Never, ever, let LeBron James act as your general manager. That’s the takeaway right now, at least. Even his best pals think things are getting a little silly in Cleveland.
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The Cavaliers are as interesting now for their rotation machinations and defensive sets as they are the team’s weird, LeBron-led interactions with social media. James unfollowed his team’s official Twitter account on Monday – nobody cares, team accounts can be terrible – and it should have acted as a non-story. Instead, James made it into a thing by refusing to roll his eyes and say “who cares, I unfollowed a lot of things because I want basketball off of my Twitter feed” in the face of reporters later that night.
This has LeBron’s buddy Carmelo Anthony, stuck in what is sure to be his team’s third-straight playoff-less season while LeBron leaps his way toward a likely sixth straight Finals appearance, chortling from afar.
"[The Cavaliers'] drama is more comical," Anthony told reporters at Knicks shootaround in Chicago on Wednesday morning before the Knicks play the Bulls. "It's more getting off of Twitter. Know what I mean? It's always something that they blow up. Him unfollowing the organization. Him shutting his Twitter down. It is always something over there along those lines.
"Over here it's drama, a different type of drama over here," Anthony said with a laugh.
He’s not being malicious, as there is no beef here. He’s also not wrong.
Knicks drama is more laughably serious. Is Anthony’s distaste for the organization so high that he’d waive his no-trade clause and leave the city he started to angle toward living in six years ago? Is president Phil Jackson really committed to his job, or does he want to get by on a skinflint analytics staff alongside buddy buddy buddy all up in his face head coaches that poorly run his cherished offense? And when is owner James Dolan going to show up with his next embarrassing (to everyone but his privileged view) misstep?
(Also, was that Isiah over there? I know he was on TV in Atlanta last night but I could have sworn that was Isiah.)
The Cavs? Sure, they’re not a championship team that can dismiss fake drama, but they’re close enough. And, as it was the last time LeBron James worked in Ohio, his lack of self-awareness and his inability to put a guy or gal on staff that can call him on his nonsense has the whole of the NBA annoyed yet again.
James added to it recently by being honest. So it goes.
Due to the intertwining of shoe camps, promotional tournaments, AAU matchups and the burgeoning early-aughts emergence of two things called “cell phones” and “text messaging,” prominent NBA prospects tend to enter the league as good pals.
LeBron, Carmelo, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul aren’t just banana boat pals. The quartet know what it’s like to be asked to lead a franchise, and while each have spent time working with other franchise-level teammates (in LBJ and D-Wade’s case, once together in Miami), theirs is a unique bond.
This is why Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck decided to delve into the subject of Carmelo and James’ friendship recently, one that dates back to the 2001-02 high school basketball season. One that, were it not for Anthony making a rather understandable choice, could have seen the two playing alongside each other in the NBA.
Beck detailed the conference call between James, Wade and Anthony that nearly set things in motion:
"Listen," James told his buddies on the conference call, "I think I'm going to do a three-year extension, because in 2010 we can become free agents at the peak, right there in the prime of our career."
A longer deal meant more guaranteed money. A shorter deal held risks. But James wanted to keep his options open. Wade did, too. They opted for three-year, $60 million extensions that would expire in 2010, together.
"And, uh, Melo," James said, smiling and chuckling softly, "Melo took the five-year."
He did, for $80 million. Guaranteed money for someone who came from very little, working on a team that had been in the playoffs three straight years.
Of course, Wade and James didn’t exactly tumble into the NBA from the realm of the one percent. And though Melo’s Nuggets were a good squad, Wade inked his three-year deal coming off of his starring turn on an NBA champion Heat team. Some 11 months after signing his contract, James would make his first NBA Finals. Anthony’s Denver Nuggets, through little fault of his own (name one playoff series that Carmelo Anthony’s teams should have won) would make just one Conference final appearance during his time with the franchise.
So how does one remedy a supposed “problem” like Carmelo? His refusal to waive his no-trade clause was cited as the main reason he wasn’t dealt from the Knicks in February, which isn’t off, but a paucity of intriguing trading options could have also played just as significant a role. As does Dolan’s presence – the guy certainly loves pretending to be close friends with famous stars.
LeBron the GM? He’s got his interests. From Beck’s piece:
"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together," James said. "At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP—we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that."
Maybe at the end of their careers, James said. Maybe sooner. One more ring chase, this time with everyone on board.
"It would be pretty cool," James said. "I've definitely had thoughts about it."
All of this should leave everyone spiraling, especially in wake of Brian Scalabrine’s well-taken comments about superstars being underpaid.
James, Wade, and Chris Bosh all declined to take on full maximum contracts in 2010 in order to make their triptych NBA-legal, but their deals still at least approximated how much they could fully make with the Heat.
Carmelo has never taken less. He signed for as much money and for as long as he could with an extension in 2006. He signed for as long as he could (under extension guidelines) and for as much money as he could in 2011 after being traded to the Knicks, and he re-signed for as long and for as much as he could in 2014. These are not criticisms.
The machinations that would have to take place in order to put any combination of these players back on the same team sooner rather than later wouldn’t be as astronomically-tough as one would assume (stars can still be traded, and free agent sacrifices made), but a lot would have to go right for LeBron the GM.
It’s as if James’ well has been poisoned. He truly does seem to have a dim view of NBA front office culture, and though we argue with his expression it’s not that hard to blame him.
This is the guy that came to the NBA working next to DaJuan Wagner, Ricky Davis and Darius Miles is itchy. The guy that saw the first seven years of his career mismanaged by two different NBA general managers – two men in Jim Paxson and Danny Ferry that had legacy credentials to suit up with – is impatient with how his legacy is being perceived, and his eyes are wandering yet again. Especially as a generation below him – led by Stephen and Kawhi – are dominating things.
There is a chance, however slight, that James (who could sign any length of a max contract this summer, as he juggles between flexibility and monetary concerns), Anthony (whose contract is up in 2019), Wade (whose situation aligns with LeBron’s, again), and Chris Paul (who could opt out of his deal next summer, though at age 32 leaving over $24 million on the table could be risky with his injury history) could find a way to find a home together.
Even with the rising cap, they’d all have to take moderate salaries. They’d all have to take way, way less in order to flesh out a proper team full of superstars and role players. They’d have to ensure that their teammates are in the middle class, and that they’re not just surrounded by minimum-salaried comfort.
In short, they’d have to do what the Heat superstars couldn’t be convinced to do years ago, as their top-heavy squads fell in two (and nearly three) Finals in the face of deeper teams. They’d have to do what Anthony (playing on a lottery squad that won’t have a lottery pick) and Paul (who routinely works on the thinnest contender in the NBA) have repeatedly chosen not to do. And we should all presume James and Wade repeat the same maximum turn in their free agency this summer.
All of this is understandable, though. How could anyone turn down that much money?
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