1. Cavaliers Make Their Pitch To LeBron
Special to ESPN.com
CLEVELAND -- When LeBron James traveled up Interstate 77 from his Akron area home, he would see the signs on nearly every overpass on the final 10 miles into downtown Cleveland.
For the three days he hosted suitors at his LRMR Marketing offices, there were black-clad Cleveland Cavaliers employees holding up signs on all four corners of each intersection from the exit off the highway to the IMG building, home to the well-known athlete management company and James' firm.
Out the window of the conference room where the sit-downs with the Nets, Knicks, Heat, Clippers, Cavs and Bulls were held, there was a large billboard staring him in the face at eye level draped on the side of a building. When James, or any of the NBA glitterati making the rounds to town, pulled out of the building's garage, he was eye-to-eye with another huge billboard that hung on a hotel just for the three huge days.
The Cavs' multifaceted and well-organized pitch to keep their most prized asset might come off as hokey to some. But the team had been thinking about it for nearly six months and felt it was the best possible play to reach James on a meaningful level.
When James decided to hold all of his meetings in Cleveland, the team put on a full-court press with the theme, seeing an opportunity.
Obviously, the team's preference was to use the successful run to a championship to be the main lure to get James to re-up, but that didn't happen. And with the team in transition with a new coach just a few hours on the job in Byron Scott and a new general manager in Chris Grant, the Cavs had to go another direction.
That was to play to James' feeling of home and his deep connection to the only franchise he has known. And the only franchise that truly knows him.
That's why on those banners and billboard were single words in large white letters, set against a black backdrop to mimic the popular Nike "Witness" campaign that has been in use on and off for the past five years. Home. Community. Mission. Commitment and references like it.
The team did it shrewdly. There had been a grassroots campaign started by some fans called "More Than A Player," a play off James' documentary that was in theaters last year called "More Than A Game." Not unlike how a major corporation pumps money into a political action committee, the Cavs partnered up behind the scenes to give it a huge jump start while giving the appearance it was a fan group.
In the meantime, the Cavs prepared two videos they planned to show to James when they got their meeting. They were the product of dozens of brainstorming sessions and edits. Including the money fed to the "More Than A Player" group, it is believed the team pumped more than $500,000 into the campaign and presentation.
One of the videos was a cartoon with James, his friends and even leadership from other teams trying to sign James as characters. It featured plenty of inside jokes and juvenile humor, which, as those who know James best know, is exactly what he loves.
For example, there were more than a handful of flatulence jokes in the show. Which might seem lowbrow and childish -- until you remember when James howled after clearing the Cavs bench in a 2009 game after passing wind. The moment became a YouTube hit and a running gag with players and coaches for days.
What does any of it have to do with championships, getting past Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, or upgrading the current roster, which seems to be perfect for the regular season but flawed in the playoffs? Nothing. The Cavs talked about those issues, too, and, yes, James will have to weigh all of that heavily.
But knowing what makes James laugh and what he'll be telling his friends about is the same reason the Cavs hung a "Home" banner for him to glance at after that first-day meeting with the high-powered Knicks and Nets.
The second video was a package of highlights spliced with shots of James' children and his mother at games and doing community events with the team. It was a clear message that meant to link his family, which is still very small when it comes to blood relatives, to the Cavs. It was set, in part, to the theme from "Gladiator," which is James' favorite movie.
Did it make up for the studies, PowerPoint presentations, and charts and graphs the Knicks and Nets showed about the might of the New York market? That will be known in the next few days. But by all accounts, the Cavs feel as if their presentation was a slam dunk and topped off by organizing a last-minute rally of fans holding team-provided signs to line James' route to the meeting.
There was also a presentation by Scott, who told James the details of how he wants to play, including installing a more up-tempo offense that might appeal more to James' talents. Grant went over the Cavs' roster flexibility with James and wanted to remind him that the Cavs have been one of the best teams in the league the past few years and haven't been sinking in the standings to save cap space.
At the end, team owner Dan Gilbert gave a frank and emotional speech about wanting to win a championship with James.
Whether that was better than anything master of motivation Pat Riley had to say is perhaps yet to be seen.
James is expected to take several days to digest everything he saw from the teams. His Nike Skills Academy, the summer's top camp for high school and college stars, runs through Wednesday at the University of Akron. It is believed he will not disturb the event by announcing his intentions during the workouts.
The Cavs believe they've done the best that they can. Not to mention the rules that allow them to pay James about $27 million more in salary if he wants it. They might not sleep well this week as they wait, but they felt as good this past weekend about James' responding to their message as at any time in the past year.
