With Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joining their considerable forces in Miami, what are the best available options for LeBron James?
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If he’s only interested in maxing out his contract, Cleveland can offer him $30M more than the other supplicants. But which franchise makes the most on-court sense for LBJ?
LeBron’s best chance to win a championship, and even establish a dynasty, would clearly be with the Heat. Even though Miami would also need to secure the services of a capable pass-first point guard (Luke Ridnour?) and a bruising center (Brendan Haywood?), the Heat’s firepower would still be truly awesome. With the NBA’s Biggest Three on board, they should have no trouble demolishing every opponent in the seriously weakened Eastern Conference.
Another inducement that might lure James to Miami would be the virtual certainty that Pat Riley would be eager to return to the bench.
However, overall team defense, shot and ball-time distribution, as well as the tight discipline that Riley would undoubtedly impose (no more free access permitted to posses and hangers-on) just might give LeBron second thoughts.
Even with LeBron in Chicago, the Bulls would remain one or two players short of a championship. That’s because Derrick Rose is an erratic shooter (just like James), and is still learning how to run an offense. Carlos Boozer provides scoring and rebounding, but totally inadequate defense. Joakim Noah is a terrific off-the-ball player but can’t score with a pencil. Also, with Boozer in the fold, why would any opponent bother to assign a defender to stay close to Noah? And with Boozer alternately occupying the low- and high-post areas, Noah will be even more superfluous on offense — his only touches limited to offensive rebounds and dive-cut opportunities when Boozer is doubled. Luol Deng needs to be totally involved in the offense or he disappears from view. The remainder of Chicago’s proposed roster is filled with question marks and empty uniforms..
LBJ’s chances of winning the last game of the season would likewise be nil in New York. Stoudemire has too many miles on his surgical knee to be counted on for the long run. Besides, there are simply too many holes in his game for the newest Knick to be a championship-caliber player.
Even with LeBron and Stoudemire, the Knicks would need to add another big man. They could conceivably re-sign David Lee. But their defense would remain suspect and they would also need someone like Raymond Felton or Ridnour to organize Mike D’Antoni’s disorganized offense.
Perhaps the Knicks’ (unlikely) possibility of signing Carmelo Anthony next summer might influence James.
The Nets are light years away from being a legitimate championship contender. Brook Lopez is strong and willing, but remains too clumsy to be the centerpiece of a championship team. Devin Harris is a scoring point guard. The prospective addition of Lee would still surround LeBron with insufficient talent.
Cleveland offers money, loyalty, Byron Scott, and home-town comfort. And, after all, the Cavs did win 61 games last season plus 66 in 2008-09 with essentially the same cast of characters. Adding guys like Mike Miller, Haywood and/or Andre Miller would certainly give Cleveland sufficient talent and depth to successfully challenge Miami.
Also, by so ruthlessly abandoning Cleveland, LeBron could easily be branded as a quitter and a turncoat. Does he really want his lasting legacy in Cleveland and the environs to be the destruction of the Cavs franchise?
So, considering only the most basketball-wise destinations available to LeBron, while anticipating the further possible/probable roster moves each respective team might make, here are his most viable options:
1) Miami, where he could conceivably win a championship ASAP.
2) Cleveland, where Dan Gilbert will reach deep into his pockets to surround him with (hopefully) the right players.
3) New York, where the future isn’t now.
4) New Jersey, where there’s literally no limit to the amount of rubles that can be lavished on complementary parts.
5) Chicago, where the team’s overall talent level is less than meets the eye.