Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Clippers’

KING OUT OF THE CASTLE?: The atmosphere around the St. Louis Cardinals is playing out like an episode of “24” right now. The St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up spectacular this weekend, their franchise cornerstone and unquestioned greatest player in the game was the guest of honor on Sunday. What was supposed to be a friendly weekend of autographs and pictures quickly and eerily began to resemble one of the infamous MLB Senate sub-committee meetings from a few years back. Albert Pujols was pleading his jersey number on repeat, flanked by four media relations guys, about how he can’t and won’t drag out his unresolved contract. This is because the focus wasn’t on what he does at Busch Stadium all summer, but rather will he do it there beyond this summer. The fact that this is even a question is beyond me, although I understand the Cardinals’ position. Last year they had to tie up Matt Holliday, and in the process made him the highest paid player in franchise history (he’ll make a million more than Pujols again this year). So they aren’t just sitting around biding their time completely.

 

The Cardinal front office needs to get Albert's signature on something far bigger than a few baseballs.

 

However, after that crucial bit of undercard business was handled, the main event came up to the plate in getting Pujols made into a permanent resident at first base in St. Louis….a full year ago. So why is it coming to a point where Albert has to set a deadline for him to stay here? I understand that this could very well be the defining contract in Major League Baseball, and it takes time to hash out, but after the talks were stalled last year, this should have been handled with the same emphasis and timeliness of the deals made with Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the rest of the big names that are already secure in their new homes this winter. So why is the literal definition of a living legend spending his time at an event geared towards honoring Cardinals, past and present, deflecting questions about whether he will be at this same event ever again?  Hell, he’s already more deserving of one of the statues outside Busch Stadium than anybody not named Musial, Smith or Gibson. Why in the hell does a player of this level have to force the hand of his team to keep him? The Cardinals have made some solid additions to their club this offseason, but this has been looming over the entire organization for two years now, and taking a full offseason to even turn their attention to Pujols is show of negligence to sun in the in entire Redbird solar system. Without the sun, everything dies. And without this one, there would be a quick and prolonged death march in Cardinal Nation.

All I can say is, take care of family business inside the house, before it spills into the streets and everybody else gets a chance to lays their eyes, and blank checks, on it. 32 days and counting to keep that from becoming a grim reality.

HE CAN’T STAND THE REIGN: You have to be living under a rock to not see what Blake Griffin has been doing to rims around the NBA this year. He’s had 33 double-double performances in his first half of the season. His 47 points are the season high in the NBA this year. He’s on borderline walk on water status, when these numbers are taking the Clippers over the Lakers. That’s unheard of in Hollywood, where the Clippers are the biggest stepchildren in all of sports. He’s lived above the rim all year, and has actually made the NBA look like he made the Big 12 look two years ago, even after he missed a year with multiple knee surgeries (where I’m sure he augmented with some RoboCop type machinery). It’s the type of stuff that I haven’t seen since Shaq first threw on the Orlando Magic’s jersey for the first time and made them relevant back in the early 90’s. However, it’s not 22-year-old Shaq he reminds me of. Nor is it Shawn Kemp, who he is most widely compared to. It’s another high flying post player from 25 years ago he looks most like: Moses Malone.

 

Limiting Griffin's comparisons to just being a high wire act like Kemp was is underselling how good he true is, and can be.

 

It’s not because he doesn’t play similar to Kemp, it’s that he’s flat out better than Kemp ever was. Kemp never averaged more than 20.5 points per game, and he did that in a season where he only played 42 games. His high mark in rebounds was 11.4 in 1996. His career averages were 14.6 points per and 8.4 rebounds per game. Kemp gets a lot of credit because he’s recent in memory and was an exciting player in his prime, but the truth is Griffin is out doing these numbers on the regular already. Malone was however, a freak of epic proportions. He jumped higher and finished stronger than any big man in the league in his time, he led the league in rebounds five consecutive years while averaging 14.2 boards a year over that stretch. He averaged 17.6 rebounds in another season, and had eleven consecutive seasons of averaging over 10 boards per game. All of that while averaging 20.3 points a game his career, with a high season of 31 per. Not to say that Griffin is headed to join Moses in the Hall of Fame yet, but to limit him to just Shawn Kemp level already would be a great disservice to his both what he’s done already and what he could be shortly.

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE: All year, the focus has been on a few quarterbacks doing it all to lead their clubs. In the face of non-stop injuries, trades or flat-out sub par on-field company. The names that ran out over these situations reads like the who’s who of the NFL elite. Manning, Rivers, Brady, Vick; all were named to be the boss hogs for MVP honors at some point in the season. However, there was another guy that played with the Red Cross All-Stars all season as well, the only difference is that he is still on the job now. Aaron Rodgers has become something even more special in the Playoffs, in two road dips at that. He took it to another level this weekend in Atlanta, were he missed on only five of his 36 passes, and the 31 completions went for 366 yards, three touchdowns and even ran another one in. All of this while blowing out the top team in the NFC by four scores, at home.

 

Can he do any wrong right now? Rodgers' alone may be enough to push the Packers back into the NFL's top spot these days.

