But then the Cavs faced the Knicks shortly after New York made some cap clearing trades and ESPN lost their shit. Now, casual sports fans and even casual acquaintances are asking me about LeBron leaving for New York (because, as the big Cavs fan they know, they figure I must have an opinion).
So this is it. This is the last time I'm ever discussing the possibility of LeBron leaving in 2010. After this, I'm done. I'm thrilled that people visit my little blog to discuss various Cavaliers news and rumors. But I'm telling you now, if want to read a Cleveland fan rip some ESPN douchenozzle over his latest LeBron to NY column, this is not the place for you. It would be a shame if we spent the year ignoring this great team because we're worried about what LeBron might do in two seasons. I'm going to try to touch on just about everything, so this is gonna be long.
The entire sports media has been pushing the narrative that LeBron is leaving. ESPN has been going non-stop (J.A. Adande, Chris Broussard, Truehoop twice, Marc Stein, Bill Simmons, the Stephen A Smith interview and countless Around the Horn, PTI and Sportscenter segments), Jim Rome spent his entire Nov. 18th show on the great Chalupa controversy and Wojnarowski has been a one man wrecking crew, writing five (5!!) "LeBron is leaving" stories in the first fucking month of the season (Sports Illustrated also discussed it a little bit). I knew we've reached critical mass when the AP recap of the Cavs-Knicks game had almost no information about... the Cavs-Knicks game.
But ESPN has gone off the deep end. This isn't the first time this has happened; over past few years, the four lettered network has beaten various stories into the ground (for instance: Barry Bonds + steroids, Roger Clemens + steroids and ongoing Terrell Owens and Brett Favre soap operas) and the "LeBron 2010" story is just the latest example. For what it's worth, at least those other stories were, you know, newsworthy.
*Hall of Fame baseball players caught cheating = news.
*All-Pro wideout quitting on his team/throws QB under the bus/being a general douchebag = news.
*Hall of Fame QB parting ways with the franchise he's synonymous with = news
But LeBron's free agency isn't actually news. LeBron can't leave the Cavaliers for an entire two seasons, all of this stuff is just speculation. It's suffocating, obnoxious and insulting, but it's still only speculation (and it'll only get worse- we're TWO YEARS away!).
So am I worried he might leave? No, I'm really not. Do I think he could leave? Sure. If I had to guess RIGHT NOW, I'd say he'll stay, but I really don't know.
As a Cleveland fan, obviously I know that players leave. I've seen some of the best players in Indians franchise history leave for 'greener' pastures (Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and now C.C. Sabathia), so I'm quite aware that James leaving is well within the realm of possibilities (I mean, fuck, the Cleveland freaking Browns even left).
But I refuse to worry about it. Look, if James wants to go to a bigger market, there's nothing that the Cavs organization can do. New York has more light bulbs and eyeballs than Cleveland. That is indisputable. And if James wants that kind of spotlight, then he's gone no matter what, so why should I worry? I'm gonna enjoy the time that he's Cavalier.
And despite what ESPN wants you to believe, it's not a done deal that LeBron is out the door. Chris Broussard:
I've had several conversations with LeBron about his future, and I can tell you that anyone who says he's definitely leaving Cleveland doesn't know what he's talking about.
"It's not a foregone conclusion that he's leaving,'' a person close to LeBron said. "It's premature to make that assumption.''
All in all, I'd give the Cavs a slight edge basketball-wise, especially if they win a title in the next year or two and are able to keep all that cap room. A longtime friend of LeBron's is convinced he's staying in Cleveland.
"He loves home,'' the friend told me yesterday. "That dude is a homebody more than people know. People think he's out all the time, but he'd be so happy to be at home.''
But it may come down to the issue of lifestyle.
"He's obsessed with living in New York,'' another friend told me recently.
LeBron is a fashion plate, and what better place to show off your wares than New York. He clearly likes the limelight and the Hollywood scene, so playing in front of the Garden's famous actors, actresses, athletes, rappers, et al would undoubtedly appeal to him. Also, some of the people around LeBron would rather see him in New York, where they believe he's more marketable, than in Cleveland.
So two 'friends' told Broussard two completely different things. And you know what? They're both probably right. I don't think LeBron even knows what he's going to do in two years. Do you know where you'll be living in two years? I sure don't.But doesn't LeBron need New York to fufill his stardom? And doesn't the league need LeBron on the Knicks to score mucho ratings? Maybe not:
Now if James wants New York's vibrancy and thin-crust pizza, that's one thing. Maybe he just wants to play 41 games a year in Madison Square Garden. From the savvy fans to the booming sound system, it's still the NBA's best arena when it's at full blast.
