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Saturday, November 7, 2009
LeBron: Wins most important factor

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

LeBron James
LeBron James had many eyes on him during his lone regular-season visit to New York.

NEW YORK -- LeBron James dropped a bit of a bomb on the entire NBA when he spoke his final sentence Friday night before leaving Madison Square Garden, a statement that should leave everyone in Cleveland, New York and elsewhere -- especially in Miami -- wondering exactly what the King meant by those parting words.

"As a kid I visualized playing for almost every team in the NBA," James said. "Right now, I visualize playing with a lot of guys in the NBA. There are a lot of great individual basketball players that I would love to be alongside of and try to contend for an NBA championship.

"I think at the end of the day, a max deal or anything like that doesn't really matter to me at the end of the day. It's all about winning for me. So I've put myself in a position that when that day comes next summer, I want to win, and if I feel like the team is capable of winning, I'll make my decision like that."

Did you catch that part in the middle? The part about how a max deal doesn't really matter at the end of the day?

That, folks, could be a game-changer -- a statement of epic proportions that could shake up everyone's preconceived notions about who has the best chance of landing the game's best young player.

Cleveland, of course, can offer James the most money -- a six-year deal in the range of $120 million. The Knicks and the Nets have the salary cap space to give James the maximum they are allowed to offer -- a five-year deal in the mid-to-high $90 million range.
LeBron James
Some people just can't wait for the free-agency period to commence on July 1, 2010.
And then there are the Heat, who already have a max player in Dwyane Wade and who would like to add two more max-level players if Pat Riley can charm those two players into signing for something less than the max, giving all three players (let's assume Riley will shoot for the stars and go after James and Chris Bosh, while also retaining Wade) opt-out clauses after three years. Put those three together with Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers, and that right there is a bona fide powerhouse.

And you know what? As farfetched as that idea sounds, it certainly became much more plausible after hearing what James had to say after dropping 33 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on the Knicks in a 100-91 victory Friday night.

It wasn't much of a game, the Cavs storming out to a 40-21 lead after one quarter and then holding off the Knicks for the rest of the evening, James providing the finishing touches after New York pulled within nine. First, he assisted on a jumper by Mo Williams, then after grabbing a defensive rebound, he sank one of the several fadeaway jumpers he was nailing all night. An assist on a corner 3 by Anthony Parker made it a 14-point game, and all there was to do after that was wait for the final horn and watch James walk over to shake hands with several member of the World Series champion New York Yankees, his favorite baseball team.

Asked what he'll remember most fondly about the night, he replied:

"The atmosphere, just that the atmosphere was great," James said. "There were a lot of stars in the building, and it's humbling to have guys like the Yankees come out and Jay-Z. It's really, really humbling to see some of the [football] Giants out, John Legend; I saw Chris Rock. You almost feel like you're a performer sitting on a stage and they're watching you perform."

"Humbling" is a phrase you really wouldn't expect to come out of James' mouth, because humblers do not usually describe themselves as humbled.

James has already made it abundantly clear that he enjoys playing at Madison Square Garden more than any other arena in the league, and the vibrancy of New York makes it his favorite city in America.

But the guy strongly, strongly reiterated that winning is the No. 1 priority on his wish list.

(An aside here, but it shouldn't go unmentioned that he dressed differently, too, his fashion consultant outfitting him in a black ski cap, Dita designer eyeglasses and a black and white-striped tie that somehow managed to blend with a black and white plaid shirt.)

So he looked a little different, and he sounded different, too, with that line about the max money.

Now we have that factor added to the equation -- along with James' pregame statement that "I'm not going to rush it" when it comes to making a decision soon after July 1.

At the very least, it most certainly adds an interesting wrinkle to the possibilities that will be in play when the Summer of LeBron finally rolls around.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.