If Bron bolts, Miami makes most sense
MIAMI -- First, let me say this: If Wednesday's dismantling of the Orlando Magic was a sign of things to come, LeBron James almost certainly will re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers next summer. LeBron loves playing near his hometown of Akron and respects coach Mike Brown and his teammates, and if the Cavs can consistently play as well as they did in Orlando, there's no reason to leave Ohio.
But if Wednesday was just an aberration, if the new-look Cavaliers are more pretender than contender, if they are what they were last season -- regular-season titans, postseason playthings -- then for the sake of his legacy, James may have to go elsewhere.
And elsewhere is Miami.
His other realistic options in the summer of 2010 are a joke. New York and New Jersey look like Big East squads right now, and Chicago doesn't yet have the cap room to offer a max contract. (Word to the wise: Forget what you heard last week -- James won't settle for less than the max. Would you?)
I'm not saying James and his buddy Dwyane Wade's teaming up in Miami is probable. But if Cleveland fizzles again in the postseason, if Boston or Orlando again proves to be too talented for the Cavs, then LeBron could, and maybe should, bolt for South Beach.
I say "should'' because for years LeBron has been trying to do the near-impossible: win a title without another star teammate.
Check the annals: Only one time in the last 30 years has a team with just one star finished as champion. And that crew, Hakeem Olajuwon's 1994 Houston Rockets, beat another team in the Finals, Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks, that featured just one star.
Nowadays, every club in the title hunt, except Cleveland, is stacked with stars.
Boston has three future Hall of Famers and a budding perennial All-Star in Rajon Rondo, not to mention four-time All-Star Rasheed Wallace. Orlando has Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson. San Antonio has Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson.
Meanwhile, LeBron's going to war with a 37-year-old Shaq (11 points, 7 rebounds a game) and Mo Williams, who while good is somewhere between the 11th- and 15th-best point guard in the league.
That's good enough to get the Cavaliers close, but to get over the top, to get through the league's gauntlet of powerhouses, LeBron needs that second guy.
And honestly, I don't see how Cleveland's going to get that guy in the near future. It won't have the cap room next summer to add a top-flight player, and no combination of players in LeBron's supporting cast is good enough to fetch a star player in a trade.
Which brings us to Miami.
Obviously, Dwyane Wade is nobody's sidekick. That's why I've always written off the possibility of a LeBron-Wade tandem in the past. They're both No. 1 guys who should have their own teams.
I actually used to think such a pairing would be somewhat unfair to the rest of the league. You know, having two of the three best swingmen on earth playing together. But when I look at the aforementioned list of contenders, when I look at the fact that Kobe has a straight-up bulldog in Artest next to him, I wonder whether LeBron and Wade need to team up.
It would have to happen in Miami since no other team would have the cap room to sign both players.
Is it possible?
It would take some sacrifices on LeBron's part.
First, he'd be going to someone else's team, although the Heat would immediately go from being D-Wade's team to LeBron-and-D-Wade's team. Even though LeBron's the better overall player (I think), there'd be no 1 and 1A, just two 1s.
Also, the unschooled might say such a move would mean LeBron couldn't win it on his own. But MJ never won it without Scottie, Magic and Oscar never won it without Kareem, Bird never won it without Parish and McHale, Jerry West never won it without Wilt, Dr. J never won it without Moses Malone, and Kobe and D-Wade never won it without Shaq and/or Pau.
History is clear: It takes two, at least.
LeBron would also have to take less money, since the collective bargaining agreement allows Cleveland to give him one year and roughly $30 million more than any other team. But he'd still be a max guy, and it's possible he may want to sign only a three-year deal anyway, just to give himself more options down the road.
Could it work on the court?
It would take some adjustments since each player is used to having the ball in his hands. And since they wouldn't have a great big man, not to mention how stacked other contenders are, they wouldn't be a shoo-in for the championship (at least not every year).
It's tempting to say LeBron could just be the point forward, playing the role of Scottie Pippen (though again, he clearly wouldn't be second in the pecking order), but it's also legitimate to wonder whether Wade would be as effective playing primarily off the ball.
Still, with two all-time greats in their prime, I'm sure Heat president Pat Riley (and every other living creature) would be willing to take that chance. LeBron certainly wouldn't object to a drop in his scoring, and his averaging a triple-double.
Is this all fantasy?
Certainly not my fantasy. I'm from Cleveland, so I hope The King stays put.
But in the end, LeBron's going to be measured by his rings. His individual accomplishments have already secured his spot among the elites of all time. But to reside among the elites of the elites (MJ, Magic, Bird, Kobe), he needs jewelry -- and he may need Wade.
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