 

The bottom line behind all of these numbers is that they don’t do anything but tell part of the story. Basically, Rodgers has become the most dangerous man left alive in the NFL this year. While all of the attention is thrown at the AFC matchups and the general idea that the Jets/Steelers winner might as well have the Lombardi trophy delivered to them in Pittsburgh next weekend, I’m going to say that’s a bit premature. Rodgers’ presence alone right now is looking like the biggest difference in any game being played, and the Bears haven’t played this version of him yet this year. He’s playing like a man possessed by the spirit of Joe Montana right now. While one those other top guns may walk with the 16 game MVP, Rodgers may be in place to win the one that’s getting handed out in Dallas in February.

Advertisements

In part 2 of the CHEAP SEATS NBA preview, it’s time to move out West. The West has been dominant for what seems like forever, with nobody except for the Celtics being able to even dent their armor. With much of the focus being on a few upper tier teams on the East, can any team in the West besides the defending champion Lakers make any noise? One thing for sure is that the talent is spread out all over the Western Conference, and mostly every team can play with the next team.

Without further delay lets take a look at the West, followed by the predictions on who will be the NBA Champion and winners of each of the most prominent postseason awards.

Northwest Division

  1. Portland Trailblazers (3)
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
  3. Denver Nuggets (6)
  4. Utah Jazz (8)
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves (15)

A year after becoming the youngest scoring champ ever, Durant's expectations are to pickup some hardware while leading the Thunder deeper into the playoffs.

Summary: The talent is spread around in this division, with three teams that could legitimately take a shot at the title. The Blazers bring back a team that has been on the brink for several years now, but haven’t made it all the way. They have plenty of depth, especially in the frontcourt and Brandon Roy back healthy to seal the deal….the Thunder made big strides, improving by 27 games last year. Kevin Durant is far from the only star in the Oklahoma City skies, as Russell Westbrook is also an All-Star in waiting. They will continue to rise this year, but still need some more experience before the guaranteed takeover….there is a lot of uncertainty around the Nuggets, as they have no idea how long they will be able to hold Carmelo Anthony. With him, they can challenge for the division. Without they’ll will most likely lock up 4th place….the Jazz underwent several changes to their core, but if Al Jefferson holds onto his health, him and Deron Williams can push this club back into the postseason….there is a world of “potential” on the Timberwolves, but they have little to no experience and play very little defense. Another year in the Lottery is ahead.

All-Division Team// C: Al Jefferson-UTH, PF: LaMarcus Alridge-POR, SF: Kevin Durant-OKC, SG: Brandon Roy-POR, PG: Deron Williams-UTH

Pacific Division

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (1)
  2. Phoenix Suns (11)
  3. Los Angeles Clippers (12)
  4. Golden State Warriors (13)
  5. Sacramento Kings (14)

All Eyes on 24: Kobe leads his deepest Laker team yet into action in search for his second 3-peat.

Summary: There’s them and then everybody else. The Pacific is a division that has perhaps the clearest winner of any, with L.A. sitting firmly in place above the rest of a developing division that has several teams setting themselves up to compete again…once again. While you should never look ahead too far, the two-time defending champion Lakers are in the position to do just that, as they face no legit challenge in this division. While Kobe Bryant’s healthy will be an issue all year, the Lakers had perhaps the most effective offseason of any Western team, bringing in Matt Barnes and Steve Blake to give them one of the best benches in the game to compliment one of the best starting fives already intact….when Amar’e Stoudemire left for NY, the Suns immediately set out in retooling their approach. Instead of landing another big scoring forward, they instead got smaller and faster, which will suit Steve Nash just fine….it’s expected for the Clippers to be constantly rebuilding, but with Blake Griffin finally joining their ranks, they may finally have the right guy to start their assent, finally. Now if Baron Davis will just let him do it….the Warriors most radically changed their team, bringing over David Lee in a surprise acquisition to give their dynamic young Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry backcourt an All-Star level frontline performer….there’s a lot of work to be done for the Kings in year two of the Tyreke Evans era, but if big man first rounder DeMarcus Cousins stays hungry (just on the court though), they have added another key piece in what will continue to be a huge rebuilding effort.

All-Division Team// C: Chris Kaman-LAC, PF: Pau Gasol-LAL, SF: Jason Richardson-PHO, SG: Kobe Bryant-LAL, PG: Tyreke Evans-SAC

Southwest Division

  1. Dallas Mavericks (2)
  2. Houston Rockets (5)
  3. San Antonio Spurs (7)
  4. New Orleans Hornets (9)
  5. Memphis Grizzlies (10)

After only playing in 45 games '09-'10, will Paul be able to push the Hornets back into the playoff picture?

