Will the real LeBron James please stand up?


Jul 9

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Our long national (basketball association) nightmare finally is over.

LeBron James left Cleveland with about as much sympathy and gratitude as the way Richard Nixon left Washington. James is moving his kingdom to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the most impressive basketball threesome since the last most impressive one.

How many Big Threes are allowed in NBA history?

That last one would be in Boston, and they did win a championship.

But that was an aging threesome of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. This is two of the top three players in the game today with one of the best forwards, a rare conjoining of major talent.

I admit I was surprised.

I always thought James would remain back home with the Cleveland Cavaliers, though the consensus was if he did he didn’t care about winning and he was just another athlete who took the last dollar.

He didn’t, probably going for about $30 million less than he could have gotten with a pretty good, if not great, Cavs team. So he surprised there.

I’m not sure if this Heat team will be great, but it will be the Eastern Conference favorite when the season opens and the story of the 2010-11 NBA season.

Obviously, the roster has to be filled out and there aren’t many choices with only minimum salaried players allowed. Miami apparently also is in the process of moving Michael Beasley to Minnesota for some more cap room to sign veterans, presumably a point guard or center, the two obvious missing parts.

That was why so many believed the Bulls had a strong chance to land James and perhaps Bosh. But a lot of this was a long time in the making, apparently, and Wade was seemingly using the Bulls as a desperate fallback position if they couldn’t put the gang back together while James did make one last pitch to Amar’e Stoudemire and Bosh to join him in Cleveland before leaving.

The immediate reaction, even outside Cleveland, was disgust at James’ self-celebration in an ESPN show with a Super Bowl-like two hours of preshow buildup to dramatize his decision. It was a stunning self-aggrandizement seen rarely in the look-at-me world of today’s pro sports.

I guess that’s what he also means by being called the “King.”

James will have some image repairing to do, though Kobe Bryant was able to from much worse circumstances.

I don’t believe the Heat is anywhere near the potential dynasty that Pat Riley has been predicting with this free agency, though Miami was the clear winner in ending up with the three top figures a half dozen other teams were seeking and hoping for one.

Miami got all three.

Eight of the 13 top free agents ended up returning to their home teams for the most money they could make. Only Bosh, James, Carlos Boozer and Stoudemire moved with Boozer to the Bulls and Stoudemire to the Knicks. One surprise was the lack of drawing power of the major market, New York, with no one going to the Nets (they are preparing an offer to Tyrus Thomas after picking up Travis Outlaw) and only Stoudemire to the Knicks as they lose David Lee in trade to Golden State.

The Bulls now have some $16 million left in salary cap room, which they should be able to divide up for a shooting guard and some up front help. They should be able to have money now to sign Omer Asik, who looks like a good addition as a surprisingly athletic seven-footer. There are more than a dozen shooting guards available in free agency and trade. The Bulls could make an offer now to Brad Miller and likely will add another big man.

They should come out of this free agency much deeper and stronger with Boozer, thus giving the team three potential double-double guys with Boozer, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose.

The Bulls were in the race for James or Wade plus Bosh, which many thought would be the true super team of the East given the Bulls much stronger roster than Miami’s.

But what the result suggests is the East will be much deeper, stronger than the West now with more talent spread out and the Bulls among perhaps a half dozen teams that could win 50 games.

The Bulls with the Cavs staggered also figure to be the Central Division favorites.

It’s a huge blow to Cleveland and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, obviously stung by even James’ decision not to notify him, blistered James in an open letter to Cavs fans on the team’s web site and promised the Cavs would win a championship before the Heat and LeBron.

I’m not so sure about that, though it will take a lot of changes from LeBron.

Is he willing? Or is this just a fantasy trip to finish out the best part of his youth in the nation’s top party city where he can revel in his celebrity day and night?

I personally cannot condemn anyone for that.

It is enticing to live in South Florida all winter with an outdoor lifestyle after growing up and spending your working years so far in Cleveland and environs.

It’s just maybe James isn’t what we thought he was or what we want him to be.

Because of his talent, people want him or expect him to be the next Michael or next Kobe or greatest ever. And, yes, he’s talked of that as well. But maybe he just wants to be a guy having fun making a lot of money.

He always has had an unusually fun loving relationship with teammates unlike most stars, and his game lent itself as much to passing and team play. But people expect great players to be great scorers to surpass the greatest. So James showed he could do that.

I remember covering James’ first NBA game in Sacramento. Here was supposedly the perfect player, but he couldn’t shoot. So James went out and made a bunch of long jumpers. He could do things and show you, but maybe he never really wanted to. After all, he never got to grow up being on national TV in his high school games and proclaimed the heir to the greatest as a teenager.

How is an adolescent from a troubled home who is celebrated out of proportion and given everything (he had a Hummer in high school) supposed to have values?

It was interesting to hear him say last season when Kevin Durant was winning the scoring title that he could if he wanted to. Maybe James was beginning to say he was going to do what he wanted to rather than what everyone expected him to do and be.

He’s not the killer like Kobe and Michael, and I’ve always felt from the Olympic experience in 2008 that he was much more comfortable and had no problem as a set up man. He seemed quite happy in those games to let others lead in scoring while he rebounded and made plays, and it was clear after those games that all the players talked about joining up one day. They were serious.

It’s why I was writing much of the season he could go to the Lakers. If you wanted to win, what better place than with Kobe and Phil? And I felt he didn’t have to have his own team. Everyone wanted him to be that guy, but maybe he never was or wanted to be and just finally got fed up.

Going to Miami, it isn’t going to be LeBron’s team. It is Wade’s team because he’s been there and has won a championship there. So the obvious point was that this would not be LeBron’s championship if he gets one or more, that he needed to go get help from a champion and another star.

But maybe he just decided that he’s OK with that and, actually, I’ve always felt his talents are more like Magic and Scottie Pippen than Michael and Kobe.

So will be adapt and change?

I can see James becoming more an Oscar Robertson. I believe he’s going to try to make his name by averaging a triple-double next season, as Oscar was the only player ever to do that.

James already is close and averaging close to 30 points. He’s going to be under tremendous scrutiny about whether he can compromise, and he is smart enough now to understand that. Everyone expects him to want to score and have the ball at the end.

But I’ve always felt that was his weakness and he didn’t want to be the last shot guy. He doesn’t shoot free throws well under pressure and often gives up the ball on drives late. He’s been stuck way too often in that bad Cavs offense isolation at the end and he isn’t a great shooter, either.

I believe Wade will remain that last shot guy, and it will be a relief to James.

James averaged 8.6 assists and it should be easy to get into double figures with Wade and Bosh, especially. He also averaged 7.3 rebounds last season, and he could easily pick up a few a game there if he is not so focused on scoring.

Obviously, the Heat roster is thin and Mario Chalmers is not the guy to have the ball. I think James will end up playing a point forward sort of position like Pippen with a shooter off him. They’ll also open the game some. They have to. And no one is more feared in transition than James. For years, critics have lambasted former Cavs coach Mike Brown for not running with James. If Erik Spoelstra doesn’t, you can bet Pat Riley will come down again and this time with his old Showtime play book.

Hey, it didn’t hurt James Worthy’s career being a third wheel. No, you don’t get to be the greatest ever and you don’t get to be the international billionaire, but you still are pretty famous and pretty rich.

The other question is whether James will be Oscar Robertson or Oscar the Grouch.

He was often the Grouch in Cleveland, and owner Gilbert’s letter and follow up comments that James repeatedly quit during the playoffs was an unprecedented attack from an owner against a player. Yes, they are even madder than we thought they’d be. Maybe you can’t go home again.

Likely part of Gilbert’s frustration was how much they catered to James that was one of the embarrassments of the league.

After games, the coach always writes on the board the time of the next day’s practice or time the plane was leaving. According to players who’ve been with the Cavs, James would either cancel practice on his own or change the departure times. Teams have two buses that go from the hotel to games on the road. James rode the second bus and it didn’t leave until he came no matter when he came. His posse/acolytes traveled on the team charter, which was unheard of around the NBA. Riley doesn’t even let the team broadcasters on the plane in his bunker like operation.

There was a classic story Cavs players tell of parking spots. The team issues two for each player. One for the player and one for the spouse in the arena building. The other parking is outside in public lots across the streets. And it does get ugly in Cleveland in winter. And family members who wait for the players end up staying late. If you haven’t been to downtown Cleveland by the arena… don’t. Let’s just say it’s not a very nice place.

James had the parking for the players’ spouses taken away and given to his buddies, so his teammates family members had to park outside and walk to the arena.

It is the price of talent and varies from team to team about how much they’ll do and put up with. No one put up with more than the Cavs, and what you hear is the voice of a team scorned.

James has to know he’s going to be under the biggest microscope ever and critics will be looking for that type of behavior. Plus, would Riley ever allow anything like that in his tightly controlled organization?

James didn’t go for the money like most of the free agents. While his announcement was an unprecedented and even embarrassing use of the spotlight, he opted for shared glory. It’s just there is no way you win your championships in a trio like that and move to the top of the NBA greatest list.

But maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe just everyone else did. This was a guy, after all, who went to a lower competitive high school so he could play with his buddies. Be the big fish in the small pond? Perhaps.

Or maybe just that he’s an extraordinary talent without the requisite timbre in his makeup. He repeated numerous times in his explanations Thursday on his ESPN abomination that it was about being happy and his mother encouraged that as well.

Maybe LeBron finally gets to be what he is, not the next Michael or Kobe, but the first Magic/Scottie combo. It worked well for them.

Few may like it, but we’re going to watch.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: