Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Desperate for a scoring forward, Pens sign LeBron

Honestly, we here at FTC don't really follow the NBA too much. You might have noticed our slight Pittsburgh slant, and with Pittsburgh nowhere near the NBA's radar, we really don't care. But we do pay attention here and there. We enjoy the playoffs, we enjoy the finals, we enjoy the draft, and we enjoy all the off-court drama -- especially when that drama involves Eddy Curry, Eddy Curry taking out a $570,000 loan at 85%, or Eddy Curry trying to get his limo driver to touch his junk.

But the last few months have brought a different kind of drama. LeBron James has ostensibly taken over the NBA. He upstaged the conference finals, then made himself a bigger story than the league finals. James even went to far as to hold a free-agent summit so that he could divy up the league like he's Pope Alexander VI. As soon as the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs -- back in, like, mid-December -- a bulk of the basketball media, the columnists in particular, spent more time talking about LeBron than they did about the finals. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. The finals weren't great this year, and this year's NBA free agent crop might be the deepest we've seen in any sport for 25 years.

But since then, it's been all LeBron. Where's he going to sign? Can Cleveland keep him? Does he want to play with D-Wade? Chris Bosh? Does he want to follow in the footsteps of league greats like Speedy Claxton or all 15 guys named Ellis who played for the Nuggets at one point or another?

We here at FTC like to think of ourselves as solidly reasonable people, so we're going to break it down team-by-team. Because there are about 437 teams, we're only going to hit the contenders:

Cleveland: The core group of players in Cleveland has shown that they can not get it done. LeBron needs help, and Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are nice players, but their contracts are huge and will prevent the team from adding the shooter and baseline presence it needs, even if they are able to keep James in town.

New Jersey: They've got a palatable new coach who LeBron could break in half over his knee if he sees fit, and they've got some talented young big guys in Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors. The Nets would need to add a few pieces, but finances likely won't be an issue now that they're owned by an insane Russian billionaire and Jay-Z. Additionally, this is the only team LeBron could go to outside of Cleveland where there wouldn't be immense pressure to win right away.

New York: The Knicks can't offer LeBron the most money, and they can't offer him a chance to win in the next three to five years. What they can do is stand around him and pleasure themselves to the antiquated idea that everyone who's anyone must play in New York. Then, they'll sweeten the pot by telling LeBron that maybe, if he's good, they can get someone to name a sandwich after him. LeBron is not going to New York.

Miami: D-Wade's an interesting chip in this whole mess. Does he stay in Miami, or does he go home to Chicago? He's already got a title, and he's already the most popular athlete in one of the most glamorous cities in America. But would he want to play for his hometown Bulls, given the talent level already in place there? I say no. I say Wade stays in Miami. But assuming he does, would LeBron and Wade ever play together. It would be fun to watch for all of the half-dozen times I pretend to give a shit about professional basketball, but I doubt it. LeBron still doesn't have a title, and if he went to Miami to try to win one with Wade, the black mark on his record would be that he needed Wade's help to win a title, and that he was never THE guy. That's why it was so important for Kobe to win without Shaq around, and it's not an unreasonable thing to consider. Additionally, if Miami were to sign both LeBron and Wade to max contracts, they might not have enough money left to fill out their roster, and that would never work; just ask Juwon Howard and Chris Webber. If Wade goes to Chicago, which he won't, there's a chance LeBron could be wooed by Miami. This would require Pat Riley to fire the current coach and take over the team himself.

Chicago: The scariest contender. They've got a ton of young talent in place, including Derek Rose running the point and Joakim Noah in the middle. They just traded Kirk Hinrich to free up some cap space, and they're in great shape to make more than one free agent acquisition this off-season, given that they had seven guys' contracts expire when free agency began last week. If they land LeBron, they could conceivably lure in Chris Bosh with a competitive offer short of the max, and there's a great chance Bosh would take it. If James went to Chicago, however, he would be under immense pressure to win immediately.

The real question here is, what does LeBron want? What are his priorities?

If he wants the most money, he stays in Cleveland.
If he wants to win right away, he goes to Chicago.

The money between the two is close to negligible. But there's this, too: If LeBron leaves Cleveland, that's it for Cleveland. His skipping town could have a near catastrophic effect on the local economy, not to mention the team itself, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Robert Schoenberger:

"The franchise is worth $476 million now, but if James left, it could revert to close to what it was before he signed with the Cavs in 2003...The Cavs were valued at $258 million before James. The value jumped to $298 million in 2004. In early 2005, [owner Dan] Gilbert bought the team for $375 million."

Schoenberger goes on to note that Forbes estimates James' value to the team to be somewhere in the ballpark of $100 million, but that other $118 million in total franchise value didn't come from bringing in Anderson Varejao.

I've always been inclined to like LeBron. He's smart, he's charismatic, he's fun to watch. He's also an incredibly savvy businessman. I just can't see this guy walking out on his hometown at age 25, leaving the team and the city to rot like the lost city of Zinj.

Matt's prediction: Cleveland

BOLD PREDICTION: LeBron stays in Cleveland, but he only signs a three-year deal, or a two-year deal with a player option. He's going to give ownership and new GM Chris Grant some time to right the ship, but they'll be on a short leash.

No comments: