ESPN's Chris Sheridan, quoting LeBron James in the Daily Dime:
"You have to stay open-minded if you're a Knicks fan," James said before delivering his parting words. "If you guys want to sleep right now and don't wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead. It's going to be a big day."
The basic rule of PR in these situations is not to be fancy. You don't want to inspire reporters to dig deep into something where there are no real answers. You want to end the story, because the more of a media fire there is, the greater the chance that you could get burned. (Remember, this is the guy who shelved his convictions about genocide so as not to make a distraction for Team USA. He seems to have no such scruples with the Cavaliers.)
Even if you want to leave all your options open, all you have to say is that you love playing in Cleveland, you're from Ohio, and you'll worry about your next contract when this one is done.
That would be enough to get the amplifiers turned up. Teams would still clear cap space for you, just in case. But that's not enough for LeBron James. He's taking it to a whole different level. His amplifier goes to eleven.
The Yankees hat, the coy talk, calling New York his favorite city ... I hope Cleveland pharmacies are stocked up with Maalox this Thanksgiving, because Cavalier fans are feeling the indigestion.
In PR terms, I see that quote above, and the others we have seen like it, as LeBron James slapping Danny Ferry, owner Dan Gilbert, and Cleveland fans across the face.
Would it be so hard, I can imagine them asking LeBron, to squash the rumors?
(I mean, a while ago at a political rally in Ohio, he said what anyone would say at a political rally in Ohio: That he loves and is committed to Ohio. Later James clarified with a New York-based reporter -- just to be super double extra clear -- that he had not ruled out leaving in 2010.)
I just wonder if, perhaps, at some point, the Cavalier brass tires of it all.
It's like you're taking the prettiest lady to the big dance. That's fantastic.
But then all night long she's dropping hints that she's thinking of leaving with that guy over there. Yeah, the one in the blue and orange.
Bad night, huh?
The only difference is, in the middle of a dance, you can't make a trade.
But in the NBA, you can.
I hear you, I hear you. YOU DON'T TRADE LEBRON JAMES. YOU JUST DON'T.
I know. I agree.
And I know that there are far more Dans -- Ferry, Gilbert, and the like -- in this world than there are LeBrons. The superstar ultimately holds the cards, and everyone else should act accordingly.
But that doesn't mean you stand idly by as they loot the store. If at any point the Cavaliers believe LeBron James is going to leave as a free agent in 2010, it's time to start preparing Cavalier fans for the fact that you might trade the guy.
At the very least, it might dim the lights a little on the LeBron James flirtation show.
Or it might end up being smart to actually trade him.
If he walks, top teams will have cap space in 2010, but it's a good bet that the premium markets will be the ones to attract the blue chip talent like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In other words, Cleveland's plan B for cap space in 2010 is probably not as sexy as New York's. So better to trade for an asset that you can then pay more than anyone else to keep.
And let's not pretend this free agent negotiation is really going to come down to some team executives wowing LeBron James with a nice tour of the city two summers from now. The Knicks, Nets, and Pistons have made their moves. The cards are on the table. There's no good reason the decision makers in the LeBron James camp wouldn't already have a good idea how they'd rank the contenders at this point. The only information to come is who is going to win the championships in 2009 and 2010, and who else might gain cap space.
So my point is, if you're Danny Ferry, and you don't have strong private conviction that LeBron James is harmlessly flirting, don't you have to at least know what's out there?
There is probably no limit to what you could get for LeBron James in trade. Three affordable young stars and some cap space doesn't seem like too much to ask. (UPDATE: David Thorpe's clever trade suggestion. Even looking at that trade machine screen kills me as a Blazer fan ... you don't trade those guys either ... but the market for James must just be sick. He's a one-man trip to the Finals. And another idea from Thorpe, involving Boston.)
I actually really feel for Danny Ferry. He's running one of the best teams in the NBA, with one of the best coaches, and the best player ... yet there are a ton of scenarios whereby the next couple of years could make him the latest in a long string of reviled Cleveland sports figures.
Keeping LeBron James is the only way out, and that could take some luck.