We are all witnesses…to LeBron-a-mania. The back-to-back MVP of the NBA is a mere weeks away from testing the waters of free agency, being wined and dined by half of the leagues owners and executives, and having each team’s fan-base go crazier over him than a bunch of middle school girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Everyone wants a piece of LeBron; everyone wants the man on their team. But for a guy that couldn’t even sniff the Finals this year, despite being the league’s Most Valuable Player on the team with the best record, is all of this media attention and excitement really worth it?
The Cavs were touted all season as the team to beat in the NBA, a basic lock to represent the Eastern Conference for a championship, and the heavy favorite to come away with the title. LeBron would solidify his spot as the best player in the Association, grab his first ring, and start paving the trail that Michael Jordan had blazed before him, on his way to being the greatest ever. Then, after winning that first championship, he would undoubtedly re-sign with Cleveland, a city he had saved from the depths of sports hell, and keep things rolling. The only questions would have been how much money he was going to get, and how many rings he could win. Four? Five? Six? Or, umm, none.
As shocking as it may sound, “none” would be the best guess at the current time. After a pretty putrid playoff performance by the Cavs (and James in particular), the sheen that had constantly followed LeBron his entire career was quickly fading. If you bought into the hype, you were led to believe that James was some combination of Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Jesus Christ (MVP, ’22 A.D.). As it turns out, James might be more of a combination of Chris Webber, Pete Maravich, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
In past years, James’ early exit from the playoffs always had a nice excuse to go along with it. When the Cavs made the Finals in 2007, they were just too young, inexperienced, and shocked to do any damage. When they were bounced by the eventual champion Celtics in ’08, it was because they didn’t have enough pieces to combat a strong veteran team like Boston. When they got beat by Orlando Magic in the ‘09 Eastern Conference Finals, it was due to the match-up problems that the Magic threw at them, and a lack-luster performance from the supporting cast. James always had an easy out. Not this year.
To the naked eye, it looked like LeBron gave up on his team this year. It appeared that he realized the Cavs couldn’t get past the Boston Celtics, for whatever reason, and that was that. It appeared as if the mighty King James was not cut from the same cloth as Michael Jeffrey Jordan. It appeared that all the LeBron hype, was pretty much just hype. But what’s most intriguing about the situation, is where the Akron, Ohio native goes from here. On July 1, James becomes a free agent, arguably the most prominent in NBA history. And after a turd sandwich playoff performance, can he come back to Cleveland, or will he venture elsewhere? That, my friends, is the question that will haunt every second of your life for the coming weeks.
So if LeBron flamed out so bad in the playoffs, why will he still be the most highly-prized free agent ever? Well, regardless of his inability to win a championship in Cleveland (which might actually be impossible, judging on past knowledge) James still won the past two MVP’s. He’s still on the very short list of top players in the league, battling Kobe Bryant for the #1 slot. He could still very easily be the best player on a championship team, and still has plenty of time to rack up a fist full of rings (he’s only 25). He may not have shown us the onions to win one yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. A lot of it depends on where he decides to sign this offseason; it could literally change the direction of the league for the next 7-10 years.
There are a number of places with rumored (and explicit) interest in LeBron and his services on the floor. One of those places is the Los Angeles Clippers. James has made it clear that he wants to become a global superstar, and knows that playing in a big market/city is one of the easiest ways to achieve that desired status. Plus, the Clippers have been L.A.’s ugly stepchild when compared to the Lakers since, well, the beginning of time. But if LeBron is smart, he’ll pass on the Clips. Why? Just ask the blown knees of Danny Manning, Shaun Livingston, and Blake Griffin. Or ask the shattered careers of Baron Davis and Elton Brand. Or ask…you get the idea. Add in the fact that Clippers owner Donald Sterling is considered by many to be the toxic straw stirring this poison drink, and LeBron will probably sign with Al Queda before the Clippers.
The Dallas Mavericks are in the mix, but it doesn’t seem to fit James and his aspirations for the future. Plus, he’d have another crazy owner to deal with (Mark Cuban), and I bet LeBron wants to steer clear of the superior Western Conference.
The Miami Heat are players, but Bron’s ego is much too big to play with a star of Dwayne Wade’s stature. And if Wade leaves Miami, then there is even less chance he’d head there.
The New York Knicks have basically gutted their roster the past two seasons to get James, but they are essentially the East Coast Clippers. He has a better chance winning the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York than an NBA title.
The New Jersey Nets are contenders, mainly because of rapper Jay-Z’s minority ownership and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s majority ownership. But the Nets suck. And despite the team most likely moving to Brooklyn in a few years, that still leaves too much time for LeBron to have to hang out with The Situation, Pauly D, and Snooki at the Jersey Shore.
The Chicago Bulls seem to be the best chance for James to win championships and dominate the league (thanks to the pieces already in place), plus it’s a big market. However, LeBron would have to be pretty vain or pretty stupid (or both) to follow Jordan and the legacy he left in Chicago. James would always be second place, regardless of what he accomplished. It would be like trying to re-make The A-Team or Karate Kid or something like that. Wait, nevermind.
So what’s left? Yup, Cleveland. As unlikely as it seems that James would return after what transpired, I don’t see him heading elsewhere. He grew up there. He’s a home-grown star. He’s the best thing to happen to Cleveland sports since Jim Brown. Every home game for the Cavs is essentially a three hour ass-kissing of LeBron. And if we’ve learned anything about James over the years, it’s that he is extremely loyal – to the place he grew up in and the friends and family he grew up with. Plus, he is very much aware of the athletic history of Cleveland, and would love nothing more than to end the drought, forever immortalizing himself as the city’s savior.
If I had to bet my iTunes Music Library (which is pretty much the most valuable thing a college kid owns), I’d say LeBron stays put. No place else really makes sense for James and the legacy that he hopes to leave on his career. Some places he can win, some places he can gain fame, and some places he can achieve greatness…but I don’t know that he can do all of those things in one of those places. Shockingly enough, Cleveland, Ohio would probably be the best bet.
And if it turns out that the build-up was more than the reveal, that LeBron’s greatness was never all it was cracked up to be, and that his struggle for eminence and titles will somehow always come up short, then maybe Cleveland really is where he belongs.
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