Lantern file photo
Five more weeks separate LeBron James from free agency. Judging by the media barrage following the Boston Celtics’ dismantling of the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN and friends will definitely exhaust all fresh material by July 1. LeBron is certain to keep his intentions secret, but many outlandish reports will circulate, most holding zero merit. With all eyes of the sports world gazing intently on The King’s every move, it’s no doubt that the next couple of months will serve as an unnecessary roller coaster of bogus rumors and un-sourced chatter.
Back when the most efficient modes of communication were the telegram and carrier pigeon, LeBron’s decision wouldn’t reach the masses until the start of the season. In this age of tweeting and Facebooking, any believable tale can instantaneously spread across the nation. Immediately following Cleveland’s collapse against Boston, a few talking heads nominated Chicago as LeBron’s top choice. LeBron probably hadn’t given any thought to the suitors of his sweepstakes while showering after the Game 6 loss, so any assumptions made by “experts” were completely impulsive. LeBron might consider Chicago his No. 1 choice, but there is no way for anyone outside of his inner circle to know, especially seconds after his team’s season ended.
As July 1 nears, the media circus will only get worse. Think Brett Favre coverage, only worse. But LeBron loves basking in the limelight, and he’ll get that opportunity until he reaches a final verdict.
Here is how things might play out before LeBron makes his final decision:
ESPN headline: “Add Yankees, Cowboys to LeBron’s list”
LeBron has displayed his affinity for the Yankees and Cowboys before. But when seen sporting a New York hat and Dallas Cowboys shirt while at Yankee Stadium for a game between his beloved Bronx Bombers and the Cleveland Indians, speculation spirals out of control. Clearly, his lack of support for the cellar-dwelling Indians shows his distaste toward Cleveland as a whole, writes one columnist. And while he’s supposed to be playing his cards close to the chest, any team adornment certainly is a telling sign of his intentions, right?
ESPN headline: “The King could be reborn in Graceland”
Memphis surfaces as the destination du jour for LeBron. Home to the original “King,” Elvis Presley, the Grizzlies could clear enough cap room by letting Rudy Gay walk and making a couple of financially shrewd trades. As a fan of a variety of music genres, LeBron would have no problem adapting to Memphis’ country melodies. Plus, he’s a big fan of barbecue. Sounds like a match made in hog heaven.
ESPN headline: “LeBron narrows down options to 29 teams after former coach lands in New Orleans”
At this point, LeBron has been linked to the Cavaliers, Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Nets, Clippers and Mavericks. No team would shy away from inking the two-time MVP to a contract if the opportunity arose, but only a handful of teams have the salary cap space to currently afford him. The trick is proving to LeBron that your city is worthy. When Mike Brown signs on to coach the New Orleans Hornets, that option is thrown out the window. Brown never really “clashed” with his megastar, but the two had their share of differences in basketball philosophy. LeBron preferred an up-tempo style, while Brown predicated stifling defense, often leading to a stagnant, half-court offense. It’s no secret that the Cavs canned Brown in part to appeal to LeBron. The team that picks up the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year can all but eliminate LeBron James from its summer shopping list.
ESPN headline: “Nike wants LeBron in Portland”
For all the fallacious rumors that emerged about LeBron earning more money from Nike if he played in a bigger market, such as New York, no one ever mentioned LeBron playing right near Nike’s headquarters in Oregon. That all changes when Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard makes public his intention to clear some roster space with the healthy returns of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. Of course, the media will give it a little twist to ensure that it’s Nike in control, not the Blazers’ general manager.
ESPN headline: “Could LeBron wait another year?”
One aspect that no one has contemplated, and for good reason: What if LeBron exercises his player option for next season? There’s a better chance he quits basketball to play the piano. But, surely, ESPN and other media outlets will want to cover all of LeBron’s alternatives. And how appropriate would it be after months and months of useless conjecture if LeBron decided to put off free agency until summer 2011?