1. Where LeBron Could Leave Biggest Mark
ESPN The Magazine
I don't envy LeBron James. Sure, I'd love to have millions of dollars, a ridiculous hoop game, a home that's a cross between the Four Seasons and Six Flags, and the entire sports world going bananas over me.
But man, this is one tough decision. Do you leave and become a pariah in your home state, an area you love so much? Or do you stay and risk never winning a championship, even as other teams position themselves to dwarf the roster you have in Cleveland?
I guess it just comes down to what does LeBron James want to be? And the fact is that if he wants to go down as the greatest basketball player in history, this grueling decision suddenly becomes easy: He stays in Cleveland.
If LeBron James turns the Cavaliers into a dynasty, he can surpass Michael Jordan as the best of all time. By dynasty, I mean at least four rings.
In Cleveland, LeBron has no Pippen, no Shaq in his prime, no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He doesn't even have a Pau Gasol or a Dennis Rodman, who let's not forget was a lockdown defender and the best rebounder of his era by a wide margin.
If he wins titles with the crew he has in Cleveland -- going through Kobe Bryant, the Big Three in Boston, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and the rest of this generation's greats -- it could be more impressive than MJ going through Ewing, Hakeem, Barkley, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler and all the Hall of Famers he kept ringless.
And it's not as if his Cavs are that far away. They've had the league's top record the last two seasons, and if LeBron hadn't struggled uncharacteristically in those last three games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, I'm convinced Cleveland would have beaten Boston, Orlando and quite possibly the Lakers this year.
Of course, the Cavs didn't, so the question remains: Is LeBron only good enough to get them close or is he good enough to take them all the way? There's no shame if he's the former, because there's not a man alive who could take them as far as he has by himself (no, not even Kobe). And that's precisely why he has the opportunity to go down as the G.O.A.T.
Right now, we debate about how many Top 50 All-Time teammates a guy had on his title team: Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe, Oscar -- they've all had at least one on most of their championship clubs. Isiah Thomas had no Top 50 teammates and led Detroit to back-to-back titles, beating Bird, Jordan and Magic. That's why he's widely regarded as the greatest small player ever.
But heck, some would argue that LeBron barely has a teammate among the top 50 players in the league today. That's why four with this bunch in Cleveland could be the equivalent of Jordan's six.
But there's a risk. A huge one.
If LeBron stays in Cleveland, he may never win it all.
As a former Clevelander, I'd love to see him stay, but there's no way I can honestly say it's the best basketball decision for him. In fact, as someone who has a friendly relationship with LeBron and wants to see him win rings, I'll admit that a part of me will worry for him if he decides to stay put. Because if he doesn't win titles -- not title, but titles (plural) -- he will go down as a failure.
Oh, he's already assured himself of a spot in the Hall of Fame. But he'll join the wing where Barkley, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor and that whole group of outstanding players who never won a championship reside; not the part reserved for MJ, Magic, Bird, etc. With all the hype that's accompanied him and all the talent in his body, that'd be a massive underachievement.
And the risk factor is growing. Depending on how this summer plays out, LeBron may not only have to go through Boston and Orlando next year just to get to the Finals; he may also have star-laden clubs in Chicago and maybe Miami to overcome.
From a purely basketball standpoint, two of LeBron's potential scenarios stand out above the rest, assuming he gets Chris Bosh to join him in either place: Chicago and New Jersey.
If LeBron and Bosh go to Chicago, they can win several rings. Derrick Rose is one of the top point guards in the league, and Joakim Noah is the ultimate role player. Taj Gibson, James Johnson and Luol Deng (if he's not traded for some outside shooters) provide depth.
One NBA coach who's close to LeBron told me his goal is to win seven rings in 10 years. That's a ton of course, but with that crew as a core, another Bulls dynasty is certainly possible.
Miami? Even with LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh, I think Chicago and New Jersey are better situations (again, assuming Bosh joins LeBron). If LeBron wins with that trio in Miami, critics will say he needed Wade to pull it off. And since Wade already won a ring in Jordanesque fashion without LeBron, some may even argue that he was the leader, not LeBron.
In Chicago and New Jersey, while those all-star teammates are talented, none is close enough to LeBron for his status as the team's leader to be questioned.
But while multiple titles in Chicago and New Jersey could put LeBron in the company of Magic, Bird, Kobe and the other all-time elites, he almost certainly could never equal or eclipse Jordan.
The argument would be that MJ entered the league in the same situation as LeBron -- drafted by a dreadful franchise -- and he turned it into a dynasty. They'd say Jordan didn't join the best, he beat the best. That he didn't want to play with Barkley and Olajuwon and Payton, he wanted to dominate them.
It's a ridiculously high standard to live up to, and it may not be fair to hold LeBron to such a criterion. But you become the G.O.A.T. only by doing what no one's ever done before.
