If Laker fans aren’t incredulous at the notion of LeBron James either leaving $110 million in Miami for $88 million with the Lakers to play with Kobe Bryant, who has to show he’s still Kobe, and would re-up cheap… you should be.
Of course, who thought Bron would agree to take $27 million less to leave Cleveland in 2010? Who thought Bron and Dwyane Wade would ever choose to play together? Who anticipated the Heat would stun the NBA by clearing room for three max players instead of two?
And who will have even more cap room in 2014 than Miami did in 2010?
The answers are nobody, nobody, nobody and the Lakers, respectively.
As in 2010, it won’t be decided by insider projections, much less Twitter preconceptions. A season’s worth of events will do that, leading up to the all-important last thing that happens. Months from the first thing that happens opening night, it’s too soon to say… but not to plan, as the Lakers are.
A lot of things would have to line up for Bron, Carmelo Anthony (‘14), Kevin Love (‘15) and/or Kyrie Irving (‘16).
If we’re just talking Bron, who heads the Lakers list, long shot or not:
1) Will Miami three-peat? When a parade is the last thing that happens, everyone goes home feeling warm and fuzzy, a key factor since Bron must trust Pat Riley to guide them through opt-outs and tax cataclysms. If the Heat falls, everyone will be muttering under their breath as Bron, Wade and Chris Bosh opt out, raising the next question:
2) Who will Wade be at 32? If he’s still D-Wade, Riley, who’s as great at this as he was as a coach, can reload around his Biggest 2. If Wade’s attacking style has led to dire forecasts since he was 25, that wasn’t the D-Wade of old in the Finals, even as he pulled himself together to average 24 in Games 4-7, up from 14 until then.
So we’ll see.
Without the Wade of old, Riles will be up against it, in which case:
3) Leaving will become an option for Bron…
4) At that point, a Bron insider tells me the co-favorites would figure to be the Lakers and Cavaliers. Conventional wisdom about who LeBron will and won’t play with was dead wrong in 2010—and may be again with Kobe in 2014. Bron’s peeps reportedly insist only one thing will count: Who gives Bron the best chance to win the titles–plural–he knows he’ll be judged by?
Bedraggled as the Lakers look at the moment, there are a lot of moments between now and crunch time.
All but forgotten—except by Riley, who sweated it out minute by minute—Wade almost bolted for Chicago in 2010, leaving an expansion team behind.
Instead, the Heat broke the bank at Monte Carlo, catching rival GM, agents and everyone else by surprise.
With other teams targeting one or two max players, Riley created cap space for three, giving away Michael Beasley, his 2008 No. 2 overall pick, getting the superstars to agree to $5M per season less.
Instead of $125M in Cleveland, Bron agreed to $98M. Only the Cavs’ bitter acceptance of a sign-and-trade got him to $110M, the same as Bosh.
Heat 3, Preconceptions 0.
On July 9, 2010, the morning after James said he and his “talents” were South Beach-bound, horrified NBA fans awoke to a new reality… Bron, Wade and Bosh on one team… just as LB lit a fuse under world-wide hate in that day’s circle-er, welcoming celebration, counting down their forthcoming titles (“not one… two.. three… four… five… not six, not seven.”)
And it all started with a 2009-10 Heat team not unlike today’s bedragged Lakers, which went 47-35, then fell in five to Boston in the first round.
(The Lakers were 47-35 last season but let’s skip the modern trend toward charts, graphs and numerology.)
Signing Kobe and Pau Gasol for $5M each would still leave $53-54M under the tax threshold.
If it’s between them and Cleveland, the young Cavaliers, coming off win totals of 21-24, face the formidable vision of a reloaded Laker team.
But that’s then. This is now, even if long-running NBA FA sagas now have familiar narrative arcs.
Circa 2005-2008, fans were intrigued by the notion of Bron leaving… no one more than Knick fans who staged annual LeBronstock Festivals when he played there, ticking off everyone from Cleveland, with the notable exception of Bron.
From 2008-2010, the press, in its traditional role of ants at the picnic, arose with a near-unanimous, “LeBron won’t leave Cleveland.”
I don’t get them all right but I nailed that, noting the last thing that happened
portended trouble for the Cavaliers with their threadbare supporting case and title-or-nothing expectations.
It ended in a second-round loss to Boston with Bron playing left-handed because his shooting elbow was locking up while being branded “quitter” and “mercenary.”
In the good news for the Heat, there’s no way they lose to Boston in the playoffs this time….
I don’t think. Of course, that’s why they play the season, isn’t it?
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