Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and possibly even if you have been), the topic of topics these days in the world of sports is anything LeBron James related. I don’t know if it’s sad or good for the NBA that this summer’s upcoming free agency period is more hyped than the playoffs that are still in progress. Everybody has an opinion on where LeBron should go, what type of teammates he needs, and what place puts him in the best position to win rings. I figure I might as well contribute to the cesspool of rumors and half-truths with my own two cents on the topic.
First off, I’ll detail what I think would be the perfect teammate scenario for LeBron James. Obviously what he had in Cleveland was good enough to dominate the regular season but lacking for the playoffs. The blame game has gone around and around, and I am not absolving LeBron of any of it. The star players gets the credit for the win, so he gets the heat for the loss too. That being said, I think that the people around him were less than ideal. I should note that I have heard the rumors that LeBron had the veto power for Cleveland’s personnel decisions, and if that is the case he has effectively proven he could not be a GM in the league. I’m guessing there is some truth to this rumor considering the fact that after Braylon Edwards, then Cleveland Brown wide receiver, got traded out of Cleveland the week after he got into a fight with some of LeBron’s friends outside of a nightclub. That’s some real life Tony Soprano type power right there.
There are endless options in terms of combinations of teammates to surround LeBron with, but I have a few must haves. First, LeBron needs a player who is a proven outside scorer who can both catch and shoot and create his own shot at times. This player needs to be a threat will the ball basically anywhere on the court and can’t be ignored if defenses hope to key in on LeBron. Ideally this player wouldn’t demand a lot of time with the ball necessarily (ie – a dribbler who likes to isolate), but would still get a high number of shots thanks to LeBron’s tendency to dish out assists.
The second must have teammate would be a big, athletic center who can collect the garbage around the rim. LeBron gets a lot of close range shots, and although he makes a good percentage of them, there are misses. Having a big guy who can crash the boards and collect the change would be important. If that player also had decent hands and could catch and shoot down low, that opens up some dump offs for LeBron as well.
The third thing that I think would be important would be a teammate who can guard small forwards and shooting guards, a defensive specialist. LeBron is a good defender, but most teams try to give their best offensive player and lighter load on defense to help conserve energy. Finding a player who could give guys like Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Kobe Bryant a few headaches would be beneficial.
Last, but probably most important, LeBron needs teammates that won’t try to bang his mom. Seriously, talk about a downer. I’m not sure what’s worse, the fact that LeBron’s mom and a teammate may have hooked up, or that said teammate was none other than Delonte “I ride motorcycles armed to the teeth” West. LeBron needs to look at potential rosters and rule out any teams that have players who are black guys who look more like white guys and have lots of tattoos. Sorry, Atlanta.
Considering all of this, I had trouble trying to determine which team would be the best fit for LeBron. The media, and even the Cavaliers, have been convinced he’s the next Michael Jordan and tried to shape him into that instead of just realizing he’s the first LeBron James and working with that. Three of the most talked about options I have heard have been to stay in Cleveland, go to the Chicago Bulls, or head to NYC and join the Knicks. The assumption has been that another big name free agent would be joining him in both Cleveland and NYC (probably Chris Bosh) and possibly even Chicago. All of those options when you factor in a big name free agent are pretty good, but none of them really made me stop and think “that’s a team that will dominate for years and years”. Sure, LBJ and Derrick rose teaming up in Chicago would be great and who knows, they might just grab a few rings, but is that really the best setting for LeBron? Neither LeBron or Derrick Rose are really great outside shooters and both are most effective with the ball in their hands. Last time I checked, there is only one basketball in play per game. People also get excited about the improvement we’ve seen in Joakim Noah and, not to discredit how good he has been, is he the type of player who will be able to slow down a Dwight Howard or other strong big men? Cleveland has shot themselves in the foot a few too many times with roster moves and I think it may be a reach to try to convince a guy like Bosh or Amare Stoudamire to call Cleveland home when there is a lot more money to be made (endorsements) in a bigger city. LeBron is going to be an all-world star no matter where he plays but guys like Bosh who are great players, but not all-word in terms of marketability, would benefit from playing in a big city.