Brian Windhorst covers the Cavs for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
2. Johnson Staying In Atlanta
3. Knicks Waiting On LeBron, Wade And Bosh
New York Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh is a patient man.
The Knicks completed their presentation to free agent LeBron James on Thursday and followed it up with presentations to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on Friday.
As of Sunday night, they still aren't sure where they stand.
"I have no idea," Walsh said. "I think that almost all of these guys have been tight about what their intentions are. All the meetings we had were really good. They were informative. But I didn't get an indication in what their interest was. The agent would say they're interested. And that's where we are. We are waiting to hear. With those guys, you can afford to be a little patient."
• To read the entire story, click here.
4. Daily Dime Live Wrap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans, giving their opinions about free agency -- all in Daily Dime Live.
5. Pierce Takes Less Money
Cross another one off Danny Ainge's offseason checklist.
In the days after Boston's Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, suggested his preference was to keep the core of the 2009-10 team together for another run at a world title. That possibility seemed murky at best with coach Doc Rivers pondering retirement to spend more time with his family and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen set to test unrestricted free agency.
But in the past few days, the Celtics have made great strides in ensuring that the Big Three -- and much of the core from the past three seasons -- will be in place next year for a shot at title redemption.
After multiple media reports of a deal Friday, a source confirmed to ESPN.com on Saturday that the Celtics and Pierce have agreed to a four-year extension that all but ensures he'll finish his career in green. Coupled with the return of Rivers, who announced Wednesday that he'd be back to honor the final year of his contract and take another shot at winning with this group, Boston now has two key leaders back in place just two days into the free-agent period.
• To read the full column, click here.
6. Johnson To Stay In Atlanta
Free agent Joe Johnson is staying with the Atlanta Hawks, his agent said in a blog published on the Huffington Post website Sunday.
Arn Tellem, Johnson's agent, said that Johnson was impressed with the team's commitment to him and agreed to accept the club's six-year contract offer. He confirmed the post to The Associated Press.
Atlanta offered Johnson, a four-time All-Star, approximately $119 million over six years -- nearly $27 million more than any other team could offer.
The Hawks would not comment, citing the NBA's moratorium on signings. Deals can't become official until Thursday.
"When the free agency period kicked in, Joe made a point of talking to the Hawks first," Tellem wrote in the blog post. "Their owners and new coach, Larry Drew, impressed Joe with their commitment to making the team championship-caliber. In turn, Joe felt equally committed to the Hawks, his teammates and the city of Atlanta."
Tellem said Johnson, who was wooed by a number of other teams, could have forced a sign-and-trade to another team, but "decided that winning in Atlanta would be more meaningful."
• To read the full story, click here.
7.Done Deal For Amare?
The New York Knicks held a second meeting with LeBron James' representatives to clarify exactly where they stood in regards to signing Amare Stoudemire. And as of now, there is no third meeting scheduled.
The second meeting was attended by James' agent, Leon Rose; Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald; and others, on Saturday morning in Cleveland before James himself met with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls.
It lasted about an hour, with James' representatives wanting to know whether it was true (it wasn't) that New York had already formally offered Stoudemire a five-year, $100 million contract.
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8. 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.
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Complete 2010 Free-Agent List
Dwyane Wade began the free-agency period in Chicago, holding meetings with the Bulls and Nets on Thursday and the Knicks on Friday. But it was a second meeting with the Bulls on early Friday evening that has everyone reassessing where Wade stands.
Wade met with the Bulls for a second time on Friday, but left the meeting without making a formal commitment to the Bulls.
The 2½-hour meeting included the Bulls' front office; Wade; and his agent, Henry Thomas.
"Things are getting very interesting," Wade said after the meeting.
The same source had told ESPN.com earlier Friday that Wade went into the meeting leaning toward committing to the Bulls. After the meeting, Wade still had not committed, according to the source. The source said the player was still torn between Miami and Chicago and was waiting to see what LeBron James and Chris Bosh would like to do. Wade would prefer to play with Bosh in either Miami or Chicago and is also open to playing with LeBron.
• To read the full blog entry, click here.
10.Can Mavs Acquire A Sidekick?
As Dirk Nowitzki took the scenic route from Germany to Dallas, the Mavericks' brass never sweated, at least not in public. President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson declared complete confidence that the Mavs would sign their superstar to a four-year contract sooner than later.
That deal got done a few days into free agency, with Dirk agreeing to give the Mavs a hometown discount with a four-year, $80 million contract he'll sign when permitted on July 8.
Now comes the difficult part: increasing the chances that the best player in franchise history will win a championship. Expect plenty of perspiration because the pressure is on the Mavs' front office to follow through on its promise.
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