Thursday, July 06, 2006

This is just a quick postscript to last night's effort. A longer post on the Devil Rays recent rejuvenation will be forthcoming tonight, maybe tomorrow.

There is a big question looming in the minds of Cleveland fans. And it's not "Theo Epstein gave up cash or a player to be named later for Jason Johnson????" Aside from the fact that America's Prom Date is slipping, the real question is: "What is LeBron's future in Cleveland?"

The other big stars who came out of the 2003 draft like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosch have all indicated that they would extend their contracts 5 years for the maximum salary allowed by the bargaining agreement ($80 million dollars). None of them have signed yet because the NBA rules prohibit them from signing until July 12. But LeBron hasn't said a word yet. He does have a pretty large window of opportunity (July 12-October 1) in which to make his decision.

But it still begs the question, what will happen if LeBron didn't sign? King James isn't eligible for free agency until after the upcoming season, but can the Cavs afford to keep him for a year and have him walk away after the season. I don't see how you can trade LeBron and get even 75 cents on the dollar in return, but you can't let a guy like that walk and get nothing for him.

This question is of interest for two reasons. Number one, is there a possibility that the Celtics could acquire him? And number two, if LeBron is dealt from the Cavs this offseason, where does that leave that team. The first question is the most intriguing, but the second is the most important as it is, at post time the more realistic of the possibilities.

But first things first. I don't see the Celtics being able to acquire LeBron James. To do so, they would almost certainly have to give up Pierce and one, maybe two of their promising young players. Plus the amount of money under the salary cap and the insanely complex economics of the NBA would make a two team deal nearly impossible. If you click on Pierce's name up above, you'll go to his player page on, and you'll find that he's the 16th highest paid player in the NBA. Good luck dealing him, or acquiring a legit 2nd option (I think that Wally is at best a 3rd option, unless, as is the case for Cs, there is no one better).

Any trade for LeBron would have to be a multi-team, multi-player nightmare of a deal with spare parts flying every which way. And we've all seen, by now, that Danny Ainge can't be in a multi-team trade without finding the way to minimize the value the Celtics receive in return to an insane degree. There's no way that could happen and leave LeBron in a Boston uniform.

As for LeBron ending up in LA or NY, which seems to be the object of the exercise for the overall NBA marketing plan...the Knicks are too screwed up right now. He can't play with Kobe. And who knows if the Clippers could sustain the type of spending they did to make a playoff run into another season. He certainly can't play with Paul Pierce. Their particular style of play would be too similar, or would be if LeBron were less talented than he is. Paul Pierce for his part has shown reluctance to share the spotlight. So that can't happen.

As for him coming here in trade for Pierce (presuming Danny Ferry subscribed to the Danny Ainge How To Paralyze a Franchise Correspondence Course at the Isaiah Thomas Institute for Killing a Basketball Team), that seems ridiculous to me. The thing that holds King James back in Cleveland is an inferior supporting cast. And somehow, Boston would be better? The trouble with the Celtics is that all of these kinds have potential (in the NBA parlance of our times guys like Jefferson, Gomes West, Perkins and so on might even have tremendous upside potential), but they haven't managed to accomplish much as yet. In the long run, it would be better for LeBron to stay in Cleveland than come to the declined and fallen Celtic empire (apologies to grammar and Edward Gibbon).

Of course, there is always the possibility that Danny Ainge might have to do something dramatic to remind people that there is a basketball team in town. He might even realize that Bostonians might discover the closely guarded secret that Antoine Walker helped a team win a ring, even though Ainge didn't like his game. If that story broke, Ainge might find the media and the fans keeping a watchful eye on his stewardship of the Celtic franchise. That's the last thing he needs, if he wants to remain employed.

The more likely scenario is that Cleveland will trade LeBron and the Celtics won't get him. Getting 75% value for LeBron might net a few decent players. But they won't be a contender. They might not be a playoff team, which would leave them with a lottery pick next season. Interestingly enough, in a story that seemed to be broken on this site (it wasn't) based on the attention it received at the time, the Celtics once owned the rights to the Cleveland pick in the first round in 2007.

And since no one paid as much attention to this as they should have, you might wonder where said pick went. It went to Phoenix, along with $1.8 million to pay a retired stiff whom you may know as Brian Grant. In return Celtic fans get Rajon Rondo. I could do a better job running the Celtics in my sleep than Danny Ainge does.

And if you don't believe me, just watch Theo Ratliff trying to Willis Reed his way around the court in the season opener. Tell me that he's not an overpaid, overage version of Kendrick Perkins with serious, lingering health issues. I hated Raef. I screamed bloody murder about the Antoine trade because he was part of it. He was useless. His contract was terrible. He was soft. But at least he was consistently in the lineup. Now he's gone, and his replacement has two "redeeming" qualities. First, allegedly he can play defense. He could at one point, I concede, but it's 2006 not 1999. And last, his terrible contract expires on year before Raef's terrible contract. And yet it is only the Cincinnati Kid who calls for Danny's termination. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

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