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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

King James tempted but will keep the faith

We are living in an interesting era in sports history. I like to call it the “free agency” era, because it seems like more and more championships are being won (and lost) in the offseason rather than on the field/court/ice. All one has to do is take a look at some of the names in the 2010 free agency class in the NBA to get a gist of the impact that the trades will have.  The 2010 class features LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, three studs from the famous draft class of 2003, as well as, such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, Paul Pierce, Manu Ginobili and Steve Nash—all of whom are all-stars and potential hall-of-famers. To the general managers of the NBA, the free agent class of 2010 is like Christmas, and with all due respect to the rest of the potential presents under the tree, I want to focus on the tickle-me-Elmo that everybody wants—LeBron James. The summer of 2010 marks an important decision in the career of the young superstar—does he exercise his player option and decide to fulfill his duty as the anointed savior of Cleveland, or is he too tempted by the pull of a big-money, big-market team with a rich tradition, like the Knicks? 

Since the day LeBron inked a three-year extension on his current deal in 2006, there has been speculation over what would happen to LeBron after the 2009-10 season. LeBron himself has added fuel to the fire by playing coy when the media inquires about his future although recently he has pushed those questions to the backburner. As a result, there are several teams in the league that have been clearing cap space for the summer of 2010 since 2006! The biggest player in the LeBron James Sweepstakes is the New York Knicks. I have never seen a professional sports team so completely bank on the possibility of landing a free agent. The Knicks only have four players officially locked up through next season, all inexpensive young guys that the Knicks have drafted within the last three years. That’s right folks, the Knicks cannot even put a full team on the floor next season without doing some shopping. Not only do the Knicks have the cap space to land LeBron, but they could potentially land another top-tier free agent, such as D-Wade or Chris Bosh, as well. 

Besides the lure of playing with another great player, there are a couple of other reasons that could attract James to New York. First and foremost, there’s the cash. LeBron has openly stated a desire to become a “global icon,” and the world’s largest media market can certainly help that cause. While a number of other teams may be able to make an offer to James of similar monetary value, only the Knicks can ensure James that he will make more money in sponsorships as an athlete in NYC than he could anywhere else. Second, there’s the legacy that LeBron could make for himself in New York. It’s well known that Madison Square Garden is a basketball Mecca in one of the most basketball crazy cities in the world. If the draw of seeing kids at Rucker Park wearing their LeBron jerseys with “New York” sewn across the front is not enough, the thought of someday having his ‘23’ hang in the rafters with the likes of Frazier, Monroe and Reed might be just enough to send LeBron eastbound. Third, LeBron has some familiarity with Coach D’Antoni via USA Basketball, and he knows as well as anybody that he is literally the perfect player for the Knicks’ run-and-gun style of offense. 

Obviously, there are a crap-load of incentives for LeBron to sign with the Knicks, but Cleveland will offer LeBron some serious cash before they lose him. Let’s not forget that the Cleveland Cavs are also players in the LBJ Sweepstakes, and they too have been clearing cap space for some time in anticipation of the fateful summer of 2010. Therefore, it is doubtful that any team will be able to offer James a larger contract than the Cavs will, especially when the entire fate of the franchise hinges on it.  Since LeBron arrived in ’03, the team has gone from a constant fixture in the draft lottery and an embarrassment to the city, to a perennial contender that consistently sells out their building and is the lone bright spot in a sports landscape littered with losers—namely Browns and Indians. Therein lies the No. 1 reason the Cleveland-native should stay with the Cavs:  it is his destiny to win the city of Cleveland a championship.  

 LeBron can take the route to a ring that many star athletes choose—move to a big-market team that will spend a lot of money to surround me with great players and win a championship. However, think about how much greater the lore of LeBron James will be if he can win in Cleveland? Only the greatest of the great can single-handedly turn a losing franchise into a winner (Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, etc.). Great players like Jordan and Bird weren’t successful solely because of their skills on the court, but because the winning attitude they brought to the team was positively magnetic in attracting prized free agents. It’s already happening in Cleveland—the Cavs have been a major player in the last few off-seasons, and made a huge splash this past summer by landing Shaq, the third and final reason LeBron will stay at home. There is absolutely no way Shaq daddy is coming to Cleveland if LeBron James is not on that team—I don’t care how much money the Cavs threw at him. But most importantly if LeBron opts to stay with the Cavs, it’s looking like they will still have enough cap space to go after one of the big names that will be available. If the Cavs could land Chris Bosh, or the next best thing, Amare Stoudemire, the Cavs become the clear-cut favorites to win the NBA title for at least the next couple of seasons. 

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