We’ve been introduced to this free agency madness for nine days. More than a week. Yet, it’s still not sinking in. The amount of people that remotely have a clue what’s going on equals the percent chance Phoenix has at landing a marquee name. That’s LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, by everyone’s standards.
Oh, if you was wondering, that’s zero percent.
That needs to be tackled first.
Could Phoenix get even hotter … brighter?
Lay the following out on the table: A genius general manager, dynamic backcourt, Coach of the Year candidate in his first year on the job, and cap room for a max deal.
We’re not finished: The NBA’s fastbreak leaders, a 48-win team in a conference where that equals “missing playoff contention.”
Wait, there’s more? Yep: The league’s Most Improved Player of the Year (a point guard that was one of four to average at least 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game), blazing warm weather to enjoy the outdoors, and a young bench?
That’s the entire pitch for the Phoenix Suns — give or take a few details — for alluring LeBron to the desert. Perhaps 115 degrees most of the year is too much, because he’s likely not considering them. I’ll forever wonder why, however, since they’d be immediate contenders (even in the West) when you place him in an athletic system featuring Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
It was appearing to be too much to ask of Phoenix to re-sign Bledsoe, who is a restricted free agent, all while paying him what he’s worth and still giving LeBron a max deal. Right? That’s what the average human would believe, since the Suns come off as a smaller market, who will never be able to get another chance at a title.
In actuality, Ryan McDonough and the Suns entered the 2014 market with the second-most cap space availability, roughly around $35 million. Channing Frye, their stretch power forward that just averaged 14.2 points per 36 minutes and shot 37 percent from deep, hit the road for Orlando this week. What better way to fill (and exceed) the gap Frye left in the offense than to bring in a “point forward” that can do everything imaginable on the court. The burden would be lifted from Dragic’s shoulders, since he would have LeBron — and mini-LeBron — running the show in a blur. James is 29 years old, and the days of running and jumping like a freak of nature that hailed from outer space may be limited, so why not leave the league in the desert dust in Phoenix?
It’s not happening.
Why? These are times where you admit: “I have absolutely no idea.” Nobody will ever understand why Phoenix isn’t able to attract the larger names in the market, or what they will have to improve on to give them a chance.
LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, met with the Suns last week, but it’s just out of the general rule of common courtesy. If teams honestly believe they should be given the correct opportunities to land stars they deserve, you go to hear their pitch. Although the NBA’s stars will ultimately choose what they want and the new CBA has given the owners more power, you don’t want these stars publicly coming out to say certain franchises never have a chance. This league needs talent diversity and separation, and out-of-the-blue teams, such as Phoenix, need to be given their reverence and due-diligence.
For those that believed it was the unthinkable ….
Basketball universe exploded into a trillion pieces Tuesday when Chris Sheridan elucidated what his sources told him was a “90 percent chance” LeBron would return home, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sheridan spent six years at ESPN and 18 with the Associated Press, so he’s not some fake hot shot trying to acquire fame through half-truths. Anyone who isn’t buying the 90 percent shot Cleveland has, needs to look at Miami’s latest signings, then at James’ birth certificate.
Even with Miami being South Beach, racking up two Larry O’Brien trophies in the last three years, and combining his close friends with a phenomenal president, he didn’t grow up in Florida. For some athletes, and you know, human beings, that actually matters. If an offer is on the table to return where you started your career, to make amends for the wrongdoing you put the fans through, and to literally make yourself at home, that choice has to be high on the totem pole.
Many gutsy folks, including myself, would argue that the roster Dan Gilbert and David Griffin have assembled is more appealing to James than one he would get in Miami.
The beaten and battered Dwyane Wade would be more than willing to take less money to keep himself in title contention, but Chris Bosh doesn’t feel the same. Don’t buy too much into his notion of “I want to play with LeBron, in Miami.”
Yes, that’s the priority. Who wouldn’t want to stick with the guy that loves eating up all the attention, which leaves you in the corner ready to put the hammer down? With that in mind, Bosh wants to cash out. Miami could indeed give him max money, but it wouldn’t be ideal. If Riley wants to stay the course and keep this core together for one more contract extension, he wants James getting the max (or close to it) and the other Big Three members sacrificing.
When you lowball Bosh and ask him to “consider winning over luxury,” you can only be so harsh. Daryl Morey is doing everything he can to sugarcoat Bosh with a four-year, $88 million offer to play on an automatic contender … one that could finally be favored to advance to a Western Conference Finals. Still, does that match the automatic NBA Finals appearance LeBron has been able to promise during four years in Miami?