But let's dispense with the notion that he has to go there, that it's the next step in his career and any other location between there and Los Angeles is a waste of his time. Patrick Ewing got to New York a year after MJ went to the Midwest … and you don't see people wearing Ewing's silhouette on their shoes.
LeBron made the cover of Sports Illustrated and played games on ESPN when he was a high schooler in Akron. In Cleveland, he's been on the cover of Fortune, Time and Vogue (maybe he should have rethought that last one). He has hosted "Saturday Night Live."
If LeBron goes to New York, he won't get any famouser. I'm forced to use a made-up word because the Knicks are a made-up mythology, somehow considered to be among the elite franchises even though the Rockets have won just as many championships in 21 fewer years of existence. The Warriors, Trail Blazers and Heat have won more recently than the Knicks. The Bullets and Sonics have won more recently, too, only they're not the Bullets and Sonics anymore.
When it comes to the league's health, the Knicks are like tonsils. It's nice to have them, but you can live without them. At the NBA's zenith in the 1980s, the stars of the program were in L.A. and Boston. The Knicks were the sideshow, giving us the occasional Bernard King scoring outbursts or the Ewing lottery. The best they could be in the early 1990s was an interesting villain to be vanquished, Sgt. Slaughter to Jordan's Hulk Hogan.
What happened the first two times Jordan retired and allowed the Knicks to get their time in the spotlight? Viewers left in droves. The biggest NBA Finals ratings drop-offs were from a 17.9 for Jordan in 1993 to a 12.4 for the Knicks and Rockets in 1994 and an 18.7 for Jordan in 1998 to an 11.3 for the Knicks and Spurs in 1999.
It doesn't matter that the Knicks reside in the nation's largest television market. New York only matters to New Yorkers. The rest of the country doesn't care.
Exactly. Big stars are going to be Big Stars no matter where they play. K.G. in Minny, LeBron in Cleveland, Shaq in Orlando- big time players will get endorsements no matter where they go. But the marginal player... those guys could use big markets. You think Luke Walton is going on soap operas if he plays in Memphis? You think Greg Anthony or Tiki Barber land talking head gigs if they didn't spend their entire careers in NYC?
If LeBron wants to up his earning potential, he needs to win. A lot. Marc Stein:
The Cavs, though, are still in a pretty good spot. James, for starters, is a certifiably proud Ohioan, which has to help. What happens if they make one more trade for one more difference-making sidekick this season or next? What happens if they actually manage to win it all once before LeBron's contract expires? The Cavs better have a convincing championship plan to hit James with when he's free to leave, because the closest thing to a sure thing in this whole process is what we were told this week by one source close to LeBron: "He knows that championships will determine his legacy." Then again, they're not that far off with what they've got right now to surround their potential 22, 10 and 10 guy.
All the Cavs can do is keep winning. They have a top flight practice facility, a loaded locker room and a pretty decent arena (with fire breathing scoreboards!) . All the amenities are there. They have a stable front office, with an owner that's willing to spend money and a GM that's building up a fairly good track record. They also have a coach that preaches defense (you know, the stuff that wins championships) and they'll have a ton of capspace of their own in two years.
But what if LeBron is determined to leave? No matter what he's out there door. So what do you do, do you trade him and get something for him before he's gone?
I hear you, I hear you. YOU DON'T TRADE LEBRON JAMES. YOU JUST DON'T.
I know. I agree.
And I know that there are far more Dans -- Ferry, Gilbert, and the like -- in this world than there are LeBrons. The superstar ultimately holds the cards, and everyone else should act accordingly.
But that doesn't mean you stand idly by as they loot the store. If at any point the Cavaliers believe LeBron James is going to leave as a free agent in 2010, it's time to start preparing Cavalier fans for the fact that you might trade the guy.
At the very least, it might dim the lights a little on the LeBron James flirtation show.
Or it might end up being smart to actually trade him.
So my point is, if you're Danny Ferry, and you don't have strong private conviction that LeBron James is harmlessly flirting, don't you have to at least know what's out there?
There is probably no limit to what you could get for LeBron James in trade. Three affordable young stars and some cap space doesn't seem like too much to ask. (UPDATE: David Thorpe's clever trade suggestion. Even looking at that trade machine screen kills me as a Blazer fan ... you don't trade those guys either ... but the market for James must just be sick. He's a one-man trip to the Finals. And another idea from Thorpe, involving Boston.)
