LeBron James has announced that he is returning to Cleveland. Sometime later this week, or even later this month, Carmelo Anthony will decide which team he wants to play for next. They will sign contracts ranging from one to five years, numbering in eight-figure yearly payouts that will ease them into their 30s. Should they decide to take a four or five-year deal, despite their relatively young age and brilliant basketball gifts, this contract will be the last massive deal they’ll sign as peak performers.
LeBron took and Carmelo is taking his time, refusing media attention, and carefully considering options in regards to their families, their choice of home, and the work setting that they’ll be dealing with over the next several years. There have been no press conferences, no showy proclamations, and has been no social media sizzle associated with either camp’s various accounts.
And for some reason, people are upset at this.
We don’t mean to crib a line from Pat Riley’s rather unbecoming news conference from earlier this summer, but basketball fans and media alike truly need to get a grip. The free agency period didn’t start until July 1, and teams weren’t allowed to officially make deals until July 10. These are grown men with families, people to consider that mean quite a bit more than Danny Granger or Tony Snell or even Kobe Bean Bryant. These are contracts that will truly turn the NBA on its ear, and these are set in stone for the duration – because nobody is trading LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Unless they’re traded for each other.
(That’s NOT a rumor. Put your phone down.)
One of the takeaways from a piece on the 1996 offseason that I wrote earlier this week is how quickly the big pieces seemed to take care of themselves. How Michael Jordan laughed off the Knicks before coming back to Chicago. How Shaquille O’Neal quickly reacted to Los Angeles’ cap room. How all-timers like Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton and Reggie Miller all sorted their futures out.
Except, they didn’t. With the same dates (first of the month, 10th of the month) and NBA law in order then as it is now, Jordan signed on the 12th, a day after James made his decision in 2014. Hakeem signed on the 14th, Shaq on the 18th, and Stockton and Miller signed in September. They had fax machines back then. They could have signed during that summer’s Olympics. They took their sweet time, as well they should have.
Furthermore, they all had obvious options. MJ, Dream, Stockton and Miller were right to stay with their respective teams. O’Neal jumped a chance to move to Los Angeles and make a reported $31 million more with the Lakers. These were the proper moves.
James? Anthony? LeBron didn’t and Anthony does not have obvious moves staring them down. Each potential destination comes with a heap of caveats.
Of course either player could move in with the Clippers or Spurs and turn those teams into obvious winners, but that would involve giving up literally a hundred million dollars in Anthony’s case, and nearly as much for LeBron. Cleveland is years away from being a championship contender even with James in his prime, and Miami may be in its last years as a championship contender even had James re-signed. Chicago looks nice but the scratch isn’t the same and it would involve an uprooting for Anthony. New York is an absolute dead zone next season for certain, and possibly longer if no future free agents choose to come there – which nobody really has, save for Amar’e Stoudemire’s millstone overpay in 2010, and Allan Houston in 1996.
Carmelo and LeBron are basically working as a middle class couple, tired of cooking, looking for a perfect dining out option that just isn’t there. They’re not really down with fast food because it’s not good for you, but they don’t exactly want a kale salad and wheatgrass shooter, either. They don’t want to sit at this restaurant because it’s too expensive, but they’re not exactly planning on going completely cheap on things. They love the servers and even know the owner at that one pasta place, but in spite of a locally-grown menu the food always disappoints. The food is OK at that joint that the college kids go to, but the service stinks and daddy wants a few beers and quickly. And they decided never to go back to Chick fil-A because of that stupid stuff its owners said.
(The answer is, always, “tacos.” In this case, “Chicago.” I’m biased, but you know I’m right.)
These are huge decisions of major consequence, at least in NBA circles, and there is no obvious answer. LeBron James loves the idea of becoming sainted in Northern Ohio, but in order to get his wings he had to screw over his good friend, one that just declined two years and nearly $42 million just so James could have it easier in Miami. There’s no way in hell Carmelo Anthony wants to lose 50-some games again with a rookie coach while in his prime in New York, but you try making eye contact with your wife after turning down a five-year, $129 million contract.
These are grown men decisions, with one down, and one to go. Learn from LeBron and Carmelo, and show some patience.
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