Losing LeBron

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

LeBron James showed up in New York on Monday, part of a USA Basketball media function, and continued to bat his eyes at the city in the run up to his potential free agency in 2010.

When asked to name his favorite city he said: "New York."

Favorite borough?

"Brooklyn," James said. "Brooklyn is definitely a great place here in New York City, and some of my best friends are from Brooklyn, so I stick up for them."

Brooklyn is where the New Jersey Nets are expected to move to in 2010 (at least if community groups don’t blow it). The franchise is owned, in part, by James' friend Jay-Z, and should be stock full of young, complementary talent and a King's ransom in salary cap room.

James knows all of this. His answers weren't by accident or without meaning, no more than was wearing a New York baseball cap from an Indians-Yankees playoff game last fall just an expression of pinstriped-fandom.

This was just the latest, albeit most obvious, shot across the Cavaliers' bow. James didn't list Cleveland as one of his five favorite cities, although hometown Akron came in fifth behind Washington, Dallas and Los Angeles.

To say there is concern along the Cuyahoga River is to understate things. To say there is pressure on Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry and owner Dan Gilbert doesn't begin to describe it.

Five years into James' career and the franchise has yet to instill confidence in the 23-year-old that it knows what it’s doing. Forget his polite talk about the front office. It's not James' job to assemble the roster or publicly second guess new teammates (he's a relentless cheerleader).

If James truly believed the Cavs were on the brink of winning a bunch of titles, he wouldn't have a wandering eye.

LeBron doesn't need New York to cash in as a media superstar or a marketing sensation – he's making hundreds of millions in endorsements in Northeast Ohio. This is a different era and as big and bold as New York is, it isn't the only place anymore. The guy signed a $105 million Nike deal out of an Akron high school, after all.

James does need New York, or the fear of New York, to motivate Gilbert and Ferry to surround him with a supporting cast capable of winning a championship.

If they can't do that in the next two years, then he may need New York to fulfill his dream of a title.

Thus far the Cavs have looked like the same old bumbling franchise that had the enormous fortune of winning the 2003 lottery when an otherworldly talent from just down the road happened to be available.

Gilbert is from Michigan and was a huge fan and corporate partner of the Detroit Pistons. Since purchasing the Cavs in 2005, he's brought all of the Pistons' pregame pyrotechnics and goofy game presentations only with none of the franchise's savvy personnel decisions.

The Cavs have misspent cap space, made short-sighted trades and botched draft picks. Every step forward has been met with a step backward.

The LeBrons simply don't offer enough support to LeBron – witness the Celtics seven games of near triple teaming James. That Cleveland made the NBA Finals in 2007, where it was summarily swept by San Antonio, was as much about a Pistons gag job as anything.

Even with LeBron, this just isn't a good enough team to win a title. And due to past moves, it doesn't have any easy options to change that. The Nets, meanwhile, are making every move with James in mind.

"You look at NBA teams that have won championships and they've been team oriented," James said last week at USA Basketball camp. "You look at Boston and San Antonio and the Bulls teams that have won; these are all team-oriented teams.

"An individual can take over a game but at the end of the day you can only be successful if you have a great team."

No executive in sports has more pressure on them than Danny Ferry. A lot of coaches and general managers can get fired. A lot of them can fail to live up to expectations.

Only Ferry can fumble away the franchise and crush the city. If James throws up his hands in two years and heads off to the greener pastures of New York's concrete jungle, Gilbert may find his franchise as foreclosed as some of his subprime loans.

Cleveland hasn't seen a major professional championship since the 1964 Browns. The light at the end of the tunnel has been James, the local kid who, eventually you'd think, will win one.

It's not just that Cleveland has lost; it's that local teams have lost in dramatic, gut wrenching fashion. The Drive, the Shot, the 1997 World Series.

A LeBron defection might be the worst. Having him in Brooklyn to serve as a centerpiece of an urban renewal, to bring entertainment-seeking Manhattanites across the bridge, to eclipse the Dolans' pathetic Knicks, might be the most painful loss of all.

It'd be a complete shutting of the door of possibility, a day to be cursed and mourned for eternity. There'd be no next year.

LeBron knows all of this. He knew it when he wore that Yankees cap last October. He knew it when he listed his favorite cities. He knew it when he brings the Knicks into it by saying how he loves Madison Square Garden (even without the pregame flame throwers).

He's a smart, savvy guy.

He knows it's a long time until 2010. He knows – witness the Celtics and Lakers – that everything can change in a single season.

He also knows that it better happen soon, before it becomes too late for the Cavs to fix their roster, before all this talk becomes a decision that needs to be made.

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