Summary: Simply the best division in basketball. There are no nights off with any of these teams, and predicting where they finish could be an exercise in dumbassness (it’s a word now). Despite picking up in age every year and being one of the most unreliable playoff teams in sports, the Mavericks are still among the deepest of all teams in the NBA. With some needed defensive additions under the rim (Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood), Dirk Nowitzki can stay on the outside and be a full-time sniper now….the Rockets had a great offseason across the board, in drafting (Patrick Patterson), free agency (resigned Louis Scola, added Brad Miller) and by simply letting time pass, which brought Yao Ming back to them, who’s presence and scoring touch could put them over the top in the Southwest. They are DEEP….the league’s retirement villa in San Antonio, who seem to have the same club for the last 30 years, has managed to stay strong still. The Spurs bring back their Duncan/Manu/Parker core once again, but have put the youth behind them in (finally) land big man Tiago Splitter in an NBA jersey. Once again, they’ll be in the mix all year….The Hornets get the biggest return boost of any club, with All-Universe PG Chris Paul back fully healthy. His presence alone makes them a threat again, and boosts the threat of the whole Hornets club….It really sucks for the Grizzlies to be in this division. They could be around the top of any other division in the conference, but still could pull the upset card on any team in this one as well. Locking up Rudy Gay as their franchise player was a great call, and they could legitimately end up in last place in their division and STILL make the playoffs this year as an 8 seed, seriously.

All-Division Team// C: Tim Duncan-SA, PF: Dirk Nowitzki-DAL, SF: Rudy Gay-MEM, SG: Kevin Martin-HOU, PG: Chris Paul-NO

************

Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami over Chicago

Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over Portland Trailblazers

And finally…..the main event.

NBA FINALS: Miami Heat over Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)

This is hard to call, because if both of these teams make the Finals, it would be the most talented overall Finals matchup in many, many years, maybe since the Lakers/Celtics battles of the 80’s. But here are 3 points to why I see it this way.

  1. Consistency of Match up: The Lakers have done a great job of getting pieces to counteract the perimeter game of the Heat, but it’s a perfect storm type of scenario. If Ron Artest or Barnes gets into any type of foul trouble (which is more than just a possibility), it leaves the entire load on Kobe, and his offense will most likely be affected by the energy used to hold LeBron and/or Wade in check. And the Lakers really need his scoring to be at top gear in order to stick with the Heat attack.
  2. Maintenance of Health: Over the past few years, the Lakers have lost a critical piece of their attack to injury in both seasons: Andrew Bynum. The distinct advantage the Lakers have is their size, and they need all of it fully ready to go to beat the Heat over an entire series. Pau Gasol will need to focus on his matchup with Bosh on both ends of the court. Bynum is the X-Factor in exploiting the Heat’s weakness and if he’s not ready, they won’t have any clear-cut advantage. Also, Kobe has to be able keep it together and conserve energy to be at maximum ability by the time this matchup happens. His health has been a constant struggle over the past few years, but he has used his supreme talent to overcome it. However, this is a different case, he has never faced a matchup like this before and he will need every bit of his talent and health to lead the Lakers over the game’s other two premier players combined now.
  3. Cohesion: One thing the Lakers have over any other team in the game is cohesion and chemistry. They flat-out play well together, know their roles and stick to them. Currently the Heat is a brand new team that has none of this. However, similar to how the Celtics had gelled three years ago by the Playoffs, the Heat’s best days are ahead of them. By the time the Finals roll around they will have found their niche in the system and will be a team with two tremendous talents and a far above average third option that will be comfortable with each other. I feel that talent will win out over experience this time, and a passing of the torch will begin.

Awards

MVP: KEVIN DURANT; Runners up—LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant

Defensive Player of the Year: DWIGHT HOWARD; Runners up—Gerald Wallace, Thabo Sefolosha

Rookie of the Year: BLAKE GRIFFIN; Runners up—John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins

After a season ending knee injury last year, Griffin looks primed to take home top rookie honors still.

Sixth Man: COREY MAGGETTE; Runners up—JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Antawn Jamison

All-NBA First Team: C: DWIGHT HOWARD, F: KEVIN DURANT, LEBRON JAMES, G: KOBE BRYANT, DWYANE WADE

This has been without a doubt the most memorable off-season in the history of the NBA. The player movement frenzy went from its usual speculation and rumor mill style, to all out pop culture event in some instances. This summer has looked more like a Fantasy League draft than re-ordering of some players in new area codes. The earthquake across the league this summer reset much of the power from being just on the left coast, and into the east. However, the talent in the west is still spread across the board better than anywhere else. Of the 15 teams in the division, 13 of them have a legit chance at making the playoffs every year. While the biggest moves of the off-season didn’t happen amongst the teams from the West side,  a lot of them honestly didn’t need to make huge moves to sustain their success. Here is a showing of where less can be more.

The Thunder added even more pieces to the league's best young group, but how do they fit?

Here are the CHEAP SEATS take on how each Western Conference team made out in the offseason, from additions and subtraction, draft and current free agent moves. Additions are noted as free agents (fa), draft picks (d) or trades (t).

Houston Rockets-Grade: A

Retained: Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry

Additions: Brad Miller (fa), Patrick Patterson (d)

Lost: None

The off-season sealed the march back towards the playoffs for the Rockets by not looking outwards, but keeping their already impressive corps together by resigning restricted free agents Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry in town. Add in well-rounded Patrick Patterson for the bench and potential return of Yao Ming, with Brad Miller for security and depth, and you’ve got a team the is guaranteed to push for the playoffs this year.

