The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Will LBJ stay in Cleveland?

Posted by disappointmentzone on 1 July 2006

Early this morning the Cavs offered LeBron James a five-year $80 million contract extension. He cannot sign the contract until July 12th at the earliest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t agree verbally to the extension. Carmelo Anthony has already agreed to the five-year $80 million contract extension the Nuggests offered him this morning. Here is what I wrote a couple of months ago after a profile of LBJ appeared in the New York Times:

His $97 million contract with Nike has a provision that would pay him more if he went to NY, Chicago, or LA, which would mean playing with the Lakers, Bulls, Clippers, Knicks, or possibly the Nets, a team on the move to Brooklyn in the next few years. Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement the Cavs will be able to offer James more money than any of those teams, but will that offset the difference between his Nike contract in Cleveland and his Nike contract in, say, New York? The best move LBJ can make is to follow the paths of Tim Duncan and Tom Brady: except a less-than-maximum contract with the Cavs, thus reducing his financial burden on the team, which in turn will allow the Cavs to bring in other free agents. There is a maxim about success in the NBA that says one star can get you to the playoffs, but it takes two stars to win the championship. If LBJ signs a max contract with any of the teams mentioned above, he will damage any flexibility those teams might have financially.
That said, where might LBJ end up? From least likely to most:
New York Knicks: There is a tee shirt circulating around NYC that reads, more or less: I signed with the Knicks and all I got was this lousy six-year, $47 million contract. The Knicks already have $95 million in contract money committed for 2009, no solid foundation for a team in the guys they have now, and Larry Brown is the coach. After the Olympics, LBJ won’t want to play for Larry Brow
LA Lakers: The Lakers have Kobe Bryant…and that’s about it. I doubt LBJ would go to a team where he would be second fiddle. Plus the Lakers wouldn’t be stupid enough to trade for a player like LBJ, who will demand 20-25 shots per night. He and Kobe can’t be on the same team. Wouldn’t work. The only way LBJ ends up in LA is if Kobe is traded by the Lakers, and that won’t happen in the next few seasons, if ever.
LA Clippers: If the Clippers could somehow land James without giving up Elton Brand they would immediately rocket to the elite in the NBA. Brand is the best type of big man to compliment James–he can run in the open court, shoot the 15-foot jump shot, he can pass, and he can rebound. With just LBJ and Brand the Clippers would have the best frontcourt in the NBA. Of course, LBJ would have to get over the stigma of signing with the Clippers, and if LBJ can muster the courage to be loyal to his hometown team in the face of his high school buddies, I doubt he’s mature enough to buck the trend of signing with Clippers.       Chicago Bulls: This is where everything gets interesting. Working in favor of Chicago is that they have a very young team that would easily submit to LBJ. They have the Knicks’ #1 draft pick this year. The Bulls also have a number of prospects (Gordon, Deng, Hinrich), which could yield a trade with a big name player in the next few years. Chicago is also the city of Jordan, LBJ’s idol, and is actively seeking a major star the fans can unite behind (rumors of Jermaine O’Neal or KG heading to Chicago have been blowing about all season). It’s hard to market ‘Baby Bulls’. It’s easy to market Star Player. Working against Chicago is that LBJ would never escape the shadow Jordan cast there, and LBJ is savvy enough to be aware of this.
NJ/Brooklyn Nets: If LBJ goes anywhere it’s to the Nets. Jason Kidd, though 43 years old with bad knees, is still one of the three best point guards in the NBA, and a backcourt of LBJ and Kidd would not only be terrifying to opposing teams, it would be the best in the NBA in the last 15 years. Toss in Jefferson and Kristic (but get ride of Carter, preferably for a PF) and you have a legitimate title contender for as long as Kidd stays healthy. Plus, Jay Z is a partial owner of the Nets, and is a good friend of LBJ’s. And then there is the NYC factor. If Cleveland fans have anything to be worried about it is the Nets.
Cleveland Cavs: Thanks to Larry Bird the Cavs can offer LBJ the most money. This is important. And in this day the size of the market in which a player plays isn’t nearly as important as it was 20 years ago, thanks to the internet and NBA TV and 9 ESPNs and NBA Season Pass. LBJ is going to an icon and a global brand no matter where he plays 41 games each season. And if LBJ is accepted as a king in Cleveland right now, he’ll be the second-coming of Jesus if he stays, and James knows this. Plus, Cleveland will be in the playoffs for the foreseeable future, although the Cavs won’t complete for a championship as long as a) Eric Snow is the PG, b) Z is the center, c) Damon Jones is on the roster, and d) the Cavs keep screwing up in the draft (hello Luke Jackson and Jeri Welsh, for whom we traded a first round pick, you are invited to joing the club whose members include Langdon, Diop, Wagner, Mihm, Anderson, and Knight!).

As of today, here are my ranking, from least to most likely.

The Knicks, Lakers, Clippers all have about a 3% chance of signing LBJ. The Knicks improved their lot by firing Larry Brown, but they are still swamped with huge contracts. The Lakers haven’t done anything to improve their chances. The Clippers never should have been given a 10% chance of signing LBJ. First, their owner doesn’t spend money. Second, no one has ever picked the Clippers over the Lakers, and while that trend may change in the future, a superstar won’t be leading the pack.

The Bulls are quietly improving with shrewd off-season deals and wise drafting decisions. But the MJ factor hasn’t lessened even though he is now minority owner of the Bobcats. The Bulls would have to turn over much of the young talent on their roster to sign James, and that probably isn’t a good choice given how quickly the Bulls are improving. 10% chance.

The Nets are still the biggest competition to the Cavs’ chances of signing LBJ. Put it this way: If LBJ rebukes the Cavs’ offer, he’s headed to NJ. 14% chance.

Which leaves the Cavs with a 67% chance of signing LBJ.

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