That’s the biggest question hovering over the NBA this season, at least from a free agency standpoint. ESPN tackled this issue by surveying a group of “52 NBA noggins” to see what the general consensus is.
The good news for Cleveland fans is that 73% responded that he’s likely to stay put, in no small part to how the economy has affected the NBA salary cap. The bottom line is that, with reduced cap space, other teams are going to have a tough time signing two superstars, so they become less desirable destinations for LeBron.
New York still lurks as the biggest threat to pry LeBron away from Cleveland, and here’s why…
…he’ll try to work out a sign-and-trade, perhaps involving David Lee, to bring in a second star such as Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire as a teammate for LeBron. And no matter what, he’ll tell LeBron all about the potential cap room the Knicks will have in 2011, at which time Walsh will be able to round out what could become a championship roster.
The other cards in Walsh’s deck are pretty obvious as he makes his pitch to LeBron: Come to so-called Basketball Mecca and we’ll build championship teams around you in the World’s Greatest Arena, paving the way to greater glory, riches and Global Icon status. And oh, by the way, you’ll be playing for Mike D’Antoni, the guy who won about 60 games a year in Phoenix, who helped mastermind the success of your Olympic gold medal-winning team and who will set you free in the open court to run up and down in the up-tempo offense you’ve always dreamed of.
The problem for the Cavs is that they aren’t going to have any significant cap space until 2011, so if the Shaq experiment doesn’t result in a championship, 2010 could actually be a step back for the organization. Shaq and his salary would be gone, but the Cavs would be unable to sign any big name free agents other than James, who has already said he’s going to opt out of the final year of his deal.
If Shaq is a disaster from the get go, the Cavs could move him for some long term help, but one of James’s long-rumored big-man running mates — Amare Stoudemire — plays for the Suns, and they’re unlikely to take Shaq back. The other — Chris Bosh — plays for a team that thinks they can re-sign him. Why trade him for Shaq?
The Cavs can offer LeBron more money than any other team and that, plus his familiarity with the team and the city, might keep him in Ohio. But I’ve said this all along — if the Cavs don’t win a title (or at least make another Finals) — I think LeBron bolts. That would make three near misses for LeBron and I doubt he sticks around for a fourth.
Remember, his loyalty is to Akron, not Cleveland.
(And keep your eye on the Nets. With Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Brook Lopez on the roster, and an eventual move to Brooklyn, they’re the darkhorse in this race.)