Cleveland may be young and inexperienced when it comes to the big stage, but at least they’re young and packed with raw talent. LeBron is the merchant you call in to transfer “raw talent” to polished aptitude.
Staying in the East would be discerning, and 100 percent the way to go. Even with new head coach David Blatt — who has been praised in Europe comparable to Phil Jackson — the Cavaliers would have enough to get back to the Conference Finals. That’s a place they haven’t been since 2009. Any thought of Cleveland fans not welcoming him back with open arms is a farcical sentiment.
What’s one of the top three facets of life, religion, and just being a human that makes mistakes? Forgiveness.
The same teenage kids, or grown adults, that set fire to those No. 23 jerseys will be the first ones using their credit cards for the new No. 6 maroon and white apparel.
The legacy of an All-Time great
As for James, would making a living in Cleveland and Akron again further tarnish his legacy?
LeBron did pack Wade, Bosh, and Mario Chalmers on his back in last month’s Finals (averaging 28.2 points and 7.8 rebounds on 57 percent shooting). In various ways, it was worse than the 2007 Finals, in which he was swept by the Spurs with an inept Cavaliers roster. Why? Because LeBron, himself, shot 35.6 percent in that series vs. Popovich, and crumbled individually on top of having zero help. This time, he was as brilliant as you could be against San Antonio in majority of the five games, but looked around and found nobody following his lead.
Why does that matter?
Many will claim that James’ legacy didn’t take a hit with his third Finals loss. I’m probably on that side, considering James’ reaction after the defeat was just one of helpless dismay. Whether the loss hurt his resume or not, there will be no asterisk next to it when we look back in 30 years. Do we look back today and give the “that doesn’t count” argument to Magic Johnson‘s four Finals losses, Charles Barkley‘s Finals loss, or Shaq’s 1995 Finals loss? We don’t even think about them, regardless of the circumstances at the time.
The fact is, LeBron has a bit of making up to do in terms of re-shaping his career, and his legacy. The regular season accolades can keep piling up, and records can be broken, but we live in an era that rides or dies on the championship comparison. There’s no getting away from that, no matter how much we might dislike it.
Returning to Cleveland would not be a case of the “ring chasing” attitude many accused him of in July 2010.
During that time, he was fresh off getting ousted by a 2010 Boston Celtics team that wasn’t necessarily superior, but was definitely more complete and collectively harder-working. LeBron’s absurd amount of talent and physical nature made them favorites in the East at the time, and it didn’t work out.
Coming back to the team you spent seven long years with would be the type of homecoming routine this league would benefit from. The East would be wide open, with the Pacers creeping through and feeling a bit more optimistic than they were this January (if that’s possible). Chicago, with a Derrick Rose who can hopefully keep his knees in one piece, would be right there with Cleveland and Toronto. Depending on Anthony’s intentions this week, the Knicks aren’t a team to sleep on with a new triangle system they’ll try to implement.
Can you fathom what it would do for LeBron’s career if he fulfilled his promise from back in the day … granting the city of Cleveland with their first NBA title?
Winning gold with more than one franchise is an opportunity very limited in one’s career. Some have stuck it out with their respective teams to win four or five in a career — over 18+ seasons. Others, never even get a chance to play for a title (Steve Nash).
LeBron could enter illustrious territory with a change of scenery, back home.
The rejoice, the video footage of Dan Gilbert and LeBron smiling with one another. Maybe that’s a stretch, because I don’t know a person that would easily dismiss the hatred Gilbert put to paper four years ago. But James isn’t one to hold grudges. That’s why there’s this whole affliction of him returning, right? From my time speaking to LeBron this season, it’s easy to just sense. He has the personality of one that would put things aside, for the greater good of a career. Seems like he’s not wanting to do that financially, but all superstars have to look out for themselves with the CBA.
LeBron wouldn’t be returning to Cleveland looking to chase gold. He would be returning for the journey, the place where he would love to finish his career. He’d be returning with two rings on his hand, trying to do something Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did. Of all the Mt. Rushmore candidates he suggested, have any of those won trophies for more than one franchise? Just Kareem.
After the shots are fired and the free agency smoke settles, there’s only one other destination — other than re-signing with Pat Riley — that would keep LeBron’s legacy sparking.
For that to happen, a re-marriage has to clean up one of the ugliest divorces in sports history.
Your move, King.