in their program to move his career forward.
2009-10 Record: 47-35
Key Returns: Dwyane Wade (???), Michael Beasley (F)
Max Contracts available: 2.6
What’s good? The Heat have a great structure in place, both on and off the court. They’re a virtual lock to resign Wade, who actually freed up cap room by becoming a free agent. With him back in tow, they offer by far the best running mate. Michael Beasley is still immensely talented and could thrive in a front court pairing with LBJ. The main point is that they can add the most still. They have clear room to add both James and another max contract, all while keeping Wade. Pair this with master strategist Pat Riley pulling the strings and the Heat are in great shape.
What’s bad? Dwyane Wade is there as well, the ultimate bittersweet situation. Wade and LeBron play essentially the same style of initiation on offense and a full time pairing could be a chemistry nightmare. We’ve seen the super free agent teams work (2008 Celtics) and fail (2004 Lakers). This could be either and the possibility is hard to predict. They could offset each other and be worst together than apart. Hard to predict, but a triple headed, max contract monster could be the more the curse than the gift.
New Jersey Nets
2009-10 Record: 12-70 (Worst in NBA)
Key Returns: Devin Harris (PG), Brook Lopez (C)
Max Contracts available: 1.80
What’s good? Surprisingly, a lot for a team that almost set the all-time losses record last year. The aggressive
management of new owner Mikhal Prokhorov has placed the Nets front and center in every NBA conversation from the Draft to free agency. They boast impressive young talents in Lopez, Harris and Derrick Favors, while dropping more contracts to be able to add more talent around James. His good friend Jay-Z is part owner and this could be a huge advertising plus. The Nets are shaping their team into being the premier Atlantic Division team, as the Celtics decline looms and are willing to do whatever it takes to rise to prominence quickly and could add another top notch talent to join LBJ quickly.
What’s bad? They lost 72 games last year and are in the middle of a relocation project. For all the potential glitz and glamour of the Nets, the hard facts still show little immediate change from the awful team they were last year. Even with LeBron this team has a lot of work to do. The teams that separate themselves in the NBA have a solid second team and NJ has a lot of work to do there.
New York Knicks
2009-10 Record: 29-53
Key Returns: Danilo Gallinari (SF)
Max Contracts Available: 2
What’s good? There’s plenty of room and money to rebuild with. The Knicks have been setting up for a run at LeBron since team president Donnie Walsh took the job in 2008. They have mortgaged almost every player and salary on the team to lure James to the Big Apple. Considering the makeup of the team, this is a great thing, because not many players would want to join the past incarnations of this squad. In order to bring LBJ into the fold, can use the mega marketing (and earning) potential of the New York media empire and bring another top tier player into the fold with him.
What’s bad? There’s really nothing there at all. Gallinari is an improving young shooter who looks like he’s going to be solid, but he’s nowhere near enough to ensure there is enough around James to push the Knicks into annual competition, let alone a championship. Also, the pressure to perform will be put to Empire State Building level, where win now is the only option for high paid stars in New York (ask A-Rod). Even with another max player joining him potentially, can he ever live up what is expected with the Knicks and will team management revert back to its previous zany management practices once they lock up him up? That’s a lot of uncertainties, even with a huge pay out it may not be worth it.
The end of the road is near. LeBron will meet with team dignitaries all weekend and says he wants to make a decision by July 5th. Contracts will be signed by July 8th. Until then the suspense will build and the sports world will wait for his next move. Where will it land him? Who really knows, if he even does. At any rate, it’s been a pandemonium that only would be fitting of LeBron. And hey, don’t count out Minnesota or Milwaukee making a run….just because rumors are fun.