Where Should LeBron James Sign?

May 25, 2010

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or just don’t care about sports – you know that LeBron James is about to become a free agent.

The 25 year old James is arguably the best player in the NBA. The financial piece of the equation is very easy. Under NBA rules, his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, can offer him more money than any other team. If he simply wants the cash, he stays with the Cavs.  The financial negotiations would not be complex.  The Cavaliers would simply write down the maximum salary allowed by NBA rules and wait for LeBron to sign the contract.

Over the course of the past few years, there has been widespread speculation that the New York Knicks would try to snap up James and some other top free agents. In an effort to gain “cap space”, the Knicks have rid themselves of expensive players. In addition to reducing payroll, this has also reduced wins.  The Knicks finished this season with a record of 29-53.

If LeBron picks the Knicks, he’ll be playing in the media capital of the world, and can become an even bigger star than he is now. There’s also the possibility that the Knicks can throw enough money around to build a championship caliber team.

If I were James, though, I’d be very cautious. Throwing money at players doesn’t guarantee that the team will meld into a championship contender. It’s just as likely that the Knicks will end up with a huge payroll and a crappy team.  The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have already proven that they are able to build a contender around him.  Yesterday, they fired Mike Brown – whose .663 winning percentage is tops in Cavaliers history – apparently to make way for LeBron’s choice of coach.  LeBron has a huge amount of influence over the future of the Cavs organization.

In terms of media exposure, I’m really not sure how much more exposure James can get. He’s already the most popular player in the NBA and a cultural icon. What does he really want – his own late night talk show?  At some point, don’t you get to a level of “global icon” that makes your geographic location irrelevant?

Although James may gain a bunch of fans by moving to another city, he might lose a lot of his existing fans.  Certainly Cavalier fans would leave in droves, but so would many other fans around the country.  LeBron is an Ohio kid (from Akron).  Watching him attempt to lead his hometown team to an NBA title is a great story line for me.  If LeBron is trying to lead the Knicks to a title, I’m not nearly as interested.  If he’s playing for Phil Jackson in Chicago (the Bulls are rumored to be courting Jackson) then I would be actively rooting against him.

As you can guess, my advice to LeBron is to stay in Cleveland.  He may make a few less bucks in endorsements, but he’ll be treated like royalty in Cleveland.  He’ll also continue to be just a short car ride away from family and old friends.  How will he be treated in New York if the Knicks plans to rebuild around him fail?  Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond can be the better choice – especially when that team can pay you better and contend for a title.


The US Supreme Court ruled against the NFL in an anti-trust lawsuit.  The league is being sued by apparel maker American Needle, Inc.  The company alleges that the manner in which the NFL collectively bargains with apparel companies is in violation of anti-trust laws. In the case of American Needle, they had produced hats for a variety of NFL teams before the NFL awarded an exclusive headgear contract to Reebok.  American Needle would prefer that teams could make independent decisions on apparel licensing.  It is important to note that the scope of this case was limited to apparel licensing and does not impact the league’s collective bargaining with players.  The case now goes back to a lower court that had previously ruled against American Needle. 

Former Major League pitcher Jose Lima passed away on Sunday at the age of 37.  In 1999, Lima won 21 games and was named to the All Star team.  In 1998 and 1999, Lima went a combined  37-18 with a 3.64 ERA.  For the rest of his career, he was 52-84.  As an encore to his 1999 campaign, Lima struggled to a 7-16 record with a 6.65 ERA.  His final full season in the majors (2005) was marked by a 5-16 record and a 6.99 ERA.  Through the good times and the bad, Jose Lima appeared to be the happiest guy on the world, declaring it to be “Lima Time” and, in general, acting like a guy who was being paid large sums of money to play a child’s game.  RIP, Jose.  Coincidentally, Lima was on the same Astros pitching staff as Darryl Kile, who died at the age of 33 in 2002.

The Colorado Rockies have been very average so far this year.  After hammering reigning AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke on Sunday, the Rockies went into play on Tuesday with a record of 22-22.  Oddly, they haven’t been more than two games above or below .500 all year.  There are signs that the Rockies could be about to bust out, though.  Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had been mired in a power slump all year.  After hitting 32 homers last year, he had just a single homer during the first 38 games of the year.  In the last four games, Tulo has hit three homers – all on the road.

Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg is on the cusp of being called up to the majors.  Delaying the callup this long will allow the Nationals to push back Strasburg’s free agency and arbitration eligibility by a year.  With the Nationals beginning a road trip today, Strasburg’s debut will likely be on June 4th against the Reds in D.C.

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