Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
July 1, 2010. The date that has been on every NBA fan’s calendar for years. The day that LeBron James and Dwayne Wade become available to the entire league.
There are tons of other talented players that will also become available on that day – Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, David Lee (probably), Dirk Nowitzki (maybe), etc. But the two big prizes are James and Wade. I’ve written before that I thought both players would stay with their current teams, but that if either of them left, the Bulls would be the most likely choice. I also thought the odds were much greater that Wade would move.
However, in the past few weeks, my opinion has changed almost completely. Wade looks like he’s definitely staying in Miami – he’s stated almost emphatically that he’s not planning on going anywhere. But more than that, there’s almost no chance he’d come to the Bulls. The reason? Wade is currently embroiled in an ugly divorce from his high school sweetheart. This breakup has been going on for three years, and has recently headed into public territory, with his wife accusing him of “engaging in sexual foreplay” with actress Gabrielle Union in front of their children. Where does the ex-Mrs. Wade live? Chicago. Odds Dwayne wants to move to the same town? 0%.
However great it would have been to have hometown boy Wade join with hometown boy Derrick Rose, LeBron James still lurks as a bigger prize. And as of right now the Bulls have the best chance of any team to end up with him.
To believe that statement, you first have to believe that he would break the heart of his hometown. I never believed that, until now. The reasons?
– The Cavs implosion against the Celtics showed that not only are they not close to the championship, but James knows it. He completely mailed it in during Game 5. He had a triple-double in Game 6, and pulled the Cavs within 4 in the fourth quarter. After that, the fire went out. Nobody who saw the Cavs walk through the last few minutes, when they were behind but not in an insurmountable way, could think that this was a team on the verge.
– If James was committed to the Cavs, there would be no reason to go through all of this drama. Jordan, Kobe, Bird, Magic – none of these NBA superstars have put their towns through the anxiety of wondering if they would leave. In the NBA there’s a maximum salary, and a player’s current team can pay them more and for longer. If you’re committed to a franchise, you sign extensions way before you become a free agent (like all the previously mentioned players did), and use your commitment to help build your franchise. The Cavs have missed out on free agents because James wouldn’t confirm he’d be there past this year. If he were truly committed to winning his titles in Cleveland, he would have signed up long ago.
– In his post-game press conference, James acted like a man who knew something had ended. When a reporter asked if he had anything to say to the panicked Cleveland fans, he said:
I’m going to approach this summer with the right mindset. Me and my team are going to figure out what’s the best possibility for me. I love the city of Cleveland, of course. Another disappointing season, to say the least, but at the same time we have a great time together. We’ll see what happens.
If I’m a Cavs fan, that quote sent me to the whiskey.
– Not only does playing for the Cavs stick James in Cleveland, but in a Cleveland that is in full-blown depression mode, that has put all of its hopes on LeBron to give life some meaning. That’s got to get old.
So why the Bulls? Because, no matter what the New York-centric media tells you, it’s the smart play. Derrick Rose will be one of the best point guards in the NBA for the next decade. Joakim Noah is the kind of unselfish player that every championship team needs (if you had told me the day he was drafted that he would become my favorite Bull since Jordan, I’d never have believed it). Taj Gibson has a ton of potential. Luol Deng would be a great sixth man. And the Bulls have enough cap space to sign a good center as well.
The Knicks? They have nothing. Even if they sign James and Bosh, they’re at least two years away. And the idea that New York will appreciably raise James’ profile is ridiculous. He’s already the most famous active basketball player in the world, and gets the most endorsement dollars. With cable and the Internet, the idea that market size matters to a star player is outdated. The only thing that will bring James to another level is a championship… and he won’t get that in New York.
The Heat? As a basketball fan, it’s intriguing to think of Wade and James playing together. But who’s the star there? I don’t think Wade (the one who has carried his team to a championship) would jump in the backseat.
The Nets? The next best place for James. Brook Lopez is a legit stud. They have some other good young pieces (Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, maybe the number one pick). They have a new Russian billionaire owner who’ll spend anything, and a cool minority owner in Jay-Z. Just like with the Bulls, LeBron could pick his coach. But he’d have to spend two years in a temporary Newark home. After that though… when the team moves to Brooklyn, he’d be treated as a conquering hero.
Worst case scenario? There have been some rumors that he’ll sign another contract with Cleveland with an opt-out in two years. If he does that, he’s officially a Favre-level douchebag. It’s time for LeBron to pick a franchise and do what he can to build it into a dynasty. Only a commitment through his prime to one team would be acceptable after this two years of build-up.
My hopes are officially up. LeBron’ll take his sweet time (if this process has shown anything, it’s that LeBron loves attention), but by mid-July he’ll be in a Bulls uniform, and Cleveland will have voted to disband.