The second of a two-part series detailing the major free-agent decisions confronting Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. Read Part 1.
INDEPENDENCE — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh supposedly have talked about all three signing with the Miami Heat, even if it means each receiving a bit less than the maximum salary.
James was reportedly in New York recently.
The New Jersey Nets are expected to be the first team to meet with the two-time league MVP when the free-agent period officially opens Thursday.
And Chicago has a chance to add James and Bosh to an already solid core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.
Rumors are flying everywhere, but there’s also a very real chance James, who has spent the first seven years of his NBA career in Cleveland, could re-sign with the Cavaliers when all is said and done.
A number of factors are in Cleveland’s favor, the most important probably being money and James’ Akron roots.
Though the 25-year-old might end up signing a deal similar to the three-year extension (with a player option for a fourth year) that he inked with the Cavaliers in 2007, Cleveland has the ability to offer James a six-year contract that would be worth roughly $29 million more than any five-year deal he could get from another team.
That difference, especially if James goes to Miami (Florida doesn’t have a state income tax), could be substantially negated by once again signing for less than the maximum years, but with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire after next season, there’s a chance the small forward might want to maximize his earning potential now.
Most close followers of the NBA expect the league to ask the players’ association to make serious concessions in the next CBA, which could mean a lower cap on a max contract and a smaller percentage of revenues.
In addition to the money factor, James is a lifetime resident of Akron, a graduate of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and has extremely strong ties to the area.
It can be argued those ties extend way more strongly to Akron than Cleveland and will not end if he goes elsewhere, but wanting to win an NBA title just up the road from where he grew up will almost certainly be weighed in James’ final decision.
Also not to be forgotten is that the Cavaliers have won a league-high 127 regular-season games over the past two years, along with the fact the franchise has done virtually everything in its power to put James in a position to lead Cleveland to a title.
The Cavaliers’ weaknesses were certainly on full display in the postseason the last two years, first in a loss to Orlando in the conference finals and then in a conference semifinal defeat to Boston, but for most of the regular season they certainly looked — and oddsmakers agreed — like the favorite to win it all.
That the Cavaliers failed miserably in that regard can’t be denied, but that James this year was one of the principle reasons why is also an indisputable fact.
How much of a role his injured right elbow played we may never know, just as we may never know for sure what role a possible locker room faction had.
But we do know James was certainly not himself in an embarrassing 32-point home loss to Boston in Game 5.
More importantly, we know James fully supported the trade that brought Shaquille O’Neal, now an unrestricted free agent, to Cleveland last summer, and that he signed off on the trade-deadline acquisition of Antawn Jamison.
We also know Mo Williams, who has been the team’s biggest playoff bust each of the last two years, is pretty darn close to James.
In other words, owner Dan Gilbert and former general manager Danny Ferry, who has since resigned and been replaced by Chris Grant, certainly made a lot of moves they felt put the Cavaliers — and James — in position to succeed.
It can be argued now, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that some of those moves were a bit shortsighted, but James was largely responsible for that win-now, at-all-cost approach because of the short contract he signed in ’07.
As a live-in-the-moment professional athlete, James probably doesn’t care much about that right now, but he certainly has to be thinking about his failure to deliver a title to Cleveland and how he will be viewed if he leaves.
On the evening the Cavaliers won the draft lottery in 2003, an 18-year-old James promised to light Cleveland up like Vegas, and so far he has not done that.
The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder totally downplayed any talk about his legacy during this year’s playoff series with Boston, but that’s exactly what will be at stake — here — if James leaves.
Even if he goes on to win three, four, even eight NBA titles somewhere else, almost everyone in these parts will remember him as the guy who couldn’t get it done in Cleveland, then left town.
No dummy, James has to know that, and he also has to know the Cavaliers, with him, are still a pretty darn good team.
Cleveland will once again need to make a few moves to get in position to win a championship, but there’s a decent possibility Gilbert and Grant can get that done.
Most importantly, while a James-Bosh combo in Chicago and a James-Wade-Bosh triumvirate in Miami are certainly reasons for Cleveland fans to be worried, all the factors we’ve just listed mean there’s still a good chance the Cavaliers will retain the best player in franchise history.
The Bulls will not be able to sign another free agent with the mid-level exception, as was reported in the first part of this series Tuesday, because teams under the salary cap do not receive it.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.