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As NBA free agency begins, where will LeBron James go?

LeBron James hasn’t brought a title to the Cavs, who have the advantage of being able to offer more money and years.

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LeBron James hasn’t brought a title to the Cavs, who have the advantage of being able to offer more money and years.

LeBron James, larger than life, is going to Chicago. Absolutely. Positively. No question.

Unless, of course, he goes to Miami for the flash, the splash, and most of all, the cash.

Provided, naturally, that he does not stay in Cleveland, where no one seems to mind that his kingdom remains ringless.

They are all nervous these days, the money men of the NBA. The NBA job fair has begun, James is available for hire, and the failure to convince him to take their position may cost a general manager his own.

He is bigger than them, LeBron James. If you buy into the hype, he is bigger than their teams, and judging by all the fuss, he is bigger than their sport. He is bigger than free agency, bigger than the draft, even bigger than the playoffs. He is bigger than the New York skyline, bigger than the Miami oceanfront, bigger than the Sears Tower in Chicago.

He is King James.

And he is for sale.

It is as if the NBA has never seen a free agent before. Certainly, none of his stature. Owners have been fined for mentioning his name. Billboards have been erected. Songs have been written. Teams such as the Knicks and Bulls have been giving players away to get into position to throw money at him. There have been secret meetings with fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Larry King has gotten involved.

When you consider that James wears a mood ring on the finger where others have championship rings, this is nuts. Still, it's better to be in position to sign the most talented — not the most accomplished, but the most talented — player in the NBA than not to be.

Obama wants him to be a Bull. Jay-Z wants him to be a Net. Tiger wants him to be a Laker. Spike wants him to be a Knick. When the single-name celebrities start giving you advice on which uniform you should wear while losing in next year's NBA semifinals, you know America is paying attention. (If Elvis were still alive, he probably would want LeBron to play in Memphis. On the other hand, if Elvis were still alive, maybe Memphis could afford to pay James. After all, Graceland would make such a nice second home.)

So where will LeBron land?

Just a guess, but I'd say it will be a town with a very large bank. And a drive-through tattoo parlor.

If it were just about money, James would stay in Cleveland. The Cavs can give him more money per year, and they can give him a sixth year. Other teams are bound by a five-year contract that would pay James $16.8 million per year.

In other words, the Bulls can't outbid the Knicks, and the Nets can't outbid the Mavericks.

Think about this, though. If James weren't in Cleveland, do you think he would consider going there? Me, neither.

If the paychecks are even, then, here's what James, 25, needs to consider: His legacy. Right now, the rep on James is that, for all of his talent, he hasn't won a title. And that after losing to the Celtics in this year's playoff, James got a little whiny about it.

Staying in Cleveland isn't going to change that. The Cavs' supporting cast simply isn't good enough.

Look, if expanding his endorsements overseas is the most important thing to James, if hanging out with the Baldwin brothers and Spike Lee is the most important thing, then James will go to the Knicks. As Isiah Thomas advised James, there isn't a bigger stage available.

On the other hand, if it is better teammates that James covets, then Miami makes a lot of sense. If the Heat can throw out a threesome of James, Wade and Bosh, it's going to be hard not to watch.

The thing is, does King James really want to become one of the Three Musketeers? And furthermore, are James and Wade a good fit on the same court? Both of them need the ball to be effective.

Chicago, too, could provide James with a lot of help. The Bulls already have Derrick Rose, and if they're creative with a sign-and-trade, they could also bring in Bosh. That's tempting.

Do you know where I would want to go if I were James? I'd want to go to Orlando to play with Dwight Howard. No, it isn't going to happen, because unlike the Bulls and Knicks, the Magic didn't have enough layoffs to make the numbers work. Who knows? Maybe the Magic remembers what a letdown big-name free agency was when it brought in Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady a few years ago. Still, Howard can be effective without the ball, and he's a much better player than Bosh.

Here's an idea: Why don't LeBron and Wade and Bosh simply form their own team? They could play in, say, Maui. (Or Pittsburgh, if James wants to stay close to Cleveland.) They could invite Joe Johnson and David Lee and Carlos Boozer and the rest of the free agents to join them. Then they could petition the league to be an expansion team.

Of course, that would break Brandon George's heart, too.

For all the talk of celebrities, wouldn't it be nice if James paid some attention to the little guys such as George? George is the proprietor of InLeBronWeTrust.com, a website dedicated to trying to keep James in Cleveland. And frankly, if getting slapped in the face by 23 women, if having your chest hair removed with hot wax, and if brushing your teeth with hot sauce will help, then Cleveland is in good shape. I'm not sure how any of this affects James, but every kingdom needs a jester.

In the meantime, I'm guessing James ends up in Chicago.

As for George, and the rest of the Cavs' fans, they can go back to Crest.

As NBA free agency begins, where will LeBron James go? 06/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 8:48pm]
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