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Friday, July 7, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: July 6, 2006


 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
LEAVE.  LAND.

Who else finds LeBron's silence about the "max" deal he has been offered from the Cavs to be the summer's most intriguing story line?

(Well, certainly not fans in Ohio, who could be forgiven for being in a panic right now.)

The offer was made days ago; Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade already have gone public with their enthusiasm to re-sign with their teams.

But not LeBron. Not yet.

So let's read between the lines of his decision not to publicly embrace the team's mega-offer to the NBA's megastar:

Does he really want to play in Cleveland, some half-baked market, for the Cavs, some half-baked franchise already being lapped by competitors in the East planning for the descent of Detroit and sunset of Shaq?

I don't care about previous statements of loyalty LeBron has made about Ohio. Actions are louder than words:

His silence indicates that he's at least considering his options, which have to include playing in a market worthy of his status as the NBA's biggest star -- say, New York or L.A.?

But Kobe rules L.A. And the Knicks are a mess, both in the standings and in the payroll. That leaves the intrigue for LeBron of playing for his buddy and mentor, Jay-Z, who happens to be owner of the soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets.

Maybe that's a pipe dream from someone who owns a tiny slice of real estate in Brooklyn and would like to see the market get a "LeBron bump."

But even that pie/sky theory is a better explanation today than any Cavs fan can offer for why LeBron hasn't said "yes" to Cleveland yet.

The longer LeBron waits to agree to the Cavs' offer, the more intense the questions (and theories) will get. Here are LeBron's options:

(1) Simple: Sign the max deal with the Cavs and lock in the big money for five years.

(2) Complicated: Sign a 1-year deal with the Cavs and be a restricted free agent in '07. It gets messy, but effectively, he'd trade two years of uncertainty (and low dollars) for the glory of unrestricted choice in '08.

Here's the X-factor that should have Cavs fans worried: Cash on hand.

It's not as if LeBron needs the money now. He easily could live off his endorsement money and wait out his unrestricted freedom.

Could he get injured between now and then? Sure. But I suspect even a half-speed LeBron is still worth a huge payday to the team of his choice.

The bottom line is that LeBron can end all the rumors with a simple, MJ-like message:

"I'm staying."

In the absence of saying that, it's way too easy to argue that his real message is:

I want out.

MLB "Final Vote"
NO!!! As of 6 a.m. ET, A.J. Pierzynski had taken the lead over Liriano, undoubtedly thanks to the White Sox's ingenious "Punch AJ" marketing campaign.

Deadline to vote: 6 p.m. ET! Sorry, that should have read: "Deadline to correct a mind-imploding wrong and get the AL's best pitcher, Francisco Liriano, on the AL All-Star Roster: 6 p.m. ET!"

ASG: Rogers to Start?
The presumption was that Ozzie Guillen would choose to start "his guy," Jose Contreras, in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

Not so: Guillen said he's leaning toward Detroit's Kenny Rogers, who coincidentally won his 7th straight decision last night.

It's a fair pick, given Detroit's surprise run to the top of the AL, although a better argument could be made for Roy Halladay (and yet an even better argument for Liriano, who isn't even on the roster. Go vote!)

But maybe Ozzie has a sense of irony, given where Kenny stood last year (on the wrong side of All-Star jeers from fans in -- yes! -- Detroit) after his little incident with the photographer.

MLB Hit List
Baker: Kiss of death? Dusty Baker said he met with Cubs GM Jim Hendry and says he feels "comfortable" after the conversation. That's awfully close to a dreaded "vote of confidence" that usually precedes an ax.

(What would make both more comfortable? More outings like Sean Marshall had last night, giving up 6 hits and 0 R in 7 IP in a 1-0 Cubs win over Roy Oswalt and the Astros.)

Soriano: Wants to stay? The formerly disgruntled outfielder says his selection as All-Star starter finally made him comfortable with relocation, and he said he wants to stay in D.C. (via The Washington Post).

