LeBron finally thanks Cleveland

ESPN has the details. It’s an AP report, so I don’t want to quote any text here. Suffice it to say, at a charity event, LeBron went out of his way to thank Cleveland after drawing criticism for taking out a full page ad to thank his hometown of Akron.

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NBA announces 2009 salary cap, warns about 2010

The new salary cap figure is out, and it dipped slightly from last season.

The new figures for 2009-10 just announced by the league have set the salary cap at $57.7 million per team — down $1 million from $58.7 from 2008-09 — and the luxury-tax threshold at $69.9 million.

More importantly, the league is projecting a much bigger drop (as much as $8 million) heading into the 2010 season.

The official league memorandum, obtained by ESPN.com, forecasts a dip in basketball-related income in the 2009-10 season of 2.5 percent to 5 percent, which threatens to take the 2010-11 cap down some $5 million to $8 million from last season’s $58.7 million salary cap.

A significant drop for the luxury-tax threshold is also projected going into the summer of 2010. If basketball-related income drops by 2.5 percent in 2009-10, league officials are projecting a 2010-11 salary cap of $53.6 million and a luxury-tax line of $65 million. If BRI, as it is referred to in the NBA, decreases by five percent, teams would be looking at a $50.4 million salary cap and a luxury-tax line of $61.2 million in 2010-11.

What does this mean? Well, a team like the New York Knicks, who are projected to have a payroll of about $23 million heading into 2010 would have had about $35 million to spend had the cap stayed at $58 million. That’s plenty of money to sign to superstars. If the cap drops $5-$8 million, it means that they’re projected cap space will be in the $27-$30 million range. That makes signing two “max” players quite tough.

This is probably good news for teams looking to retain their superstars, since they can go over the cap to re-sign players. If the cap does indeed drop to $50 million, it would increase the chances of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson staying put.

LeBron pledging to stay in Cleveland?

Yes, at least according to a “source” close to Trevor Ariza…

The Cleveland Cavaliers got some bad news followed by some potentially terrific news on Sunday. In a last-ditch effort to recruit Trevor Ariza away from the Houston Rockets, LeBron James told Ariza he would remain with the Cavaliers past 2010, according to a person close to Ariza.

Even that wasn’t enough to get Ariza, who verbally committed to join the Rockets last Thursday, to change his mind and go to Cleveland.

But the Cavaliers will gladly settle for the consolation prize; if indeed James’ statement to Ariza was more than an empty sales pitch.

“Trevor asked LeBron if he would be in Cleveland after next season,” the source said. “And LeBron said, ‘I’ll be there. Of course, I’ll be there.'”

When James told Ariza he’d be a Cavalier past next season, Ariza was less than convinced.

“He thought it was just a recruiting tool,” the source said. “LeBron definitely said it, but until he signs the contract it doesn’t mean much.”

If James was indeed being sincere in his intentions to re-sign with the Cavs, this is about the best news that the city of Cleveland could get on a Tuesday morning in July. Of course, a lot can happen in a year and he could just be saying this to try to convince a free agent or two to join the Cavs. There’s also the distinct possibility that this “source” is full of it.

The LeBron Watch continues…

Has LeBron already made his mind up?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports says yes.

With James, the Cavaliers are running out of time. It’s two seasons and counting until he can become a free agent. To listen to Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert dismiss the possibility of James leaving in the summer of 2010 for a bigger market as a product of “bored sportswriters” is beyond laughable. These aren’t bored sportswriters, but a restless superstar and a stable of handlers seemingly sold on his exit.

Gilbert knows better, and so does everyone else inside and outside the Cavaliers. James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. From NBA executives, to Team USA staff and players, to sneak reps: They all believe James has one foot out of the hometown.

Privately, James’ circle had been telling people that they don’t just expect him to leave in the summer of 2010, but in the words of one James associate to a high-ranking league official: He’s gone.

This isn’t an indictment of Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry and the roster he’s constructed around his superstar. He’s done a good, creative job without chips to trade, without high draft picks. This won’t be a basketball decision as much as it will be James believing he needs the platform of a major market to transport himself into a bigger global entity.

Wojnarowski did describe a silver lining…

Here’s the good news for Cavaliers fans: Things can change in two years, and James’ preferred destination, the Nets, is a franchise falling apart. Over the summer, James publicly declared Brooklyn his favorite borough in New York, but the prospects of joining his kindred spirit, rapping mogul Jay-Z, is fading fast.

For James, two things had to happen for him to make the move to the Nets. First, they had to have a nucleus of players minimally comparable to the cast he’d be leaving in Cleveland. Between now and 2010, the Nets desperately need Yi Jianlian and Brook Lopez to develop into frontline players.

But the biggest issue is this: James is never going to play for the New Jersey Nets. Brooklyn, yes. New Jersey? He doesn’t love Jay-Z that much. James needs to be walking into the Brooklyn palace that owner Bruce Ratner has been desperately trying to get financed and constructed for the 2011-2012 season.

Yet now, the Nets are such a vulnerable franchise, the $3.5 billion Atlantic Yards arena project in such doubt, ownership groups from Russia and Dubai have expressed interest in buying out Ratner and taking over the team, Yahoo! Sports has learned. So far, he has resisted, but he’s losing an estimated $30 million a year as court cases and a decaying economy have pushed the project to the brink of collapse.

Apparently, three other teams interest LeBron: the Knicks, the Lakers and the Mavericks.

For their part, Cleveland are “working furiously” to have plenty of cap space in the summer of 2010. If LeBron’s other options aren’t looking good, and the Cavs are able to acquire a guy like Chris Bosh (that’s the rumor, anyway) to play alongside their star, then LeBron might stay. At this point, the Cavs only have three players under contract for the 2010-11 season: Mo Williams, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. At that point, the team will also have the option to keep J.J. Hickson for three more seasons.

The bad news is that the Cavs don’t have the salary cap flexibility or the trade pieces to make big improvements to the team until then. So they have to hope that LeBron makes this crucial decision later rather than sooner.

But it sounds as if the decision has already been made. Luckily for Cavs fans, a lot can happen in two years.

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