"July 1, 2010, is going to be a very, very big day."
That’s what LeBron James said in November 2008, more than 18 months before he actually became a free agent and taught basketball fans across the country what a media circus truly resembles. Of course, since then, James defected to the Miami Heat and did no less than propel his newly adopted team to four straight NBA Finals appearances and bolster his burgeoning reputation as the most talented baller on the planet.
And now, just as then, James is a free agent once again, but you heard no similarly grandiose speak Tuesday from The King when reports started surfacing of his, well, decision. (In fact, we haven’t heard James speak Tuesday at all.) But as in 2010, the speculation surrounding James’ occupational uncertainty regarding where to take his talents now threatens to strangle the basketball world into submission.
But it need not be that way. The summer of 2010 does not have to happen again, and James can ensure that the past and all its made-for-TV specials stay buried right where they lay. Here are five ways he can do this whole free agency thing better the second time around:
1. Decide, but no Decision — No 24-hour sports network needs to carry this live. A news conference at a neutral location? Absolutely, but the theatrics of 2010 are still fresh today, and such a repeat production could resurrect the ridicule that’s only begun to now subside after two championships in four seasons.
2. Pick the right pieces — Like Kobe, LeBron has more than earned the right to be involved, in some measure, on personnel matters and roster moves. (Of course, let’s not be so naive that this doesn’t already happen on some level behind the scenes.) But more to the point, LeBron, wherever he goes, will be the centerpiece of not just the on-court play but the off-court accounting.
The Big Three setup has brought two titles to Miami, sure. But not only is it now on the brink of complete collapse, but even when it was working well, the roster always seemed to be filled out with popsicle sticks and Krazy Glue once you got beyond James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Now that LeBron has two titles under his belt, maybe he’ll be more inclined to some measure of financial flexibility. That doesn’t have to mean a pay cut per se, and this very well would work right where he is, but deferring a few dollars for the future to bring in a stronger long-term supporting cast — and increase his chances of winning until the day he retires — is a tried and true formula by this point.
3. Get it over with — Please, we’ve all got things to do. No prime-time specials. No after-hours speculation. Just let us know at noon Eastern time. Have someone leak the news to Woj so we can all get on with our day.
This is only especially relevant if James ends up somewhere other than Miami, but even with the Heat, he has a chance to hit the reset button with regard to expectations, including some that he himself helped establish during his first public appearance in a Heat uniform.
5. Become a player-coach — because what team would say no to that idea? — James would instantly, without peer, become the coolest person in all of sports. Whoever signs him must make this happen. For the most valuable player in basketball, you make it happen, if he wants.