As we begin to cope with yet another NBA Finals without the Cavaliers, the frenzy now begins over where LeBron will play next season. In fact, never since the search for Osama Bin Laden have we been so concerned with where somebody’s going; it’s that intense. It’s all ESPN can talk or write about today, and they’ve gone so far as to build a “LeBron Tracker,” which counts down the 47-plus days remaining until free agency begins.
What I don’t understand, though, is why it has ramped up so much right now. While it is sure to piss him off that Cleveland bowed out of the playoffs once more this season, many experts thought that winning a title would actually increase his chances of dipping from Cleveland — that championship would give him a sense of accomplishment enabling him to spring with a good conscience. Now, the thoughts that he will stay have dissipated so quickly, it’s hard to believe they were ever there at all.
Most likely it is because of the simply embarrassing nature of the defeat. No one expected these Cavs to lose to the likes of the old farts from Boston. Fans were thinking to themselves: Well, a loss in seven games in the finals won’t be so bad. Now that everything has crashed and burned in a pit of fiery disappointment, fans are now thinking: We actually made the playoffs?
Regardless, the suggestions, predictions, and guesses as to where LeBron will play next season run rampant. The contenders have begun to settle a little bit, and right now it looks like this (ranked in order of perceived likelihood): Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, New York, and to a lesser extent, New Jersey and the Los Angeles Clippers. All of these teams have their various selling points, and James will have a tough decision to make if he decides to leave his home state after all.
With that said, let me run down my guide to landing the league’s two-time MVP and clearly best player.
Step 1: Make him a legend
LeBron’s obviously going to want money. Most simply, he’ll want a max. contract. And let’s be honest. It is more likely that Rasheed Wallace won’t take a single 3-pointer next year than it is that LeBron won’t get a max. deal. So first of all, any potential suitor will have to resign itself to giving him that. But the money expenditures required to reel in LeBron do not stop there. First of all, he’ll need a major marketing campaign. This guy’s a global icon, so any team that signs him will need to spend the money to make him seem like one. Promotional giveaways, banners, and a pregame show to completely flaunt him to the crowd are just some of the things a team will need to provide to make him happy.
Step 2: Give him as much control as you can
LeBron is bigger than one basketball player. LeBron is bigger than one team. Give him a say as to who your new coaches will be. Hell, let him craft the rotation, too. He’s certainly worth it. James has endured enough failure in his seven seasons in the league that he now deserves a chance to craft his own program. Truth is, he can probably do a lot better than many of the executives out there.
Step 3: Spoil him with a roster of riches
Bringing in LeBron requires a commitment from the team that it will break both its legs, its arms, and maybe its neck to satisfy the guy. Accordingly, any team hoping to sign him needs to do everything in its power to bring in the best talent. That said, it should be wary of not making the same mistakes Cleveland did in bringing in aging stars and overpaying role players. That’s a schematic for disaster. Instead, try to make a splash in the draft, and don’t rush the race to a championship like the Cavaliers did. LeBron will speed it enough that you don’t need to go out and make it into a one-year-or-bust kind of deal.
Step 4: Pray
No matter what these teams do, there will be no guarantee that LeBron leaves Cleveland or that he signs with a specific team. A lot of waiting will be involved in the next month and a half. James has been so adept at concealing even the slightest indication that he has made up his mind, and he most likely hasn’t. No one will be able to make the decision for him, so it is partly out of anyone else’s control. However, a strategic preparation for the infamous Summer of 2010 is still necessary. Any slight misstep could send LeBron running — along with the future of the franchise.