No. The Cavs aren't like the Indians. First of all, they're better. Second of all, unlike the Tribe, they can offer their players the most money. LeBron will make about $30 million more by re-signing with the Cavaliers. Now, if maybe if the Cavs got so far out of contention I might be willing to look into LeBron trade scenarios (à la C.C. Sabathia), but as long as they have a shot for the Finals, you don't trade him. You let LeBron walk away from a Championship caliber team. You let him make that decision. Cleveland needs a title and we need it badly. You don't trade away a shot at a title for the future. You ride this out.
Cavs fans are getting antsy. We finally have "The Man" and all everyone can talk about is when he's going to leave. It sucks. Some of us are getting sick of LeBron's act, like friend of the blog (I was in Who Shot Mamba?) Brian Spaeth:
I don't care anymore if he goes.
You watch those two teams last night, and it's clear that if LeBron signs with the Knicks, then he doesn't care about winning, at least not as much as playing in New York. In my mind, that's the case, and he's gone anyway, unless he really, really, really just likes all this attention. (This is entirely possible, by the way. Just like his people circled 08/08/08 on the calendar as a climactic marketing target, they may have now circled 07/01/10, just for the attention it can draw. I did think it was odd how LeBron specifically used the date in his ending statement last night -- just seemed too scripted.)
In any case, I love watching "LeBron the Basketball Player" play for the Cavs, and I love how all the pieces have really fit together nicely this year. I'm even at peace with Mike Brown finally.
"LeBron the Marketing Maven," on the other hand, I'm tired of. He's annoying.
My sincere hope at this point is that Cleveland wins the title in 2010, and then LeBron doesn't help defend it, by signing with the Knicks that summer.
As a result, the basketball gods can lay the biggest curse of all-time on both of them. I'm sure the media will find plenty to say ad nauseum about that, as well.
I pretty much agree, with a few caveats. I'm sure LeBron likes the attention, but he hasn't done a whole lot to stoke the fire. Ya, he's played coy with the media for awhile, but at this point it's something I expect. Look, I don't think he knows what he's gonna do, so I figure he's keeping his options open. Now, would I like him to just say, "I've discussed this at length and I just want to focus on my current team"? Of course. But I don't want him to state unequivocally that he's staying either. Because then he's obviously being disingenuous (because I don't think he even knows) and seen other athletes say they'll stay, only to leave for bigger bucks later. I don't really mind LeBron keeping his options open.
But Spaeth is a lot less incendiary than other Cleveland fans. The current radio promo for the Jim Rome show (which I cannot find online- it was from Chalupa-day) features a Cleveland caller bitching that LeBron held the Cavs to 99 points simply to spite the fans (no chalupa!), just like he wears Yankees and Cowboys gear. The guy goes on to slam LeBron and all but tells him to get the fuck out.
Look, if you have a problem with LeBron wearing a Yankees cap, you're a grade A moran. The fact that the only "issue" with LeBron is that he likes a different football and baseball team is pretty nice, don't ya think? James isn't in trouble with the law, he's not making stop-snitching videos, he's not involved with drugs, he's not skipping practice or getting coaches fired. If you want to deny the city a championship because James doesn't like the Indians, you suck.
The worst part of this whole thing is the fact that we're ignoring this season by worrying about 2010. Bill Simmons actually enjoys it:
Quick tangent: The Summer of 2010 quickly turned into a polarizing topic since it's two years away and some fans are rightly making the "Can't we just concentrate on this season?" and "How is this good for a professional sport that a team is throwing away two solid seasons for something that might happen?" My counter: The NBA's off-court subplots, in many ways, have become just as fun as anything happening on the court. Because of the Internet, sports radio, team blogs, better information guys and everything else, the whole trade/draft/free-agent market has practically evolved into its own sport to follow. We love reading mock drafts, making up fake trades, arguing about GM mistakes, discussing the latest moves and everything else. That's just become part of being a hoops fan.
The Summer of 2010 (it sounds like a blockbuster movie) ties everything we love about that goofy underbelly into one neat package. You have teams killing themselves to clear cap space. You have rumors galore. You have a staggering number of star free agents who might be available (including Wade and LeBron, who only has a chance to become the best player of all time), as well as some crucial markets in the hunt (including New York, the league's signature city). That summer could rewrite the following 10 years of the league. It really could. If LeBron signed with the Knicks in the prime of his career, that would be the single biggest transaction in the history of the league. And if LeBron, Wade and Bosh really did make that China pact to play in New York? The significance can't be calculated. I don't know if we can discuss it enough.
