Handicapping the players in the LeBron sweepstakes

Anyone outside of his entourage who claims to know what LeBron is going to do is being disingenuous. He loves the fact that he’s the center of attention even though the playoffs are still in full swing. He often speaks of July 1 in grandiose terms and that’s because, like most superstars, he has a very high opinion of himself.

That said, I found myself rooting for the Celtics in their series with the Cavs because as a writer, Cleveland’s early exit throws LeBron’s future to the wind. He could land any number of places.

Though the LeBron Tracker makes me a little nauseous, I thought I’d take a stab at handicapping where King James might end up. I’ll include the six teams that ESPN deemed worthy of making the top banner and add the Mavs for good measure. For each team, I’ll outline why he’d sign and why he wouldn’t. I’ll also rank (on a scale of 1-10) how he fits from a personnel standpoint.

In terms of fit, I look to the last few premier wings who have broken through and won at least one title as the best player on their team. I’m talking about Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and Michael Jordan. What do they have in common? Kobe, Pierce and Wade all played with top notch big men — Gasol, Garnett and Shaq, respectively — while Jordan had Scottie Pippen. In other words, they all got to play with another All-NBA (Top 15) caliber player when they won their title.

They also enjoyed good coaching. Jordan and Kobe had Phil Jackson, Wade had Pat Riley and Doc Rivers did a great job of coaching the ’08 Celtics. They were also all surrounded by good shooters who could make teams pay for double-teaming their respective superstar.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the major players in line for LeBron’s services and try to handicap their chances of signing the league’s most valuable player.

CAVS (25%)
Why he’ll sign: Loyalty, comfort, familiarity. He’s from the area and he doesn’t want to leave town after an early postseason exit, as it would effectively destroy basketball in the city of Cleveland. Shaq will be gone and there’s an opportunity for an upgrade at head coach.
Why he won’t sign: Too much baggage. The franchise has had seven years to build around him and they’ve made just one Finals appearance. Suspect flexibility with the roster.
Fit: 5/10 The Cavs have a pretty good shooter at power forward (Antawn Jamison) and a good shooter at point guard (Mo Williams), but neither player is even average on defense. There are a lot of solid-to-good players on the roster, but no one approaches the Top 15 sidekick that helped the aforementioned wings win their titles. It’s tough to find that kind of player via trade, but that’s how Gasol, Garnett and Shaq came to play for the Lakers, Celtics and Heat. Cap-wise, if they re-sign LeBron, they won’t have any cap space to speak of until the summer of 2012 when Jamison’s salary is off the books.

KNICKS (25%)
Why he’ll sign: There’s enough cap space to sign Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, so the chance to play with another superstar. The Big Apple. Madison Square Garden. The opportunity to resurrect basketball in one of the world’s greatest cities. The chance to play for Mike D’Antoni, whom he knows through Team USA. LeBron’s ego is built for the Big Apple.
Why he won’t sign: The supporting cast isn’t good enough. D’Antoni doesn’t care enough about defense. The internet makes playing in a big market not as significant as in years past.
Fit: 8/10 A potential pairing with Chris Bosh (or Dirk Nowitzki) would be ideal. Dwyane Wade might work too, since Wade is a deadly crunch time scorer and there are plenty of shots to go around in D’Antoni’s up-tempo system. James Dolan isn’t afraid to spend, so the Knicks would be able to add title-hungry vets left and right. The Knicks are the one team that truly has the opportunity to build a roster around LeBron, and that might appeal to him.

BULLS (25%)
Why he’ll sign: A very nice supporting cast consisting of future Top 15er Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. It’s a chance to play for the team that MJ played for. There’s an opening at coach, so there’s flexibility there. The Bulls could potentially move Luol Deng and/or Kirk Hinrich in a sign-and-trade to bring another big name (Bosh?) to join the party.
Why he won’t sign: The Bulls will always be Jordan’s team. It could be tough to play with a ball-dominating guard like Rose. The Bulls are not known for acquiescing to their stars, and LeBron is used to having a big say in personnel decisions after seven years with the Cavs.
Fit: 7/10 There’s a lot of talent in Chicago, but it’s a questionable fit. Deng is a bit undersized to play the four, and the Bulls don’t have a lot of solid shooting at the complimentary positions. Rose could be the Top 15 sidekick LeBron needs, but since they both handle the ball so much, offensive flow is a concern. If the Bulls can swing a trade for a top-notch power forward, the fit becomes an 8/10 or 9/10.

HEAT (13%)
Why he’ll sign: Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade. And if the Heat can give Michael Beasley away, they’d have enough cap space to sign a top-notch big man like Bosh, Nowitzki, Stoudemire or Boozer as well. Also, Pat Riley said that he could return to the bench if need be, which would give LeBron the experienced coach that he craves. Oh, and the weather’s nice, too.
Why he won’t sign: Miami is Wade’s town and they have a recent title, so LeBron’s arrival wouldn’t mean as much as it would elsewhere. Plus, Heat fans don’t seem terribly loyal; there were usually plenty of good seats still available this season, and the Heat made the playoffs.
Fit: 7/10 It’s not clear how a LeBron/Wade dynamic would work, especially in crunch time. Does LeBron play off of Wade, or vice versa? Still, you’d think that with two Top 5 players, they’d find a way to make it work. Again, if the Heat are able to move Beasley and sign a star big man, the fit rises to 8/10.

NETS (5%)
Why he’ll sign: Brook Lopez is a future All-Star and, despite his lackluster season, Devin Harris is a nice point guard. The Nets have the #3 pick, which could turn into Evan Turner or Derrick Favors. New owner Mikhail Prokorov has money coming out of his ears and would likely spend whatever’s necessary to surround LeBron with the best supporting cast possible. The pending move to Brooklyn would put LeBron in NYC.
Why he won’t sign: This was the worst team in the league last season and it could take a while before the supporting cast is championship-ready. The move to Brooklyn is nice, but it’s still at least two years off — does LeBron want to play in Newark for two years in his prime? Doubtful.
Fit: 7/10 It’s the same issue as in Chicago and Miami — can LeBron play with a ball-dominating guard? But Harris would gladly defer while Rose and Wade may not. The Nets have a great young big man in Lopez, something that the Heat and Bulls can’t offer right now. However, he’s not a court-spacer like Bosh or Nowitzki are.

MAVS (5%)
Why he’ll sign: He and Dirk would create a terrific pick-and-pop combination. Mark Cuban has proven that he’s willing to spend in order to build a winner. There are several good players already in place.
Why he won’t sign: The Mavs and Cavs may not be able to work out a deal. In the West, the Lakers still rule and would make a Finals appearance that much tougher.
Fit: 7/10 Jason Kidd is a sharpshooter now, and with Jason Terry at the other guard spot, LeBron would be surrounded by shooters. However, the Mavs are getting older so the championship window seems smaller than some of his other options. The presence of the Lakers makes this move quite risky.

Why he’ll sign: The Clippers need a small forward and LeBron would have a chance to play with a good, relatively young supporting cast. It’s Los Angeles and he can battle with Kobe for the key to the city.
Why he won’t sign: It’s the Clippers. They’re cursed. Why does he want to share a city with Kobe? Baron Davis is a ball-dominating guard. Moving to the West means that he’ll have to deal with the Lakers in the postseason.
Fit: 6/10 LeBron and Blake Griffin could make a nasty one-two punch. Eric Gordon is an up-and-coming two guard and Davis can still make plays at the point. Chris Kaman is an All-Star center. Davis would have to defer and it’s not clear how he and Gordon would perform as spot-up shooters.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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