Los Angeles Lakers-Grade: A

Retained: Derek Fisher

Additions: Matt Barnes (fa), Steve Blake (fa), Theo Ratliff (fa), Devin Eubanks (d), Derrick Character (d)

Lost: Jordan Farmar (NJ), Josh Powell (ATL)

The champs did exactly what they needed to do, keep their core intact and improve on depth. Resigning Fisher took care of the first part and adding Barnes and Blake handled the rest. Blake will make a seamless transition for the departure of Farmar and Barnes will team with Lamar Odom to make this one of the toughest second teams in basketball. If Shannon Brown returns, this becomes the best graded off-season in the West.

Despite flirting with Miami, Fisher's return to the Lakers keeps intact the two-time champ's starting 5.

Oklahoma City Thunder-Grade: A-

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Morris Peterson (fa), Daequan Cook (fa), Royal Ivey (fa), Cole Aldrich (d), Tibor Pleiss (d), Latavious Williams (d), Ryan Reid (d)

Lost: None

The number one team on the verge of breaking through made the right moves to finish that transition this off-season. They already have a solid rotation starting around the All-Universe Kevin Durant and added more depth than nearly any other team. Morris Peterson’s veteran presence could be exactly what this team needs to go over the top. Cole Aldrich, acquired in a draft day trade with Peterson, will be a plus front line bench performer.

Memphis Grizzlies-Grade: B

Retained: Rudy Gay

Additions: Tony Allen (fa), Xavier Henry (d), Greivis Vazquez (d)

Lost: Ronnie Brewer (CHI)

Memphis’ summer is best understood by looking at the future. While Gay may not be worth the five-year, $82 million contract he signed to kick off agency, it could pay off in big time if he continues to his personal consistent improvement and becomes one of the premier wings in the League, as he projects to be over the course of the contract. It was premature, it was necessary to keep intact one of the best young cores in the NBA.

Memphis' only move was a big one by locking up Gay with a max contract.

Dallas Mavericks-Grade: B

Retained: Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood

Additions: Tyson Chandler (t), Dominique Jones (d), Ian Mahinmi (fa)

Lost: Erick Dampier (CHA), Eduardo Najera (CHA), Matt Carroll (CHA)

The Mavs kept their franchise’s most pivotal player in place by resigning Nowitzki, but also add pieces that can make it easier for him to maximize his game at his increasing age. Resigning Haywood and acquiring Chandler, will let him spend more time on the perimeter and less contact under the rim.

Minnesota Timberwolves-Grade: B-

Retained: Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic (d-2007)

Additions: Michael Beasley (t), Luke Ridnour (fa), Martell Webster (t), Wesley Johnson (d), Lazar Hayward (d), Nemanja Bjelica (d), Paulao Prestes (d)

Lost: Al Jefferson (UTH)

The Wolves drastically changed their makeup this summer. When you’re as bad as they have been over last few years, anything is worth a try. To their credit the additions of Beasley, Ridnour and Webster give immediate boost to their bench and Wesley Johnson will be the “do anything” type that the team has needed for years. The only concern could be chemistry with so many young players looking to make their name at once on the crowded roster.

Portland Trailblazers-Grade: C+

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Wesley Matthews (fa), Luke Babbitt (d), Elliot Williams (d), Armon Johnson (d)

Lost: Martell Webster (MIN), Juwan Howard (MIA)

At this point the Blazers don’t have much more they can add, or afford to lose. They have to have a fully healthy unit on the court to see how good it is. Luke Babbitt could be nice draft coup for team depth along with Sergio Rodriguez and Wesley Matthews. In the end this team’s roof goes as high as it’s injured list lets it go.

Until Oden get back on the court, Portland's potential may never be reached, regardless of depth.

Golden State Warriors-Grade: C+

Retained: No FA has returned

Additions: David Lee (t), Dan Gadzuric (t), Charlie Bell (t), Ekpe Udoh (d), Jeremy Lin (fa)

Lost: Kelenna Azibuike (NY), Anthony Randolph (NY), Anthony Morrow (NJ), Corey Maggette (MIL), Ronnie Turiaf (NY), CJ Watson (CHI)

The Warriors changed more off their existing roster than any other team and surprisingly landed David Lee to give balance their back court heavy attack. #6 overall pick Ekpe Udoh should a new defensive presence once he heals from a summer injury, but depth could still be an issue considering what they moved out for Lee.

The Jazz hope Jefferson recovers his old work on the glass along with his health, as he replaces Boozer.

Utah Jazz-Grade: C+

Retained: NO FAs returned

Additions: Al Jefferson (t), Raja Bell (fa), Gordon Hayward (d), Jeremy Evans (d)

Lost: Kyle Korver (CHI), Carlos Boozer (CHI), Wesley Matthews (POR)

The Jazz are in transition this year after losing two of their core contributors from the past few years in Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer. However they actively looked to improve everything they lost, with Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and rookie Gordon Hayward. Each could make up exactly for the player they are replacing, but there is experience and health questions that must be answered too.

Phoenix Suns-Grade: C

Retained: Channing Frye

Additions: Hedo Turkoglu (t), Josh Childress (t), Hakim Warrick (fa), Gani Lawal (d), Dwayne Collins (d)

Lost: Amar’e Stoudemire (NY), Leandro Barbosa (TOR), Dwayne Jones (TOR)

Phoenix changed their approach after the departures of Amar’e Stoudemire. Instead of replacing him with a similar presence, they changed the approach to a shooter based team, adding in Hedo Turkglo and Josh Childress. Not Amar’e with similar size could make them sorely susceptible to the big frontcourts in the West.

San Antonio Spurs-Grade: C

Retained: Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner

Additions: Tiago Splitter (d-2007), James Anderson (d), Ryan Richards (d), Gary Neal (fa)

Lost: Ian Mahinimi (DAL)

San Antonio is a study in opposites this offseason. They retained Richard Jefferson for four more years at $10 million per, after he made minimal impact on the Spurs efforts to start to change their attack last year. Finally adding 2007 draft pick Tiago Splitter to the team will make it easier for Tim Duncan to decrease his load, without damaging the team.

Denver Nuggets-Grade: C-

Retained: Antony Carter

Additions: Al Harrington (fa)

Lost: Linas Kleiza (TOR), Johan Petro (NJ)

Denver wasn’t overly active in many roster changes and didn’t add any draft picks to their team. However, they did add Al Harrington to their frontcourt, which will make the minutes load easier for the injury prone Nene and Kenyon Martin, but could add some chemistry issues, due to his desire to shoot at a high level.

Sacramento Kings-Grade: D

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Samuel Dalembert (t), Darnell Jackson (t), DeMarcus Cousins (d), Hassan Whiteside (d)

Lost: Spencer Hawes (PHI), Andres Nocioni (PHI), Jon Brockman (MIL), Dominic McGuire (CHA)

The Kings made the smart pick in selecting center DeMarcus Cousins at #5 overall in this summer’s draft, but didn’t add much else to a team that has needs around the court. With new acquisition Samuel Dalembert also suiting up at center, they are more than set around the rim. Now for everything else…..Tyreke Evans can only do so much.

2010 Rookie of the Year Evans can only go so far without more help.

Los Angeles Clippers-Grade: D

Retained: Craig Smith, Rasual Butler

Additions: Randy Foye (fa), Ryan Gomes (fa), Al-Farouq Aminu (d), Eric Bledsoe (d), Willie Warren (d)

Lost: Steve Blake (LAL), Drew Gooden (MIL), Travis Outlaw (NJ)

The Clippers mistakenly thought they could compete in the LeBron derby for a while, but ended up with Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes, which is much more tradition Clipper fare. They did well in the Draft, landing Al-Farouq Aminu to add athleticism and Eric Bledsoe to develop into the point guard of the future, but they won’t have the immediate effect that should have been worked for this summer. Blake Griffin’s return is very critical for any improvement here.

New Orleans Hornets-Grade: F

Retained: Aaron Gray

Additions: Craig Brackens (d), Quincy Pondexter (d)

Lost: Morris Peterson (OKC)

While he didn’t go about it the right way, Chris Paul may have been on to something about the future in New Orleans, or lack thereof. They made no significant additions to the team and moved out original first round pick Cole Aldrich before the first round was over. Due to Paul’s time injured last year, this team was not able to live up to their potential of year’s past however and still could make a playoff push with their franchise player back full-time with what they have currently.

There are many days that have historical significance in the U.S. and are properly observed as so.

July 4: The Independence of the United States from the British Empire

December 25: Recognition of the birth of Christ ……well this may or not be stretch in this instance, stay tuned….

Oh, I know…..how about:

February 2nd: Groundhog’s Day, where it is judged how much longer winter will go based on if the chosen Groundhog sees its shadow or not.

That’s a fitting holiday for new day that should be set aside as a national holiday, July 8 – LeDecision Day. There shall be no work and all will rejoice. For this is a date that should be celebrated in the streets of all 50 realms of the United States and the globe at large. “Behold the day that the Chosen One has laid aside to fulfill the prophecy and choose his destination of basketball based entertainment!” Sound the trumpets. Playing the role of the groundhog of the sports world, LeBron James must have seen his shadow and allowed the mania that has built following his decision on whom to join, or rejoin, for the next few NBA season to continue for as long as possible. Now the day is upon us where the “The Decision” (as it is entitled for the hour-long ESPN special that will accompany it….wow….is called) is finally here.

Happy LeDecision Day....but what are we Witnessing?

The speculation on where he will land has reached Beatlemania levels. It seems everyone from the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers to Invaders of the MBA (Martian Basketball Association, of course) are in play for LeBron and every inside source has a scoop from his “inner circle”, which has apparently grown to around 3,000,000 on a low-end estimate. I don’t know LeBron or his people, but I’m gonna take my swing at joining the “source community” and throw out what makes sense to me here and give my final shot in the crowded room of educated guesses and hope I hit something.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The bottom line here is loyalty and legacy. He has been in the unique position of being able to craft his entire legacy from high school forward in the same location. The state of Ohio has raised him and he is without a doubt the most important individual in the entire state, regardless of profession. His involvement in Cleveland supports a huge part of the city’s financial income and no doubt supports many people he has been associated with for years since he first showed his potential as a breadwinner.

On the court is a different matter altogether. I don’t think loyalty to the Cavs is a huge issue at all. He would have become “LeBron James, Superstar” with any team he played with. He has done way more for them than they have done for him. A career of having to lean on cores consisting of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Maurice Williams and Larry Hughes isn’t much to brag on. Only adding Antawn Jamison, who is far past is former All-Star form and an over the hill Shaquille O’Neal as impact sidekicks is weak too. LeBron will get money anywhere is goes, so I don’t think the contract makes a huge difference. But the inability to project a championship will be and unless he feels a strong desire to build his own legacy from start to finish, Cleveland may not be the place. However, I will not count them out, because its still home and that could pull him to do it there and keep his center of control under his grasp.

ChicagoBulls: Chicago seemed like the most viable option if he could’ve taken Chris Bosh with him. There’s a hole on the floor that still could welcome him there, but it seems like a long shot for some reason now. Even with Bosh join Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Bulls still boast the most overall talent of team in the chase. There are two All-Stars in place already in Derrick Rose and newly acquired Carlos Boozer, as well as a strong starting core ready as well. If he could consider playing in Miami with Wade and his style of play, then playing in Chicago with Rose, who is far more willing to defer in his style of play. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like this will happen, which doesn’t make much sense to me.

New York Knicks: The Knicks will cater to his wishes bring in whoever he wants around him. They have no problem withspending money and have already landed Amare Stoudemire as a drawing piece. But beside him, there’s literally nothing to say they will win any quicker with him in the fold. 2 players don’t win championships, teams do. The Knicks do offer the biggest stage available of anyone in the Big Apple, but with a star the size of LeBron, he brings the media to him wherever, so I don’t see the Knicks as being answer. If they had a more solid core intact, ala the Patrick Ewing years, maybe. But no matter how much glitter they throw at the situation, it’s still a base level rebuilding project and that’s not what he needs. He’s already rebuilt one team in Cleveland, and now as he’s approaching the half way point in his career I don’t imagine he wants to spend the second half doing the same thing, regardless of what city it is in.

New Jersey Nets: The Nets are similar to the Knicks in that they are rebuilding. However, they are building around actual pieces in place that show potential to make the jump with the right leader on court. Adding Avery Johnson’s proven track record on the sidelines shows they’ll make strides on the court, and they have maybe the most brash ownership in the NBA this side of Mark Cuban in Mikhail Prokhoroz and Jay-Z, so they’ll continue to make headlines and be active. With all these benefits, there’s just too much in flux in Jersey. They are only a year off of a historically terrible season and are moving to another city soon. It doesn’t fit what LeBron should be in the market for, stability and a continued reign at the top of league. But with the twists and turns in this entire saga, this surprise could happen.

Los Angeles Clippers: Nope, not happening. I’m not even wasting the characters or considerably low typing energy addressing it. On Friday morning, Danny Manning or Loy Vaught will still be the best Clipper ever, not LeBron. The End.

Miami Heat: While I said who I feel about him landing in Miami yesterday, it’s seeming like this is a strong possibility. I can see why he would want to go there and I don’t blame him (do blame the Heat if they sign him though). If he goes to Miami he’ll immediately come under criticism. He’ll be pegged as not being able to get it done on his own and needing Wade and Bosh to make it to the top. Let’s look at this a few ways. True, he would be giving up his chance to make his own legacy, by joining up with the Heat. But he would be assured of being even deeper into the championship picture than he has ever been before (despite making the 07 Finals, they had NO shot at beating the Spurs).

However, it would impossible to say he isn’t concerned about winning, because this would be the quickest way to that goal. It seems like a match made in heaven, but I really see such a star laden team having huge chemistry problems that would be magnified when they struggle, and they will do that inevitably. I don’t think you can replicate what the Celtics did when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined in Paul Pierce in 2007-08. They were older than Bron, Bosh and Wade, so they were more focused on ending the legacies that they had created individually. They were ready to cap them off. Of the guys in Miami, specifically Wade and LeBron, are still making their place in both the current power struggle in the league and of this era of the NBA. I’m not convinced they can totally divorce the individual to win together yet and this could keep LeBron elsewhere. Which isn’t totally selfish of him in his decision, but could cost the ultimate goal, but Kobe and his Lakers could still do that anyway, so who knows.

After all of this, it’s really only going to make sense to him. There’s probably more moving and shaking behind the scenes than we’ll ever know, but I’m gonna take my shot at what makes sense with what’s available. I’m predicting:

Cleveland

In a close turn over joining the party in Miami (and I mean very close, I erased and rewrote this five times myself), he stays home. LeBron seems to have a strong sense of both his own self value, loyalty and ego. By staying in Cleveland he appeases all of these contradictory elements at once. He makes his homeland happy by staying home and achieves the largest payday possible. He also locks in his chance at being one of the truly defined greats of all time, by leading a single franchise to a championship level. For him to truly achieve his place as a great of both this era and all-time, he does in one place. Wade, Kobe and Tim Duncan are the measuring sticks of achievement in this era of the NBA, and have done it in one location. Michael Jordan (save for his very end stint in Washington), Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bill Russell are at the summit of NBA greatness, and did it by building and leading one team up with them.

The King stays in his castle....for better or worse.

I believe he wants this. It feeds his ego/legacy appropriately. While it is far from being a guaranteed shot and he will have to contend with Dwight Howard’s Orlando clubs still and the double-headed Miami monster, I think he takes on that undertaking. He has shown he can raise an otherwise mediocre Cavs roster to the 60 win level, and I doubt he will return without some immediate guarantees on upgrades to the roster to push them further than they have been since 2007. It’s a commendable and brave endeavor with an uncertain endgame, but what isn’t.

And in the end, there’s always the Clippers. If just for shock value alone.

To the dismay of the East, Wade & Bosh will permanently share uni's now.

This morning two of the largest pegs in the free agent market came together in Miami. Dwyane Wade made the expected move and stayed home with the Heat, to continue to build his legacy. After weeks of drama, that was similar to a media-built custody battle between Wade and LeBron James, Chris Bosh chose South Beach as his landing spot and Wade as his running mate. He will receive less than he would have working out a sign-and-trade deal with the Raptors, but the immediate chance at playing under the brightest lights in the league in May probably will help him cope.

Despite this part of the 3-headed free agent monster being slayed, there is still the matter of the LeBron James decision.

Live in Orbit: The LeSatellite

Evidently LeBron will broadcast his decision on where he will play next from an orbiting spaceship above the planet to all of the world’s people via ESPN on Thursday night. It has been well documented here where LeBron could choose and what he brings with him besides his formidable talent on the court. While Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, New Jersey and even the LA Clippers have a shot at landing him on tomorrow night, there is one team that should bow out of the race immediately now.

You guessed it.

All of the rage is the potential dream (and nightmare for the 29 other NBA clubs) pairing of Wade, Bosh and James. If you’re a fantasy basketball league, yes, you are winning big time. However, if you are Pat Riley in the off-line world, obtaining James is a mistake on the two most essential levels, on-court and financially.

First of all, this is not a shot against LeBron. He is the most devastating talent in the league and makes any team better

Beasley can play an big role in the new look Heat

immediately. But for where the Heat are now it makes no sense to add his particular skill set to what they have in place. From a scoring perspective, they are set. Wade is more than enough first option scorer by himself, and by adding Bosh they have paired the best slasher in the NBA with arguably it’s best interior scorer. From a primary scoring perspective the Heat are set and with Michael Beasley, who is steadily improving, they have a solid secondary option. LeBron’s presence would only upset this balance.

LeBron is tremendous everywhere on the floor. But figuring out an offense and keeping chemistry together for both Wade and LeBron for 82 games a year could be a monumental headache. For both Wade and James, fitting into an offense where they are not the clear primary scorer could be a huge problem and realistically decreases their impact on the floor. Both are best adept at leading teams as the undisputed lead of the team. That role could be become as foggy as an eye exam for Mr. Magoo with both in the fold.

The bottom line for Miami is that for the other areas he could benefit the Heat, you can add other role player options that can make do together at the price for one LeBron.

The most strategic approach from this point is to surround these guys with everything they need win out, much in the style of the 2006 Championship squad. Currently outside of Wade and Bosh, the Heat’s roster consists of Beasley, point guard Mario Chalmers, guard Kenny Hasbrouck and draft picks DeSean Butler and Dexter Pittman. There are a few ways they can maximize what is in place already. The best options are to fill out the starting lineup with either a pure center with size that lets Bosh over-match most opposing power forwards (in the mold of Brendan Haywood or Brad Miller) or add another swingman by utilizing Beasley’s flexibility to play the power forward spot. Ideally, this should be a good spot up shooter to benefit from the attention on Wade’s penetration. Mike Miller, Kyle Korver or retaining Quentin Richardson can achieve this.

After this point the attention has to be turned to fortifying the bench, which is where adding LeBron cripples the Heat tremendously. With 3 max contracts, you’re putting all of your eggs in one big basket, a dangerous proposition. Admittedly, if you going to make a gamble of this type, this 3 headed approach is best way to go after it, but if you’re looking to knock off the current top dogs in the NBA bench depth is what makes the difference. The Lakers and Celtics proved that during their recent Finals battles. The Magic, Hawks, Cavaliers and Mavericks all are top contenders in league as well, and boast deep benches to work around their stars.

Could Carlos still be eyeing a move to South Beach?

The Heat need to take the remaining cap room and add a group of shooters, ball handlers and perimeter defenders to run teams into the ground. While it may be a stretch, they could also still pursue Carlos Boozer, who most likely won’t require a max contract and has a good relationship with Wade also. This would be the best starting 5 in the East and make an unmatched rebounding/scoring tandem in Bosh and Boozer. This would lessen what they could afford to add for complete depth, but with a starting lineup of that level, they could easily run a 8-man rotation for most of the season.

Mr. Riley, you’ve won the summer battle already. Your program has gained huge media attention and for all intents and purposes, you have won. You have retained your superstar and landed the best power forward available. In the process, you have formed perhaps the most devastating 1-2 punch in the NBA. Much of the complete picture will not be revealed until LeBron signs and dominoes of players potentially following him end, the Heat are without a doubt in the driver’s seat now. You’ve played your hand well Pat, cash in your chips and spend for depth over name brand notoriety.

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.)

Odds are he'll add more MVP's to his mantle.....but where?

Chicago Bulls

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.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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

Home town edge - Is born and raise enough for Cleveland to hold him?

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.

Miami Heat

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.

They've been great apart, but would full time work for Wade & Bron?

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

Can Hov build his new dynasty with his boy Bron at the wheel?

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.

All the planets in the solar system revolve around the sun. The NBA free agent universe, the role of the Sun is being played by LeBron Raymone James. His decision is what every team in the League, and the sports world at large, is depending and waiting on. The reigning MVP is the catalyst in the biggest offseason in NBA history and per his usual moves since his sophomore year at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s HS in Akron, they are monumental. I’ve broken down all the primary players on the market, but now the focus switches to the King of Ohio. In part 1 of 2, I’ll break down what LeBron brings to both the court and city of his next landing point.

We Are All Witnessing a new level of free agent hype, here's the #1 reason why.

LeBron James

The Basics: Small Forward, 25 years old, 6’8, 250 lbs

The Numbers: 29.7 PPG, 8.6 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG (2010); 23.7 PPG, 7 APG, 7 RPG, 1.7 SPG (Career); 2x MVP, 6x All-Star, 4x All-NBA, 2x All-Defense

On Court

Offensive Summary: It’s hard where to start in assessing James offensive abilities, as it is a combination of skills that haven’t been seen in such a way before. As an athlete, his size and speed combination has never been utilized in the NBA before so completely. His offensive game matured at an incredibly early age, averaging 27.2 PPG in just his second season at 19. His scoring output is based in driving to the basket and finishing near the rim. His incredible athleticism allows him to out run similarly sized players and overwhelm smaller ones by powering past them to the hoop. He has developed a mid range shot and is an average 3 point shooter. He also spends a good amount of time at the free throw line and finishes on 74% lifetime.

For as good of a scorer he is, he is diverse in his abilities with the ball in his hands. He can be just as dangerous of a distributor as he is scorer, multiplying his worth. He has outstanding court vision and gets the ball to teammates in places for them to easily score. At times this has been an almost detrimental skill and though process for James, as he passes on shots that are looked for him to take as lead scorer. He projected as more Magic Johnson playmaker than Michael Jordan finisher entering the league, and lays somewhere in between thus far, which are both a credit and a controversy to him.

LBJ's distribution skills are what separate him from many top tier scoring threats.

Defensive Summary: LBJ is a great complimentary defender, meaning he is more of a disruptor over a lock down on ball defender. There are better perimeter and post defenders than James; however he is far from absent on the defensive end of the court. Since entering the league he has played the ball far above average, leading to many break away points off passing lane steals. In recent years he has become an excellent backside shot blocker over the top, meaning he cleans up on bad shots produced by other defenders. He is among the league leaders in blocks for non-centers.

Overall, his unique skill set places him in position to lead several different offensive approaches. By having dominant post player he can lead to easy man-to-man points by drawing multiple defenders towards him on the double team and passing out to the post. In a similar fashion, he can also run an offense centered on him attacking the rim as primary scorer and being surrounded by shooters who take advantage of looks drawn by his penetration. Finally, an up tempo, on the break style attack, that lets him utilize his speed and play making, could be overwhelming.

Off Court

Off the court his value is just as great on the court, where he touches virtually every media market just by his presence alone. He is among the upper tier of all professional athletes in the world in notability and name value, and raises attendance figures wherever he plays. Since he joined the Cleveland, he has sent both their franchise value and revenues skyrocketing, bring in $80 million annually in revenue. His membership adds instantly increased national visuability and increased sales of all merchandise associated with him. His jersey has been second to Kobe Bryant’s in sales the last few seasons and with the potential rush to grab both his new number (he is switching to 6 in 2010-11) and potentially new team, could push him to the top of the list.

As a player and personality, no one matches James' potential in the NBA.

It’s hard to believe that he could stand to make a bigger media difference than he already does by moving to a larger market such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Dallas, but potentially he could. A move to the East Coast puts him on the time schedule with the majority of nation’s center of media programming focus in Eastern Standard Time. The scope and exposure of his advertising campaigns could shoot up the charts in the New York area, the largest population base in the US. Los Angeles would offer virtually the same exposure, even with the Clippers. The legend of Michael Jordan looms in over the Chicago Bulls image still and putting another off the charts player in that uniform would bring Jordan levels of attention, and accompanying funds, back to the area with a LBJ led Bulls. And there should be no doubt that Marc Cuban would pour every penny he has (save for his fines account) to promote James in Texas.

There are many talents whose services come at a high price, yet produce returns on the investment. However, landing LeBron is an investment that can change the entire fortunes of a team, a fan base and financial landscape for a city. This is what separates him from the impact of luring Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh to come lift your team to a few more wins and a trophy. LeBron can bring both of those as well with the right situation. However he can bring an empire surrounding him that will change the entire image and atmosphere around your team as well. While there are no promises about who will win what, bringing LeBron to town guarantees a championship at the bank, as well as brings into the fold the one of the only players equipped to succeed Mr. Bryant as a dynasty builder (he’s only 25, Mike didn’t win his first until he was 27 and did pretty well in his 30s). It’s no wonder the world revolves around his will. He’s crafted it that way, on the court and off.