The arguments people give when predicting if LeBron James will remain in Cleveland or eventually end up elsewhere are rarely backed with substantive reasoning. Here are ten reasons why the Knicks like their chances of signing LeBron next summer.
10. Cash. Over the same five years, LeBron would earn $4.14 million less signing with the Knicks than re-signing with the Cavs as a free-agent. The Cavs can offer an extra year, but there is little reason to think the security of a 6th season will be decisive. If LeBron put much value on security, he would have sought a longer-term contract in 2006 rather than the 3-year extension he did sign. If security is what he is after, LeBron would have already signed an extension this off-season. Given the relatively small difference between the Cavs’ and Knicks’ 5-year max offers – and given the mountain of endorsement dollars that could come LeBron’s way if he lands in New York – LeBron could have a significant financial incentive to sign with the Knicks.
9. Talent. The Knicks’ roster, though young and unproven, has the 20-PPG potential of Danilo Gallinari, a two-way wing with upside like Wilson Chandler, and a scoring big in rookie Jordan Hill. All three have higher ceilings than any non-Lebron Cavs. A roster deep with quality role players but not elite talent (the most apt way to describe the Cavs minus LeBron) is only enough to give a great player what he needs to have a successful regular season. Winning in the playoffs requires finding another impact player who can help carry the load. The Knicks have the type of young players who can develop into major pieces next to a superstar and their salary cap is set up to allow the team to bid for other top free-agents in the near term.
8. Attracting free-agents. LeBron may realize that getting future free-agents to follow him onto the big stage in New York would be easier than getting them to join him in Cleveland.
7. 2011. Much is made of the fact that Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries remain on the Knick books. Yet both contracts expire just one year later, freeing up $18 million of cap room that puts the Knicks in position to offer another max contract in 2011 when New York-born Carmelo Anthony is set to hit the free-agent market.
6. Mobley. Cuttino Mobley’s contract, 80% of which is covered by insurance, gives the Knicks a valuable trade chip the team can use to remove more salary from the 2010 ledger. Consider that the payout of $7.6 million of insurance for Mobley’s contract would more than offset Jeffries’ $6.9 million salary in 2010, and the Knicks could throw in an additional $3 million in the trade. Offering a net cash gain to any team that takes Jeffries could be an attractive sell to several cash-starved owners.
5. Buyouts. If the Knicks are a few million dollars short of the cap room needed to offer a second max contract in 2010, look for Donnie Walsh to engineer a buyout of the 2010-2011 season on the contracts of Curry and/or Jeffries. Because this is the final year of these contracts, the Knicks would receive dollar-for-dollar cap relief on any buyout. For instance, offering 80% of the salary due on the last season of these two contracts would buy the Knicks more than $3.5 million of additional cap room.
4. The salary cap. Since the NBA league office announced its projections that the salary cap will decline next season, several positive economic indicators were released showing that the recession may already have ended. If true, the NBA’s salary cap might not drop nearly as much as projected if it even drops at all. But because Danny Ferry signed Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Leon Powe to 2-year contracts, the Cavs will not have room for a second max free-agent next summer even if the cap goes up. It might therefore be a checkmate move if Walsh ekes out enough cap room to be able to offer two max contracts in 2010. LeBron’s decision might be between staying in Cleveland with the Cavs’ roster as is or jumping to New York with Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
3. The luxury tax. In New York, LeBron could be assured of joining an organization that would spare no expense in pursuit of multiple championships. Cavs’ ownership has never pulled back on spending but that could change. Dan Gilbert’s deal to bring in Chinese investment, spun as a bold marketing initiative, may have had more to do with cash reserves drying up. Once they’re out of cap room, the Knicks would never hesitate to use their mid-level exception, take on more and more salary each year and pay exorbitant luxury tax bills, to keep renewing LeBron's supporting cast. The coffers at MSG are effectively bottomless.
2. The Yankees. The Yankees have emerged as the best team in baseball and are poised for another championship run. At some point, CC Sabathia may confide to his good pal, one of the Yankees' most famous fans, ‘There’s nothing like winning in New York.’
1. The heart. Big life decisions like the one LeBron will have in less than a year are usually made more on emotion than cold reason. Is home where LeBron’s heart is or does he yearn for the spotlight of Broadway? We don’t know the answer to that yet. But last week, just before letting us know that he plans to become a free-agent after the coming season, LeBron said he is “not ashamed of anything in Cleveland.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, especially in contrast to the reverential words LeBron used to describe how he feels stepping on the floor at Madison Square Garden. The worry for Cavs fans is that LeBron’s tone seems to be creeping closer to the 'It’s not you, it’s me' line of reasoning, an explanation vaguely reminiscent of 'The heart wants what the heart wants.'
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