Saturday, July 5, 2008

The truth about Lebron leaving Cleveland

By Rick Morris

Fact (as Dwight Schrute might say): People are way too invested in idiotic, overly-emotional scenarios regarding Lebron James. That has been chronicled in this space previously. Where his career, his various activities and his future are concerned, people don't feel a need to evaluate them logically. Inane, half-cocked theories about this athlete, exaggerating his personal and professional good and bad points, have surrounded him since he first became a national figure during his junior year of high school in 2002.

But the uneducated spew about LBJ's future has reached new heights in the last week as the so-called "king" (I'm a fan, but I refuse to call him "King James") himself fanned speculation about his future by playing footsie with the Big Apple on a recent trip to New York. Not realizing that they were being played for fools as Lebron yanked their chain, the predictable bottom-feeders in the media, sports talk radio and fandom alike wallowed in the possibilities of #23 blowing that popcorn stand in C-Town for the bright lights of the city that never sleeps. Now, who am I to question the likes of the "legendary" Peter Vecsey and his notorious one side of the story? Regardless, I'm going to break it down for you as we always do at FDH, logically and with attention to all of the relevant elements of the story.

I'm not going to revisit every reason Lebron's rumored to be leaving town, because I'd have to copy-paste from half of the Internet to discuss that side of the story in detail. In short, it's completely played out and I have full confidence that any of you reading this are familiar with those arguments. Allow me to present the shorthand:

* Nike will allegedly pay him much, much more money to play in a big market.
* Who wouldn't want to be living during the season in a city that doesn't have tumbleweeds blowing through downtown at 8 PM?
* He and Nets minority owner Jay-Z are "boyz."
* He said how much he loves playing in Madison Square Garden.
* New York and (future Nets home) Brooklyn in particular are among his favorite areas on earth.
* Allegedly, one cannot achieve his goal of becoming a global icon unless one plays in a major market.
* Enough know-it-alls in the national media (like Scott Van Pelt) have proclaimed Lebron's departure a done deal.

The other side of the story has been presented recently from two educated vantage points. First, the great Cleveland sports site Waiting for Next Year summed up some excellent angles either ignored or deemed irrelevant by those who think they know the whole story:

* The Cavs can pay him more than any other team. A LOT MORE!!!
* The Cavs have more roster flexibility than anyone else for a 2010-2011 team with Lebron.
* The Nets and Knicks are much more unproven as top-level teams right now (to be quite kind) relative to the Cavs.

Read the whole story; they covered it quite thoroughly.

Also, our Senior Editor Jason Jones weighed in on the subject this past week and noted the following:

* The Knicks have too many horrible, unmovable contracts to be a player in 2010. If they were really serious, they'd have hired Donnie Walsh at least two years ago.
* Lebron becomes the "Legend of all Legends" in sports if he can bring a title to the Land of the Impossible. Don't think for a moment that the ego ramifications of this are not readily apparent to LBJ.
* Jay-Z is just one of many Lebron friends -- should we start a stupid, unfounded rumor about each associate of his?
* Lebron would still be a big fish in New York, but one of many in a ginormous ocean. Again, don't think that he won't take that into consideration.

Read Jason's entire piece to soak up all his arguments, including his interesting concession that the Nets may become better than people think faster than they think.

I have two additional arguments of my own for the "Lebron is Cleveland's to lose" side of the ledger:

1. The ultimate, Trump-like dream home he just built for himself in the greater Akron area. Did he construct that monstrosity only to settle for living in it three months a year? I think not.

2. Lebron can talk all he wants about how he's from the "330" (Akron area) as opposed to the "440" (Cleveland suburbs) or the "216" (Cleveland and some suburbs) -- but he's too marketing-savvy not to know that the national media doesn't make that distinction. He can swear off the "hometown boy" label all he wants, but that's exactly how he's seen from coast-to-coast. There is a corresponding price to be paid in terms of his image if he's seen as walking away from what is PERCEIVED as his hometown, fairly or unfairly. I can promise you that Lebron is smart enough to factor this element into his decision.

Having said that, you'll notice that I phrased my point of view as "Lebron is Cleveland's to lose" as opposed to "Lebron is staying." I frankly do not think that we are anywhere close to seeing how this matter will definitely climax. Taking into account all of the arguments on both sides that were presented above, I believe strongly that the available evidence points to Lebron staying in Cleveland IF CIRCUMSTANCES WARRANT SUCH A MOVE. Therein lies the rub. While owner Dan Gilbert is at least not a cheapo like Gordo Gund was, it remains to be seen if his megabucks have purchased a braintrust fine enough not to kill the golden goose. Danny Ferry has a history of blowing first-round draft picks (2006 and 2008) and his overall personnel moves have been mediocre at best. Mike Brown is a great defensive coach, but he's also somebody who couldn't offensively scheme his way out of a paper bag and nobody in this organization seems inclined to force him to hire a coach who has expertise on that side of the ball.

In short, I'm going to give you the absolute bottom line for July 1, 2010: if the Cavs pull their heads out of their dark crevices by that time and manage to actually surround him with talent that he can carry to a title, he will stay. If they don't, he will leave. Anything that the Knicks, Nets or anyone else does is completely irrelevant except for the purposes of positioning themselves once he would decide to leave town. All of the power lies with the Cleveland Cavaliers organization -- period.

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