Enter New York City and the Knicks….and forget about them. It’s hard to think of a team that has been more mismanaged than the Knicks over the last several years. there’s no guarantee David Lee would stay on the team and looking at the rest of the roster leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.
So where should he go? Up until I heard a certain rumor, I had no idea. But once I heard that Dirk Nowitzki was planning to opt out of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks, I had an epiphany. Dirk and LeBron together makes a lot of sense. Dirk is one of the best shooters in the game and can easily take some of the scoring load off of LeBron. LeBron, meanwhile, will still get to play point-forward and do the majority of the ball handling and distributing. After getting used to kicking it out to the likes of Mo Williams and Larry Hughes over the years imagine how nice it would be to chuck it out to the 7 foot German assassin who, for all intensive purposes, is really unguardable. While LeBron can play a lot of minutes each game, having another great scorer would allow him to play fewer minutes as necessary.
But on what team should the two pair up? LeBron has talked before about wanting to be a billionaire someday so why not head to Dallas and hang out with Mark Cuban right? Tempting, but rumors are swirling that David Stern has grown tired of Cuban’s public tirades against officials and is doing what he can behind the scenes to make sure the Mavs don’t win a championship under Cuban (remember the 2006 NBA Finals?).
Obviously anyone who owns an NBA team is rich. But they aren’t Mikhail Prokhorov rich. Bill Simmons did a write up on the new New Jersey Nets majority owner who could buy Mark Cuban several times over and still have enough to purchase a small country. Seriously, this guy is crazy rich and from what I’ve read and seen in interviews he sounds like a billionaire version of Bishop Magic Don Juan.
Mikhail loves sports and he loves winning. He turned around a Russian basketball club (CSKA) and turned it into an international powerhouse (Andre Kirilenko played for them before he came to the NBA). New Jersey is relocating to Brooklyn in two years and with an owner like Mikhail, money isn’t going to be an issue in terms of making the Nets new home a world class basketball arena.
Ok. So consider the Nets who have a multi-billionaire, fun loving owner. Add Jay-Z, LeBron’s buddy and minority owner of the Nets, to the mix and factor in a move to Brooklyn in a new arena. Then, to top it off, Mikhail will likely throw out an offer you can’t refuse type offer to a top notch coach to guide his team along with not batting an eye when it comes to paying the luxury tax when the Nets go over the cap.
I had New Jersey as my pick for LeBron’s destination before the Dirk news came out, but now I think it is by far the best scenario. The Nets can afford to pay both LeBron and Dirk right away, plus they have a few pieces in place already with good young talent such as Brook Lopez. I’d imagine the Nets would trade Devin Harris for either a solid defensive SG/SF or a three point assassin. They also have the number three pick in this year’s draft and are slated to nab Derrick Favors from Georgia Tech, who is described as a freakish athlete who can finish at the rim and is a good rebounder and shot blocker.
Let’s look at a potential starting lineup for the Nets:
LeBron James and Courtney Lee at the guard spots (or maybe a 3 point shooter that the Nets could get in a Devin Harris trade), Dirk at small forward, Yi Jianlian at power forward, and Brook Lopez at center.
Throw in Chris Douglas Roberts off the bench and their new draft pick and that’s a very solid lineup with a lot of size and athleticism. This gives LeBron another go to guy on offense in Dirk, lots of size down low to battle the other bigs in the league, as well as some other young, athletic players who would run the fast break nicely along with LeBron.
When you look at the whole picture from the ownership, the (future) city, and the pieces already in place, to me New Jersey makes more sense than any other team at this point. This plan could get shot down in a second for a variety of reasons, but if I were LeBron I’d be on the phone with Dirk and see what he thinks about the East coast.