Well, tonight is the night. Finally.
After several years of waiting for arguably the deepest class of free agents in league history - or even sports history for that matter - LeBron James will announce what team he plans to play for over the next half-decade, and the NBA's landscape could change drastically.
This summer has been built up for years as the "Summer of LeBron" or "LeBron-a-palooza" - or any other festive suffix that can be added to the end of the name LeBron - and at 5 p.m. AKDT he will announce his decision in front of a live television audience on ESPN.
A press conference, really? Wouldn't a simple tweet or phone call to one of the hundreds of reporters waiting with bated breath for "Decision 2010" suffice?
No, that's not LeBron's style. He loves the spotlight.
Like the end of a season of "The Bachelor," with the likes of Heat President Pat Riley, Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf playing the parts of the hottest contestants, James will hand out his final rose in front of millions of eyes in primetime. It sure is appropriate.
With the LeBron watch close to its end, the media buildup has reached its climax. ESPN's recent coverage of James has resembled that of TMZ's crack reporting on Lindsey Lohan, no pun intended, and the decision to hold tonight's announcement at the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., is fascinating in itself.
Would LeBron really crush the hopes and dreams of the city of Cleveland on national television - and, yes, LeBron leaving the Cavs would crush the city; more on that later - or is it the perfect location for him to announce he will be playing in Madison Square Garden next year, a mere 32 miles from Greenwich?
Either way, before the LeBron-a-thon ends, here's an updated look at his options.
The "Why play here?" part of this scenario is obvious, other than the fact that he stands to make the most possible money in a contract if he re-signs - a six-year deal worth more money than I'd care to think about, but roughly $120 million. The city worships his every move, and even city officials and politicians have done their part to persuade James to stay home. (See the "We Are LeBron" video on youtube. You won't regret it.)
To give an idea of his economic impact on the city of Cleveland, prior to LeBron's arrival in 2003, the Cavaliers had an average attendance of roughly 11,500 people. During the 2010 season, Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers' 20,000-seat home, sold out every single game. Having the biggest star, arguably in all of sports, has meant more revenue and a place on the map for the city.
According to Forbes.com, after James' rookie year in 2004, the franchise was the 13th-highest-valued franchise in the NBA with a net worth of $298 million. Now, the net worth of the Cavaliers is $476 million, which makes it the fifth-highest-valued franchise in the league. Those numbers speak for themselves, and the Cavs and city of Cleveland clearly have more at stake here than any other suitor.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are teaming up in South Beach and want LeBron to join them.
New York Knicks:
Every move the Knicks have made over the past several years to clear cap space has been in preparation for this day. Front office personnel, New York sports fans and city officials have all made their pitch to LeBron to become a global icon playing under the bright lights of baseketball's Mecca, and there's no question that the LeBron brand would be at its most prominent in the country's largest city.
But many question whether or not the spotlight of the Big Apple is enough to compensate for a roster that does not appear to be ready to compete for a title, although signing former Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire to a max contract is a good start.
If LeBron signed in the Windy City, my immediate pick to win the NBA's Eastern Conference would be the Bulls. With budding superstar Derrick Rose and newly acquired Juneauite Carlos Boozer forming a trio with young big man Joakim Noah, the roster is in place for LeBron to come in and join an instant title contender. And how much fun would it be to watch the Bulls play the Heat?
But would LeBron leave home to take less money (one year, $30 million less to be exact) and attempt to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan? His personality would suggest otherwise, but it's impossible to overlook the talent level currently playing in Chicago.
New Jersey Nets:
The roster is young and talented, they have a new, no-nonsense coach in place, they have a new owner willing to spend the big bucks in order to win, and, oh yeah, LeBron's buddy Jay Z - you may have heard of him - happens to be a minority owner leading the charge to move the franchise to Brooklyn, N.Y.
What's not to like about this situation? And who wouldn't want to go out for a night on the town with "the Jigga man," Avery Johnson and Mikhail Prohkorov? (Think Mark Cuban, but richer, taller and more Russian.) To sign here, LeBron would have to be convinced that bigger and better things are on the horizon for the team with the league's worst record last season. Either that, or they'd have to trick him into forgetting they play in New Jersey.
Los Angeles Clippers:
The only thing the Clippers' lineup is missing is a small forward and what do you know, that's the same position LeBron plays.
Even armed with enough cash to sign him to a max contract and a roster capable of competing in the playoffs as it currently stands, the Clips are and forever will be the Lakers' younger, less attractive little brother. And last time I checked, Donald Sterling still owns the team.
For now, L.A. belongs to Kobe Bryant.
LeBron's loyalty to Cleveland has never been in question and I find it hard to believe that he would go on national television to announce he would sign elsewhere. He would instantly become hated by those that have loved him unconditinoally for his entire career. Is his ego big enough to crush an entire city?
Regardless, it's not as big as the contract he's about to sign.
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