Monday, July 7, 2014

Top 3 Teams on LeBron's Radar (Decision 2.0)

First, some housekeeping: LeBron James is not coming to Dallas. The Mavericks (and Mavs fans) know and accept this, and frankly, it is embarrassing that we even need to bring it up at all. Let’s just forget we even had this conversation.

Just four years ago, LeBron James sat in the same position: weighing his options on where would be the best fit for him to add more titles and awards to his legacy. Now, James has went to the NBA Finals four times straight with the Miami Heat - winning two NBA titles and rewriting history in the process.

And today we are in a similar situation, where LeBron's decision will dramatically impact NBA history.

When we take a moment to realize the influence of LeBron (and other NBA superstars) compared to the superstars of other major sports in America, there is no comparison to the impact of high profile, NBA free agents. Sidney Crosby (of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins) has never been available in this context. And neither baseball nor football players have amassed as much attention and impact in their respective leagues.

Maybe the top-5 College Football recruits in America can arguably rank with LeBron's decision attention (just a thought).

It's difficult to know what will drive LeBron's motivation for choosing a team this time around. However, if winning titles remains priority No. 1, then the first thing LeBron will look at is the shape of the roster.

Here are the three most likely landing spots for James this summer.

1. Miami Heat

Miami presents itself as the frontrunner of James' choices. At one point in time, LeBron actually wanted to play with the Heat. Now, those feelings may come back to keep his feet planted in South Beach.

There are just too many luxuries that James would walk away from:
  • Pat Riley's prowess in merging together three superstars for something even bigger than themselves
  • Head Coach Erik Spoelstra's ability to handle different personalities in the locker room, all the while coaching his team to two championships
  • Dwyane Wade's and Chris Bosh's support as the Big Three were continually subjected to criticism after building a "super team"
    • These guys (Wade and Bosh) even helped James become a champion
  • Veteran role players, Ray Allen and Chris Anderson taking less money in Miami for desired NBA titles
LeBron knows the Heat's system and how it (almost) certainly ensures a trip to the NBA Finals each year. In addition, James' game has also found its way to properly mesh with Wade's and Bosh's game.

Due to Wade and Bosh also opting out of their contracts, there are many unknowns as to where the Big Three will land - most likely going on their separate journeys if LeBron leaves Miami.

I believe the most likely option that will occur is LeBron returning to the Heat roster, but on shorter terms.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

You know, I may be one of the only few people (next to Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert and the LeBron-supporters of Cleveland) to actually think that LeBron James will return to Cleveland. And I'm okay with joining those ranks.

LeBron's decision has put the city of Cleveland through enough turmoil, and even Mike Brown has suffered! Only Brown can get fired from a job with the same team twice (Cleveland Cavaliers).

But now, Cleveland seems off to a fresh start and has the necessary tools to lure LeBron back to his home-state.

Let's be honest for a moment.

It's the only place he can play his home games a quick drive from his hometown of Akron, where his heart lies. It's a story that writes itself with James - the one-time villain - returning home and trying to lead the city to its first title in 50 years.

Kyrie Irving
It's also the only team that can offer a 22-year-old running mate named Kyrie Irving, who is a two-time All-Star, and player that extends LeBron's championship window. Irving's presence alone gives James a better supporting cast than what he had in Cleveland the first time around.

In addition to a possible trade for Kevin Love, the Cavaliers present their roster in a better situation than the supporting cast in Miami. Without the Kevin Love trade, the Cavs may not make the No. 1 spot on LeBron's decision list. And there may continue to be some bad blood between LeBron and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert (Gilbert's open letter).

But, we'll see if LeBron can forget about the past and begin a new start in Cleveland.

3. Chicago Bulls

LeBron playing in the shadow of Michael Jordan's legacy with the Bulls is probably not the most appealing.

However, the roster in the Windy City sets up for James to compete for championships. He would get to stay in the Eastern Conference where the road to the Finals is currently less bumpy. Plus, Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has shown his expertise as a coach.

And teaming with Derrick Rose, who was the NBA's MVP before injuries robbed him of all but 10 games during the last two seasons, and Joakim Noah, who is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, makes for a strong new Big Three.

Currently, Chicago presents itself as a stable place for James. The only obstacle to overcome is the notion of Chicago's surrounding cast to allow LeBron be LeBron.

Honorable Mentions:
Los Angeles Clippers

Like the other teams on the list, there are some problems with Los Angeles. The first issue is ownership. The future of the franchise is still a bit cloudy after Donald Sterling was kicked out of the league for life. The confusion around that could be an issue, something unlikely to be figured out prior to his decision.

L.A. Clippers' Big Three
Jordan, Paul, and Griffin

The Clippers would also have to clear a lot of salary to make room for LeBron's possible $22 million. That would mean trading promising young center DeAndre Jordan as well as other pieces such as second-unit sparkplug Jamal Crawford and perhaps even sharpshooter J.J. Redick.
That would be a lot of work in a short amount of time or it would be a sign-and-trade for LeBron, which could also be a challenge. Also, going through the brutal Western Conference just to get to the postseason might not be very appealing.
The draw to L.A. is simple. Not only is Chris Paul one of James' best friends, but also James, Paul and Blake Griffin would create an incredible trio. With Doc Rivers as head coach, someone James respects, the Clippers would likely be the new favorite to win the West, and there would be a level of trust there.

Phoenix Suns

Do you think LeBron is really relaxing in South Beach thinking, "It would be quite a treat to play with the Morris twins or Alex Len?"

LeBron James (left) and Carmelo Anthony (right)

Me neither.
The draw to Phoenix, besides great weather and cactus, is the idea that it has room and flexibility to create a LeBron-Carmelo Anthony tandem, similar to what Miami did in 2010 when LeBron was looking for a place to play with his other buddies, Wade and Bosh.
It's a complete long shot, but relationships seem to matter to James and he and Anthony are close.

Oh, and James' agent, Rich Paul, represents another Phoenix player already, Eric Bledsoe. That means Paul knows the organization pretty well.
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