Sunday, July 18, 2010

Owning LeBron

  I wonder if the Miami Heat think they have bought an NBA Championship by signing free-agent superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to go along with their own superstar Dwyane Wade. As a Yankee fan I know that having the best player in the league is a good start towards a championship, but until the championship trophy is presented the only thing the Heat have ‘won’ is the right to sign some very large paychecks for a very long time. The NBA’s salary cap will keep the Heat from buying more superstar players so they will have to fill out their roster with players willing to make less money than they could get from other teams in return for the chance to play for a championship. So far, they are off to a good start, signing 3-point shooter Mike Miller and re-signing power forward Udonis Haslem for far less than they could have commanded on the open market. This is very much the formula Heat General Manager Pat Rielly used in 2005 and 2006, teaming Wade with Shaquile O’Neal and getting veterans like Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Jason Williams on the cheap to supplement the superstars. That team went to the conference finals in 2005, won the NBA championship in 2006 after a meltdown by the Dallas Mavericks in the finals, and fell apart the next year when the O’Neal was out of shape, injured, unmotivated, and finally traded.

  I tend to think that the Heat will win a championship with their 3 superstars. Rielly is a championship coach who can get players to believe him when he says he is giving them the chance to play for a championship team and a good enough GM to get the correct complementary players. The only stumbling block I see is if the team doesn’t win in the first year, there is a possibility of the three superstars engaging in an implosion of finger-pointing. James in particular will be coming in with the weight of high expectations and will be in for a lot of criticism if the team fails in the playoffs. Look to see what kind of start the Heat get off to next year. If they get out of the gate by winning 25 or more of their first 30 games, they should have gained the confidence to feel unbeatable enough to win the championship.

  The reaction of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to James’ signing with the Heat was surreal, to say the least. He wrote an open letter to the Cavalier fans, calling James a ‘deserter’, his signing with the Heat a ‘cowardly betrayal’ and guaranteeing that the Cavaliers would win a championship before the Heat would. Then Gilbert told the Associated Press that James had quit on his team in the playoffs the last 2 years. I understand that it is frustrating to lose your best player to another team for reasons that are beyond your control (championship caliber teammates, warm weather, no state income tax), but I’d have been a lot more impressed if Gilbert had said James quit on his team while there was still a chance he was going to sign with Cleveland, not AFTER he signed with another team. I would ask Gilbert why he trying to spend millions of dollars on someone who was a quitter. Unless I get a good answer, I think Gilbert must be either the stupidest owner who ever lived or just took the opportunity to get ingratiate himself to the Cavalier fans. Gilbert was fined $100,000 by the NBA for his comments and got called a racist with a slave-owner's mentality by Jesse Jackson (undoubtedly a slow news day for the Reverend). But the real damage Gilbert's comments has done is to let every prospective free-agent understand how they will be treated by the owner if they ever butt heads with him.

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