Before Michael, they said a title team couldn't be built around a shooting guard, that no dynasty could exist without a star center, that you couldn't lead the league in scoring and win championships. After Michael, or better yet During Michael, those myths became history.
Will LeBron make history? Without question.
Will he make the kind of history we've never seen before?
Only in Cleveland.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime
2. LeBron In Good Company
LeBron James averaged 29.7 PPG, 8.6 APG and 7.3 RPG this past season for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If you look at players who have averaged at least 25, 5 and 5 -- a bit less than what LeBron had in each category this past season -- on teams that finished with the best record in the league, this has happened seven times in league history. Each time, that player won the NBA Most Valuable Player award.
At Least 25.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 5.0 APG Team Finished with Best Record in League, NBA History
*Team won NBA title that season.
3. Comparing Home And Away Deals
It has often been mentioned that LeBron James can re-sign for six years and $125.5 million with the Cavaliers, but the max deal he could get from another team would be five years and $96.1 million. Here's the year-by-year breakdown (these numbers also apply to Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who entered the NBA in 2003, the same year as James).
Comparing Max Deals
|Year||Sign with own team||Sign with other team||Difference|
These differences are attributable to the fact that a player's own team can offer 10.5 percent raises every season, while other teams can offer just 8.0 percent raises (in addition to the fact that a player's own team can offer a sixth season).
4. Last Sunset For Amare
Amare Stoudemire's days in Phoenix are over. Two league sources confirmed that Stoudemire ended his negotiations with the Suns on Thursday, essentially ending his tenure with the Suns.
The decision to end negotiations comes despite the public posturing the past few weeks that indicated that Stoudemire wanted to return to Phoenix. However, sources say that Stoudemire's desire to leave Phoenix dates back to the tough negotiations he had with Suns owner Robert Sarver in Februrary. Stoudemire's camp knew that it was highly unlikely that Sarver would offer Stoudemire a five-year deal at max numbers and Stoudemire has been worried that even if he did, he'd gut the rest of the team to pay for it.
When Stoudemire received the Suns' "final offer" -- a five-year, $95 million deal with partial guarantees on the last two years contingent on Stoudemire playing a minimum of 2,200 minutes his third and fourth seasons, Stoudemire pulled out of negotiations.
• To read the full TrueHoop blog entry, click here.
5. Wade And Windy City
6.Blake Joins 3-Peat Quest
It's a bear market for point guards this summer, which largely explains how Steve Blake got a four-year, $16 million deal from the Lakers. Or perhaps the Lakers saw Blake only in their final game of the regular season -- playing for the opposing Clippers, Blake had his first and presumably last career triple-double that night.
No matter how you slice it, the years are a real reach for a 30-year old whose output has scarcely been above replacement level in three of the past four seasons.
However, the Lakers can afford mistakes on contracts of this size, especially when they're in a win-now mode. They did the same thing with Ron Artest a year ago and it worked out awfully well for them in Game 7 of the Finals.
And in the short term, Blake fits. Whether as the starter or as the backup, he's a classic triangle point guard -- he virtually never penetrates, he's tall, and he shoots 39.3 percent for his career on 3s. Whatever his ceiling is, he's likely to come closer to hitting it as a Laker than in virtually any other system.
Blake's arrival all but seals Jordan Farmar's departure; presumably they'll bring back Derek Fisher and split the position among those two players. Blake lacks Farmar's quickness and thus makes the Lakers even more vulnerable to waterbug point guards, but otherwise in 2010-11 he'll be an upgrade on what Farmar gave them last season just because the system fit is so much better.
And realistically, that's the only time frame the Lakers care about -- right now. They'll deal with the carnage at the end of Blake's and Artest's contracts later. For now, it's about wining titles while Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are in their respective primes and Phil Jackson is still willing and able to roam the sideline. Replacing Farmar with Blake helps them do that.
• To read the full column, click here.
7. Free Agent Slot Machine
The ESPN Free Agent Slot Machine results are based on the likelihood of each potential scenario for each player and team, as provided by ESPN.com NBA experts.
• Click SPIN for another possible outcome.
8. Complete 2010 Free-Agent List
9.It Paid To Lose A Free Agent
Los Angeles Lakers guard Gail Goodrich signed a free-agent contract with the New Orleans Jazz in July 1976. In the early era of NBA free agency, the commissioner was permitted to compensate the team that lost a player as a free agent with the mission of "making the team whole" again.
The compensation was two first-round picks and a second-round pick. In 1977, the Lakers used the No. 1 pick to select Kenny Carr. In 1979, the pick ended up being the No. 1 overall pick, and the Lakers picked Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The Jazz moved to Utah for the 1979-80 season, and the Lakers finished with the best record in the Western Conference en route to winning an NBA title.
10.Daily Dime Live
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans, giving their opinions about free agency -- all in Daily Dime Live.