A bunch of future professionals had their fates decided Tuesday night by the fluky whims of a couple dozen ping pong balls. John Wall has no say in employer. He will go to Team X – probably Washington – and he will like it. LeBron James, on the other hand, can go wherever he wants, do whatever he wants to do. The King is bound only by his own impulses and those of the people around him. Believe it or not, he doesn’t have to go to Chicago or New York. He doesn’t have to sign a 6-year deal. LeBron holds the cards.
Which means some crazy sh*t could happen.
A couple things you need to keep in mind as we kick off this free agency battle royale. We’re dealing with a bunch of guys in their mid 20s. One of these guys – LeBron, The Alpha Domino – still makes decisions under the watchful eye of old high school buddies. This in itself is not a sound foundation for logical outcomes. Now factor in the rumors – Coach Cal’s packaged deal, Momma James’ dalliance with Desperado West. And consider that James wants very much both to change the rules of the game and secure a pending legacy…
LeBron once said that his main goal was to become a global icon. He tried to turn pro in 11th grade. He scored 3800 points before he could legally shoot gin and juice. The man is not normal, and should we expect normal things from him this summer, we could end up like Mike Dunleavy on a golf course in March: totally blindsided and wondering how we got here. Will he ink a big deal with one of the oft-speculated players? Probably. But here are some of the other options.
Batsh** Scenario #1: LeBron to Cleveland… For a Year
The consensus speculation surrounding LeBron’s possible return to Cleveland entails the 6-year-max offer that would earn an extra $30 million over the life of the deal. This is Dan Gilbert’s main bargaining chip – only the Cavs can pay the extra cash. But if you set aside money for a second, the reasons why ‘Bron would give it one more go in Cleveland are many. The best of these is that the Cavs are one of the teams (Chicago, Dallas) most equipped to win next year. We saw that they’re not a champion as currently constituted. But now Shaq’s off the books and his fat ass is out of the lane. Gilbert would splurge for a Bron-approved front office, a coach that plays to his team’s strengths (read: RUNS!), and key pieces via the O’Neal money.
Plus, Cleveland would know without a doubt that this is its last shot, which means LeBron pressures the guys making the decisions to pull out all the stops. And, of course, there’s also the guilt factor: the guy’s got a whole offseason to think about whether he wants to destroy the state of Ohio. He has a conscience. He also knows that a title would erase the memories of that epic stinkbomb in game 5 of the Celtics series and secure his legacy in the process.
Perhaps the biggest consideration, though, is one still a year off. The potential labor lockout after next season could make an ugly summer for ‘Bron if he doesn’t play his cards right. Think 50 win season in New York; second round exit; long, brutal months wondering if his team can turn himself, Bosh and a bunch of nobodies into a legit title contender. On the other hand, pushing free agency back a year would be both an opportunity to see where the chips fall and an impetus for players and owners to make a deal. You’re telling me a roving LeBron/Carmelo ’11-’12 combo wouldn’t be enough to light a fire under the league’s ass? Come on. Cuban would fold in a heartbeat.
Batsh** Scenario #2: LeBron to Newark
Plastic balls dealt the Nets a major blow on Tuesday when the lottery once again screwed the worst team in the league. That Wall/Lebron duo ain’t happening, and from the wounded-puppy-dog look on his face during the post-raffle interview, no one was more devastated than John Wall himself. The Nets will instead take the third guy on the board, most likely forward Derrick “Not John Wall” Favors.
Still, if there’s one thing I learned from “Air Force One,” it’s that you underestimate Russian mobsters at your own peril. Enter Mikhail Prokhorov, the most simultaneously riveting/terrifying Eastern European sports figure since Ivan Drago. Just days after formally purchasing the Nets, the 6-foot-8, widow-peaked gold tycoon guaranteed that his dynasty in the making would be in the playoffs next season and win a title no later than year five. The guy’s ballsy. He commands respect. He’s bold. And he’s worth $13.4 billion. All parts of a winning formula. Inheriting a 12-win club… maybe not so much.
LeBron or not, New Jersey will look like a different team next year. They have only $26 million committed to the $56.1 million cap and a vacant coaching spot, which means Prokhorov could surround The King with free agent talent, John Calipari, Beyonce/Hova, AND some seriously awesome Dodgers throwback unis. Should LeBron sign elsewhere, expect a hit on David Stern before the end of the year and a potential communist uprising in Hoboken.
Batsh** Scenario #3: LeBron to Big D
This one’s actually quite conceivable and probably not getting enough pub. Would you be surprised if one of the highest-profile owners in sports attracts one of the biggest stars to one of the biggest cities? You shouldn’t. Mark Cuban basically turned All-Star Weekend into a wine-and-dine recruiting trip for all the guys without a home. He said, with Jerry Jones’ OK, that he wants to play several future home games in Cowboys Stadium… and thinks he’ll have enough fan support. Hint hint, LeBron. Dallas has the money, too, and could use Erick Dampier’s coveted expiring contract as part of a sign-and-trade. They’d also have to part with some young guys (Rodrique Beaubois?) and cash, but would still be an immediate title favorite with the Dirk/Kidd/LeBron pairing.
If you’re James, you get to play A) for one of the best owners in the league B) in an uptempo system for a historically offensive-minded franchise and C) with your Olympic mentor Jason Kidd (oh, and Dirk, your Scottie). You know Cuban will spend whatever it takes to make your team a perennial contender. Plus, you move to the West in the midst of a power shift. You won’t have to deal with Dwight Howard, you won’t have to deal with the Bulls, you won’t have to deal with Dwyane Wade. You got an aging Kobe, an aging Nash, an over-the-hill Duncan, the gimpy bodies in Portland… and that’s it. Utah will splinter and Melo’s moving East.
This makes sense to the point I think it could actually happen. The only thing larger than LeBron? Texas. Match made in hardwood heaven.
Batsh** Scenario #4: LeBron to New York… with Wade… and Bosh
But wait, you say, the Knicks don’t have the cap space to offer three max contracts. You’re right. They don’t. Nike, on the other hand, prints money and probably wouldn’t be averse to putting a few (million) bucks to a good cause – in this case, resurrecting basketball in Manhattan. Of course, this is a Bill Simmons’ exercise in unsubstantiated fact and rumor… and exactly what we’re dealing in.
Think about it. The Knicks divide their $30 million of cap room amongst LeBron, Wade and Bosh and then Phil Knight splits the difference in the form of the biggest marketing campaign in the history of civilization. Call it “The Holy Trinity.” Slap it on the side of the Empire State Building. Create a sixth borough. Call it “Wade County.” Turn “Bosh” into a verb. Buy LeBron an actual throne. You get the point.
(*wakes up from dream*)