Sunday, May 16, 2010

The King James Sweepstakes

  Despite having the best record in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t get even halfway through the playoffs, losing to the Boston Celtics in the second round of the four round tournament. The team went into the season with high hopes after purchasing the contract of Shaquille O’Neal in order to have the size and bulk to combat Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. Howard exposed the Cavalier’s weakness at center in last year’s playoffs in leading the Magic to the upset in the 3rd round.

  The Cavaliers had a lot of bad luck in this years playoffs. Their best player, 2-time MVP LeBron James, had hurt his elbow and it looked to me like it would act up in unpredictable ways, making shots go awry and causing him to lose his grip on the ball and turning it over much more than normal. James still played great defense, but in order to be effective with the bad elbow, he needed to drive to the basket to get a lot of foul shots and he didn’t seem to want to take the punishment. It was also bad luck that the Celtics slipped to the fourth spot in the playoffs and got to play the Cavaliers in the second round. While O’Neal would have been able to help a lot against the Magic’s Howard, the Celtic’s big men are good outside shooters and were able to take advantage of O’Neal’s age(37) and slowness by staying back and shooting and then dribbling around O’Neal if he would go out to cover them.

  When the Cavalier’s season ended, so did James contract with them. It has been many years since the best player in the league has been free to sign with any team, and the best player in the league has never been so young (25) with so many years of top level play ahead of him. Normally the top players are signed to contract extensions in their last year and never get to field offers from other teams. The NBA has rules in place to encourage superstars to stay with their teams and so the Cavaliers will be able offer James more money than any other team, but with James Nike contract and other endorsements, this won’t be a factor in his signing. Free agents normally are able to get their former team to sign them at the maximum amount and trade them to their chosen free-agent destination, so they get the maximum amount of money anyway.

  The early rumors say James will head to New York to join the Knicks or New Jersey to join the Nets. The Nets were just bought by a Russian billionaire (who will presumably be able to help James make even more money in endorsements and other business deals) and are moving to a new arena in Brooklyn. The Knicks have been an awful team the last 10 years, but James can be more of a worldwide media icon there than anywhere else. James is not officially a free agent until July 1st. Until then, the Cavaliers are in a state of limbo. Coaching and personnel decisions cannot be made until they know if they are going to be able to keep their best player.

  If James does sign with another team this summer, we are sure to hear a lot of congratulations for the signing team as if they have managed to buy at least one NBA championship. But all the signing team has really 'won' is the right to sign King James paychecks for the next several years and a large helping of hope.

  I think that James will resign with the Cavaliers for a short term contract of 2 or 3 years. Of all his suitors, they have the best players to fit around him and he will have the most control over personnel decisions. Then in a few years, he will be able to sign with the Lakers. Kobe Bryant’s career will be almost over then and Los Angeles has always been the favored destination of top NBA players in their prime.