First things first: According to my beloved and most likely inflated SiteMeter, the site has now welcomed 200,00 readers since its inception. To each and every one of you who has made Cavs: The Blog a part of your day or just stumbled here randomly when one of the stories got picked up by a different, better, site, thank you so, so much. Hopefully you’ll keep reading, and hopefully I’ll be able to provide content that makes your visits worth your while.
However, today’s job is to address the story/non-story that LeBron does not appear likely to accept the Cavs’ offer of an extension this off-season, and will instead indeed let his contract run out and test free agency in 2010.
As a fan, I am of course a little disappointed, although at no point did I realistically believe that the LeBron 2010 madness wasn’t going to happen. It’d be nice not to have to worry about it for the year, but on some level this ridiculous intrigue is part of what makes LeBron larger than life, and hence what makes LeBron LeBron. The Summer of Judgement is something that’s been written about endlessly, speculated about, and opined upon by just about everything with a pulse. By now, it’s as ingrained a part of the LeBron legend as any playoff run has been. Judgement Day was always going to come.
But, more pressingly, maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is this: what conceivable reason could LeBron possibly have for signing this extension this year?
I mean, let’s assume that if all factors are more or less equal, LeBron would prefer to stay in Cleveland, staying at home and finishing what he started. Let’s even go a step further assume that he fully plans to have his next contract be with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now, even assuming those things, there’s really not a compelling reason why LeBron would have signed this contract. First, let’s look at it from a personal level. You sign an extension before your contract is up because you want financial security, and don’t want to take a risk of not getting what you want on the open market. There is absolutely no suspense to what price LeBron will fetch in the open market. He will make the max. There is no question of this. He will be the most no-brainer max-money player since the salary cap was installed. He will make the max over many years. There is no possible way that LeBron James will not receive a maximum contract. It’s LeBron James. He could get microfracture on both knees, occasionally shoot at his own basket, change his logo to a John Wayne Gacy painting, and spend the off-season locked in a room, rarely eating or bathing, obsessed with the notion that the locations of his 40-point games correspond directly with the locations of roadside bombing instances in Iraq, and he would still get a max contract.
So, the chances of LeBron not getting a max contract are essentially 0, or lower than any player’s odds of not getting a max contract ever. Now, what are the chances that the Cavaliers have a horrifying meltdown and become the kind of team that LeBron would be stupid to tie himself to long-term sometime over the next year, and/or that an amazing young core emerges on another team with max-money space? Not great. Not good. Not likely. Not that close to likely. But better than 0. Now, I obviously think the Cavs will be very, very good next season. But it’s not a young team, injuries can happen, and there were a lot of role players playing the best basketball of their life last season. Stranger things have happened than a team of this caliber imploding on itself after a deep playoff run. Stranger things than LeBron not getting a max deal have not. And not to be cynical, but there’s a very real chance LeBron and his Nike counterparts think all this “where’s LeBron going” stuff that keeps him in the headlines on off-days is far from the worst thing in the world. So, on a personal level, there is no reason for LeBron to sign the extension now rather than wait.
But, of course, there’s the other factor in this “decision”: how will this “distraction” affect the team over the coming year? LeBron supposedly wants to win championships above all other goals, so why is he hanging the possibility of him leaving over a championship run? Let’s assume that LeBron’s ultimate goal, trumping his own benefit, is to win as many championships as soon as possible, preferably in the upcoming season.
So, what you now have is Scenario A: LeBron’s possible departure is so distracting that his teammates, most to all of whom have been on multiple teams already in their careers and know that contract negotiations and the possibility of moving is a constant of NBA life, that their game cracks under the pressure of possibly not being on LeBron’s team anymore if they lose. Locker room tension abounds because their leader plans on taking a rational look at his options after the season’s end, even though the chances are just as good that they’ll be gone in 2010 for one reason or another, seeing as to how 6 players in the 08-09 rotation are no longer on the team.
Scenario B: The front office loses a sense of urgency now that they know they have LeBron locked up, and don’t pull the trigger on moves that will give them a financial hit or a possible detriment down the road, because they figure there will always be other championship shots so long as LeBron is around. Some of this complacency trickles down to the locker room.
How possible scenario B is is debateable, but really, isn’t scenario A kind of ridiculous? And that’s why LeBron would take an extension that makes no sense for him, personally? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. And remember, a lot of the bloggers and writers who are writing about the “possible locker-room impact” of the extension non-signing are guys who go into the locker room for media availability times, or are yahoos like me who are at USC during the season and see the Cavs’ locker room twice a eyar. LeBron is one of the most vocal and hands-on team leaders in the last two decades. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to decisions that impact the locker-room vibe.
Really, we have to think about who this situation is affecting adversely. LeBron doesn’t care. There’s no uncertainty where he’s concerned; he knows what he’s going to do, or is honestly more comfortable waiting to weigh his options. The players don’t really care, because they know LeBron a lot better than anyone else involved does and recognize that this stuff is a part of their lives. The front office cares, but they understand what their jobs are and that the pressure’s on them to do it.
Honestly, the only people this really tears apart are the fans. It sucks. I know it does. It’s going to be very strange watching LeBron and having that little nagging sense at the back of your mind, however small, that this may be the season that decides whether or not he’ll be a Cavalier long-term. But, at the end of the day, we have to remember this: The team belongs to the fans. The players work for the team. But the team doesn’t own the players, and that means the fans don’t either. It’s hard not to think that LeBron James is a part of Cleveland, and that Cleveland and LeBron have an implied covenant of some sort, but the reality is that he’s just a man. A man who’s given more to the Cavalier franchise than any player ever has. And for that, the fans owe him the respect of regarding him as a man and letting him make the decision that serves him best. In this case, that means recognizing that it would be ridiculous for him to sign this extension this summer. And a year from now, all Cavalier fans can hope for is that LeBron feels that the best decision for him is to stay in Cleveland.