(He might not get a choice: Given the team's interest in buffing up its farm system and Sori's status as the team's biggest trade bait, he could be out the door in three weeks no matter how much he now likes it there.)

Manny: In or out? Ramirez won't play in the All-Star Game (knee), but Bud and MLB haven't been told yet. As the AL's leading vote-getter, he really should be at the game, if for no other reason than to be introduced.

Canseco: Already traded? It took Jose all of one game to request (and get) a trade from the San Diego Surf Dawgs to the Long Beach Armada.

(It lends itself to an easy joke, but his intentions sound honorable: He has custody of his daughter this summer and wanted to ease commuting burdens. Still want a Canseco joke? How about his Monday debut? 3 ugly K's.)

Steal of the Year? Carl Crawford swipes home off Boston's Jason Johnson. Is it me, or did it look as though Johnson wasn't even through his windup when Carl reached home?

O.J. Mayo to USC?
The top prep hoopster in the Class of 2007 is precisely the kind of mercenary who makes David Stern's NBA age limit a farce.

He reportedly will commit to USC because, apparently, he wants to showcase himself in a big media market for a year before bolting for the NBA.

This is better than letting him turn pro directly out of high school?

(By the way, if there were no age limit, Mayo would be the No. 1 overall draft pick in '07. But there is a limit -- because he's "not ready." Suuure.)

The speculation is that Mayo is assembling a Fab Five-ish collection of talent to join him. But his eye is on the NBA, not on the ball.

Prediction: O.J. will get his major-market "showcase" when he leads USC to a 2008 title in New York ... in the NIT. (Like Renaldo Balkman!)

NCAA Nixes 'Mills'
Leave it to the NCAA to take the honorable mission of shutting down the scourge of prep "diploma mills" and screw it up:

22 schools were put on notice, Colbert-style, their transcripts cleared only for 2006, but by far the most prominent was hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, perennially the No. 1 high school team in the country.

Here's the problem: The NCAA never visited Oak Hill, undercutting the initiative's credibility.

(It's almost as though the NCAA -- gasp! -- cut corners. Isn't that what it busted all these diploma mills for doing?)

You can find the theory of Oak Hill unsavory (and count me among the critics), but from all accounts, its academic system is at par.

To lump Oak Hill with the most disturbing hoops factories out there without even bothering to check it out is a huge blunder.

Chandler to Hornets
The two most active teams in this NBA offseason made a deal with each other, finalizing the long-rumored trade:

The Bulls sent underachieving big man Tyson Chandler to N.O. for league elder (and expiring contract) P.J. Brown and prep-to-pro athlete J.R. Smith.

I predict Chandler finally finds mild success on offense, dunking lobs from Chris Paul in a lane unclogged by Peja Stojakovic's 3-point shooting.

As for the Bulls, slot Brown next to marquee acquisition Ben Wallace in the starting lineup, with a second job tutoring rookie Tyrus Thomas.

Meanwhile: NBA Summer Leagues start today, beginning in Las Vegas. See "Big 5" (right) for the Top 5 Most Intriguing Players to watch.

World Cup Final
Old conventional wisdom:
"How can you root for Italy? The Italians are such a bunch of flopping whiners! (And their club league makes the Black Sox scandal look quaint!)"

New conventional wisdom:
"How can you root against Italy? If the Italians win the World Cup, then, via the Transitive Property, the U.S. is the second-best team in the world!"

(Meanwhile, it's increasingly difficult to begrudge a title for France, which has become the sentimental "Over-the-Hill Gang" of the tournament.)

NFL Trendy Pick?
The Panthers were the top-ranked team on ESPN.com's "Ultimate Depth Chart" despite being No. 1 in just a single unit ranking (Pass D).

Fans agreed, over the course of this week, picking the Panthers to go to Super Bowl XLI versus the Pats, who edged the Steelers in voting.

Click here to vote for your pick for Super Bowl champ, but you already can see the foreshadowing: