Ball Don't Lie - NBA

It may become a summer staple, it may not. Either way, here's a bit of reaction to some of the things you might have read in the Sunday papers yesterday.  

We should probably start by reminding ourselves that the overwhelming majority of people who follow LeBron James' career or even read this website have no real vested interest in where the Akron, Ohio native plies his trade.

Even if the New York metropolitan area might soon have two teams with two fanbases expectedly desperate and slavishly devoted to counting every bean they can in hopes that James will jet to either Manhattan or Brooklyn in the summer of 2010, and that Cleveland's Midwestern corps can be a healthy and vocal lot, the combined power of this triptych will not be enough to drown out the sheer amount of stacked-upon impartiality (not to be confused with ambivalence) that courses through the veins of most other NBA followers.

That said, with all things being equal, we wouldn't mind seeing LeBron stay with one team his entire career, especially as it is the team closest to his home town.

That said, with all things being unequal and the Cavaliers having proven that the braintrust in charge has not done enough to provide James with a winning atmosphere by 2010, we wouldn't mind seeing LeBron move on to a better situation that would allow him the best chance at a championship.

With all that being said, can we can it for a while regarding what, exactly, LeBron James wants to do in 2010?

This isn't a plea borne out of irritation at the recent batch of LeBron pieces that we've seen in the wake of New Jersey's cap-clearing trade from last Thursday. Woj, Hollinger, and the blog Waiting For Next Year have all put together great bits on what could be. Even Mike Lupica had a chance to ramp up the NYC fervor in his Sunday column yesterday, and he ended up taking a shockingly tactful take by just detailing the (admittedly, not quite column-worthy) thoughts of a wistful Knicks fan stuck in London, that noted hellscape.

(That wasn't deserved. I'm just ticked that we have to wait for Season 11 of Top Gear to show up over here, while London viewers got to take in the second episode of the series last night. I get churlish when denied necessities.)

It's just that, with one day left before NBA teams can start to negotiate with free agents, I was sort of hoping we could put a moratorium on all stories about LeBron's impending free agent status in 2010 (assuming he opts-out) until, y'know, 2010. Because if I have to listen to two more years of guesswork and assumptions and forced attempts at humor (James seen wearing a Yankees cap, chortling anchor's response? "I don't think Cleveland fans will be too happy seeing LeBron in New York gear, har har har ..."), and poorly-conceived "analysis," things are going to be broken.

You can understand why these sorts of columns and blog posts are written. A lot of us are contractually obligated to fill up space hundreds of times a year, and we run out of ideas. A lot of us are right ticked at the way Jim Paxson and (more recently) Danny Ferry have run things in Cleveland, which is no doubt partly a reaction to seeing players like Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett having to waste their primes away on lousy teams. Lots of tense confusion in the last one, but I'm hoping you're no less empathetic.

And I'm not going to pull the wool over your eyes -- a lot of crummier writers seem to think that it is every NBA superstar's right to eventually play in a town where you can get illicit drugs, a Samurai sword, and Thai takeaway all after the hour of 1 a.m., even on the same night.

There are varying levels of it, it goes both ways (Canadian readers had to deal with writers who would just assume that no NBA player in his right mind would want to play in Vancouver and Toronto, and sometimes the prejudice against NBA outposts in New Orleans and Memphis - regardless of the makeup of the team, and even pre-2005 for NOLA - is appallingly obvious), and it's always wrong.

In James' case, it has less to do with the Knicks playing in New York and the Nets trying to get on with the move to Brooklyn, as it does with LeBron's relationship with Madison Avenue (partially) and his close ties with Jay-Z (there we go). There is a lot of substance to the latter, the ties are strong, strong enough to possibly make a move in 2010, but the idea that James "needs" to work in that market makes absolutely no sense. I'll let Waiting For Next Year tell it:

"Everything LeBron has accomplished in his already remarkable life, he has been able to accomplish in Cleveland. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school.....in Ohio. He has appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine......in Ohio. He has been on the cover of Vogue Magazine.....in Ohio. He has been on the cover of ESPN the Magazine....in Ohio. He has hosted the ESPY's.....while playing in Ohio. He has hosted Saturday Night Live.....while playing in Ohio. He has assembled an astonishing marketing team and built his image and self into a multi-multi-million dollar enterprise....in Ohio. He managed to get the NBA to send his team to play in China.....from Ohio. He became the highest paid player in the NBA in endorsement and salary.....while playing in Ohio. He has played in the NBA Finals....in Ohio. He has become the image of the NBA.....while playing in Ohio."

This is a guy that your grandparents can likely recognize, and he's working out of Cleveland. That's what cable TV and the internet can do - big and small cities tend to level out if the force of attraction is strong enough. Cleveland fans ticked that James spent the better part of his youth watching Yankees and Cowboys games on ESPN and FOX instead of the local Indians and Browns contests should take note - it's that sort of shrinking world that has made James a transcendent star while still answering cellphones with a 216 prefix.

To be fair to the majority of scribes, however, any thought-of jump for James has less to do with Jay-Z or LeBron's chances at appearing in some Brooklyn-filmed movie starring any number of former members of The State, and more to do with the poor job the Cavs have done at surrounding LeBron with co-workers worthy of James' considerable gifts. If James were to miss most of 2008-09 with injury and the Cavs lucked into the second pick in the Draft (as was the case last year with Dwyane Wade and the Heat), a lot of the noise will go away.

And on a purely basketball-related note, as WFNY points out, the Cavaliers are set to have absolutely nobody under contract in 2010-11 if James opts out. Thanks to a litany of either traded-away or wasted draft picks, only J.J. Hickson might be under contract (the 2008-09 rookie would be under a team option for a third year), and it's hard to see the Cavs wanting to extend the deals of anyone on their current roster outside of Daniel Gibson and Delonte West. And those two undersized shooting guards might just play the most easily-replaceable position in the NBA.

So with James being allowed to make the most amount of money in Cleveland by way of the laws of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and even if the Cavs continue the above-mediocre play, LeBron will be in place to wield a little authority while essentially creating his own team in his ostensible home town. And though it would be tough for the Cavs to not make any moves that would have them paying contracts past 2009-10, it's still worth going after if it means that ...

Whoops. There I go, falling into the same trap I just begged every other NBA scribe to steer clear of. OK, it stops with me. I get the last word until 2010.

I hope.

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