May 14, 2010, 10:32 AM EDT
The New York Knicks have spent the last two years doing nothing but clearing cap space. All for him.
The New Jersey Nets have a nice young core and a new, insanely rich owner who throws a mean party. That should attract him.
The Chicago Bull have become the frontrunner because of their core. The Los Angeles Clippers think they should be in the mix because of their core. They all want him. And they are not alone.
But no franchise has more riding on LeBron James’ decisions than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not even close. Losing LeBron would be an emotional and financial blow that would forever alter the Cavaliers.
This is the team won the draft lottery to get LeBron. For seven seasons he has been the beating heart of championship dreams for a city long without them. He is the hometown boy come to change a city’s sports fortune.
And it didn’t happen. Three times — the 2004 NBA Finals against the Spurs, the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic, and the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Celtics — the transcendent talent of James lost to better teams.
It’s not that the Cavaliers have not tried to build a team around him. To the point of desperation. Bringing in a 38 year-old-Shaquille O’Neal (for a now moot matchup with Dwight Howard) and getting Antawn Jamison (for a now moot matchup with Rashard Lewis). Rarely did the moves work out, especially for the long term.
The Cavs went out and got Chinese ownership to buy in with Dan Gilbert — a market James is working to break into with Nike. But back on the court the coaching was questionable. Their basic offensive sets played into the hands of the Celtics defense in this series. The adjustments and rotations were odd (why play so slow, and why did J.J. Hickson sit so much?).
Without James — if he does leave — this franchise is suddenly in competition for the top lottery pick next year. They will have Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and Hickson with maybe Delonte West and Big Z (if they bring the later two back). They would have enough money to try to attract a second tier free agent. If they could get one to come. Maybe they could get someone in a sign and trade, but they would never get equal value.
The franchise would be in the tank on the court, and it would be another devastating emotional sports blow that has taken an unfair share of those over the last few decades.
Then there are the serious financial implications. Season ticket sales would plummet, sponsors would pull out, television rights prices would drop, and the Cavs would go from one of the biggest revenue teams in the league to mid-market overnight.
Everything would change. Everything. in one stroke of a pen.
There are a lot of teams now in the LeBron James sweepstakes. But none has more riding on it than Cleveland.
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