Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rationalizing the Unknown: LeBron's Next Destination

June 9, 2010

Not a single person except LeBron James can say where the 2003 number one overall pick will be playing after this summer's offseason. Everything rumored and reported can be taken as nothing more than speculation at this point of the year. The only thing that can be deduced from LeBron's situation is what seems reasonable given the minuscule details we know about the 6'7 forward out of Akron, Ohio.

One thing's for certain and that is James' desire to win an NBA championship, and soon (very soon). Currently we know of a handful of teams that have the cap space to sign James as a free agent and can base judgments of whether he fits or doesn't based on the current state of each of those teams. Most notably, the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, New York Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have the room to land the NBA's reigning two-time MVP. However, when analyzing each situation, the likely suitors for LeBron dwindle down.

Snip the Clips from the List

The Los Angeles Clippers have not tasted true success in a considerable amount of time while under the same management that has led the team to playoff-less seasons for numerous years. While a young Blake Griffin may be enticing as a teammate, the uncertainty of joining a historically mediocre team immediately eliminates the Clippers from the LeBron sweepstakes. Enough said.

The "Other" Tri-State Team

The New York Nets are the next team to come under scrutiny. Having the worst record in the NBA last season, it's difficult to believe that this team could turn it around next season and compete for a title. In addition, new ownership by Mikhail Prokhorov places the franchise in a flux; something that an established star athlete would not want to enter when seeking a title. Besides that, the Nets have been overshadowed by the Knicks even when they held a better record than New York during the Jason Kidd/Vince Carter/Richard Jefferson era. If LeBron had to choose between two teams in the tri-state area, it's difficult to see that team being in Jersey.

James Bites The Big Apple?

And so we find ourselves with the possibility of LeBron joining the Knicks, an idea that has been pondered for over two seasons now. Let's break down the state of the Knicks and see how James' fits the mold in New York. First off, it has all the attention that a star could ask for as it is arguably the United States' entertainment capital. The fans would immediately embrace him and elevate him higher than the level his fans in Cleveland placed him. Hence, the fame and acceptance elements are present.

However, when it comes to winning, the formula presented to LeBron may not be as appealing as it seems. Mike D'Antoni is still New York's head coach - someone that is known for his offense-heavy, defensively-light strategy - which goes counter to James' style of play. Beyond that, there is no track record with the current Knicks front office that they can build a championship caliber team around James. The past, even after Isiah Thomas' departure, has not been pretty for the Knickerbockers. Thus, the New York possibility is not as desirable as projected at face value.

Following Jordan's Footsteps?

Chicago - the city that Jordan built - is our next stop along the path. Being a historic city behind number 23's magnificence in the 90's, Bulls fans are hungry to return to the promised land once again. LeBron James clearly admires and exalts Michael Jordan, hence the impending number change next season to six, and may want to follow Jordan's legacy in The Windy City. Then again, James has enjoyed building his own persona outside of the Jordan comparisons. Thus, the Jordan factor may either strongly draw or repel James from joining the Bulls.

In terms of talent, James would have a bonafide point guard in Derrick Rose to team up with. The rest of the squad can be built around those two. This may be James' most lucrative reason for joining the Bulls is he so decides to. But we must also account for the coaching situation as well. Recently dubbed head coach, Tom Thibodeau, has been an assistant coach in the NBA for 13 seasons, but has never been a head coach in his career. That places the team at a disadvantage for winning a championship title next season, and perhaps for season's to come if Thibodeau doesn't pan out. James may not be willing to wait around and see if his coach develops, he already did so for six seasons under recently-fired Mike Brown.

Stars Align in Miami?

Two names determine whether or not LeBron chooses Miami or not: Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley. Wade and James played alongside each other in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and dominated, holding up gold medals in their final game together. Pat Riley built and coached the 2006 NBA Champion Miami Heat team, and there's little doubt that he can do it again with the right tools available. James knows that the recipe for success has worked in Miami and that the Heat front office will relentlessly pursue high quality players. He can just ask his buddy D. Wade.

Miami's biggest disadvantages come in the form of a young head coach and the potential of conflicting egos. Erik Spolstra has been head coach for two seasons now, posting a winning record in that span, but has not won a playoff series yet. Some of that could be attributed to his lackluster available talent, but some of it is also in part to coaching decisions. Once again, James may not be patient enough to see whether Spoelstra is the man or not. However, Riley has left the door open to return to coaching. As for the ego conflict, it's uncertain whether Wade and James will bond like they did in Beijing or clash over the stretch of a grueling 82-game season. The past has shown the former, but during rough stretches of the season the two titans may collide.

Other Notable Possibilities
  • The Dallas Mavericks have voiced interest (i.e., Mark Cuban has voiced interest) in LeBron James via a sign-and-trade deal. The Mavs always have the money to pull some strings and land some names, possibly attracting James to Dallas.
  • As James stated himself, the Cleveland Cavaliers still have an advantage in landing their star forward for various, obvious reasons. We can't count out the hometown team in this entire process.

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