It has been several months since LeBron James has answered questions regarding free agency. He took a pledge to avoid all discussions during the season, owing it to his teammates, coaching staff and fans alike. But with the season coming to a sooner-than-anticipated end on Thursday night, James could no longer avoid the elephant in the room.
“First of all I want to win – that’s my only thing; that’s my only concern,” said James following the 94-85 loss to the Boston Celtics. ”I’ve always prided myself on becoming a better basketball [player] individually and then taking it to, onto the court. I mean, it’s all about winning for me and I think the Cavs is committed to do that, but at the same time I’ll give myself options to this point. And like I said before, me and my team, we have game plan that we’re going to execute, and we’ll see where we’ll be at.”
To assume that James has gone through the entire 2009-10 season without thinking about his future would be unrealistic. Few players before James have had a fraction of his talent coupled with his business acumen. We have all heard about James’ “brand” and his desire to be a global icon. And while he has built quite a brand to this point, the latter is very reliant upon the future. This is obviously where the abovementioned “game plan” comes into play.
What that game plan entails remains to be seen. James obviously has plenty of people in his ear. He referenced his “team” multiple times throughout the evening’s media session. And as much as many want to hope his team consists of guys like Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, James was referencing his team at LRMR Marketing – the firm that claims responsiblity in managing the world’s foremost talent.
Will this plan deviate from one of James’ biggest comparables in Kevin Garnett? Coming out of high school, Garnett showed a lot of loyalty to his Minnesota Timberwolves. Loyalty which he now allegedly regrets.
“Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get youth back,” said Garnett. “I can honestly say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d of done it a little sooner.
But in Garnett’s situation, he had a front office that was not nearly as dedicated to winning as James has had in Cleveland with Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry. But as the saying goes, the past is not an indication of the future. Ferry has made three large waves of moves over the last four seasons, all in effort to get James his second star. Standing here today, we now know that Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Larry Hughes, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal have not been enough to take the Cavaliers to the next level. Regular season wins aside, the core unit of James, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas along with their various teammates that arrived via trade has simply been outplayed by more formidable teams come postseason.
In terms of the global brand, James will obviously have many decisions to make. Michael Jordan’s “Be Like Mike” campaign did not start to penetrate markets across the world until Jordan started winning championships. Things like weather, market size and “having more to do” mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. James has had zero struggles in obtaining exposure while in Cleveland and Nike has already signed him to a contract extension. CNBC’s Darren Rovell has gone on record to say that the only way James can make more money – aside from signing a maximum deal with the Cavaliers – is to sell more shoes, something that can only be maximized in China. And like James, China wants winners.
Where this winning can be done remains to be seen. Try as they might, will James give Cleveland yet another chance to build a winner around him? Simply being “dedicated to winning” does not make one a winner. Retooling a roster year in and year out does not provide much of a core – as seen above by the four (of 15) players being the only group here since the NBA Finals run in 2007.
All of this said, Cleveland’s No. 23 becomes a free agent in exactly 47 days. Needless to say, it will be a very long stretch of time.
“Just like I said I’m gonna approach this summer with the right mindset,” said James. “Me and my team is gonna figure out what’s the best possibility for me. I love the city of Cleveland of course. The city, the fans. It was a disappointing season to say the least but at the same time we have a great time together. We’ll see what happens.”