(In fact, I think ESPN should jump on this story like ABC jumped on the Iran Hostage Crisis with "Nightline." I vote for a daily afternoon show called "Toyota's Summer of 2010" hosted by Matt Winer, Tim Legler, Jalen Rose and Tim Hardaway in his dramatic return to TV. Every day, they could just rehash the latest rumors and interview Marc Stein and Ric Bucher by the Sony VideoPhone. Once a week, Chad Ford could give us the latest from Hawaii via OnStar Satellite while wearing one of Thomas Magnum's old shirts. EA Sports could simulate mock "NBA Live" games with Wade and LeBron on various teams. And so on. Would I TiVo this show? Absolutely! Speaking of TV ...)
This is different than our current situation how, exactly?
Cavs fans, be warned, this isn't going to stop. It's going to be this way for the next two years. Hell, they've all but told us:
Doesn't matter that LeBron could be heard at that Obama rally announcing to a downtown crowd: "I love Ohio and I ain't goin' nowhere." If the other teams in the NBA aren't listening, why would their fans be?
You're going to hear it ad nauseam until LeBron actually signs that next contract -- King James to the Knicks is a done deal! -- and we're going to keep countering with this: Why would LeBron, even if he's leaning one way or another, commit to anything so soon?
This will not end. If this is getting to you, do what I do: ignore it. You can ignore ESPN if you want. Trust me, I've been doing it for months. I got sick of the T.O. coverage, got sick of the Bonds coverage, got sick the Clemens coverage and by the time they were pimping the Favre story this summer, I was gone. Hell, don't take it from me, take it from ESPN's J.A. Adande:
You don't need to go to the media anymore. The media come to you, even if it means parking a satellite truck at your curb. Just ask Joe the Plumber. In the world of YouTube, Flickr and Facebook, anyone with a digital camera and a high-speed Internet connection is the media. In fact, LeBron's best work can be found on the Web, in that sublime scene where Smooth LeBron romances Nicole Scherzinger with a pair of high-tops.
You can follow the Cavs and the NBA without ever turning on Sportscenter, trust me. They're going to keep at this LeBron thing. Watch at your own risk.
It's really a shame, because this years Cavs team is really, really good. This is a complete basketball team. The Delonte West shooting guard experiment has worked far beyond my wildest dreams. Z and Ben Wallace are playing extremely well in limited minutes. Mo Williams has been amazing and will only get better as the year goes on. The Cavs are deeper than they've ever been, with Daniel Gibson, Wally Sczcerbiak and Anderson Varejao all coming off the bench (let alone the rookies J.J. Hickson and Darnell Jackson). And hell, Mike Brown's offense sure looks a lot better when he has an honest-to-God point guard to run it, doesn't it?
Folks, this is damn good basketball team. Everyone knows their role, there's no fighting for minutes and everyone seems to actually get along (have you seen how the bench reacts to big plays?). Oh yeah, they're super talented to boot. I dunno about you guys, but I want to enjoy this basketball team. This looks like the best squad ever fielded by the Cavalier franchise and I, for one, will not let something that might happen in two years stop me from enjoying it.
If he leaves, he leaves. All the Cavs can do is try to give LeBron the best chance to win championships. It looks like they're on the right path.
But no matter what, worst case scenario, LeBron is here for two more seasons. That's two more trading deadlines, two more postseason runs and one more (critical) offseason. That's hundreds of dunks, behind the back passes and ridonkulous blocks. I want to be able to appreciate this guy in full.
So I'm not going to spend the LeBron-era (no matter the length) being worried about the future (and justifiably pissed at ESPN). Right now, the Cleveland Cavaliers have the best basketball player on the planet suiting up for them, so soak it in. This kind of talent doesn't come around too often (which is exactly the reason why everyone is gearing up for 2010).
So this is my last post on the subject. If you want more, I highly recommend LeBron2010.com (I wrote the plea) for all your 2010 needs (donate!). But I'm done addressing it. I know it's infuriating, trust me, oh I know. But I can't keep talking about it or I'll go insane.
This is a very good basketball team (run by very competent people). They're going to win a lot of basketball games over the next two seasons. Enjoy the ride.