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The Lebron James scenario

Yesterday, ESPN reported that the Miami Heat had had internal discussions about a plan to reunite the draft class of 2003.  When I reached out, Darko Milicic’s agent declined to respond.  That same story also confirmed Carmelo Anthony’s rumored interest in the Houston Rockets.  But we’ll have the rest of this month and into July to discuss that very appealing matter.  Today, I want to use this space to discuss the very improbable scenario of the game’s greatest player coming to the Bayou City.  It’s not likely to happen, but I’d be remiss if I were to not at the least pen a few words on the topic.

First, what is Lebron James’ mindset, at the moment?  Two things, I think, should be clear.  The money doesn’t matter and your body can’t keep this up for another year.  I should expound: the money does matter, to a degree.  You can’t sign somewhere for the minimum.  But pursuing your full max isn’t a concern.  When outright legacy is on the line, an extra $5-$10million per year is irrelevant for a man of this stature.*

*That’s what’s fascinating about this labor force.  You almost have a bell curve in relation to pecuniary interests.  You have guys at one edge, veterans, who would sign places for less than their market value, just to pursue a title; you have 99% of the league maximizing their earning potential; and at the other end, you have just Lebron and maybe Kevin Durant as guys to whom the money doesn’t matter because something greater is at stake.  (Which is also what makes Kobe’s decision to blow up the Lakers’ cap so perplexing but also so predictable).  We’re not talking about just other players or other All-Stars.  Other superstars would all likely maximize their earnings.  But at the very fringe, for the two guys that could end up in the GOAT conversation, I don’t think its a consideration.  (Even with Dwight, it was quite a shock that he left the Lakers, but still, he only left the extra guaranteed year and the annual raise on the table…not to make light of it…)

When Lebron James is 50 years old, he won’t be looking back at the time value worth of the $20million or whatever he will be forfeiting in total salary if he takes a cut.  He’ll be asking himself if he did all he could to position himself to have people talk about him as the greatest player to ever live.

And he can’t keep up this current pace.  He basically almost single-handedly carried this Heat team on his back for the past year with Dwyane Wade missing a large chunk of the season due to a scheduled maintenance program designed to keep him fresh for the playoffs.  Lebron is closing in on 30 and right now, he can’t be expending so much energy during the regular season campaign just to get his team homecourt; he can’t be required to play a perfect game just to have his team win critical playoff games.  The Heat, as constructed, won’t be winning the title next season.  They probably won’t be winning the title this year, unless Lebron turns in a performance for the ages.  Lebron is cognizant of these realities.

We’ve discussed and will be discussing the scenarios which would allow the Rockets to free up the cap space required to acquire a star level player.  What would make Houston appealing to Lebron James?  The obvious answer is the presence of Dwight Howard and James Harden but the counter to that statement would be that James already has Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.  If Houston were to make this happen, following up the signing with an agreement with Chandler Parsons, it would leave the team with James, Harden, Howard, Parsons, and Patrick Beverley as its only “quality” proven players.  (Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin, and Terrence Jones would have all likely been dealt to create the cap space necessary).  While Mario Chalmers has been horrendous, its unlikely Lebron James holds Pat Beverley in that much greater regard than the point guards on his roster.  Is Chandler Parsons better than whoever the Heat could attract to sign at the minimum to join them?  Probably, but does Lebron feel that way?

In Lebron’s mind, it is possible that Houston doesn’t have the depth to signify a significant upgrade over his current team.  But the big advantage for the Rockets is that unlike Dwyane Wade, James Harden is a workhorse.  Harden has proven he can single-handedly carry a team to a playoff berth and he’s hungry for shots.  In such a scenario, Lebron might find it appealing to allow Harden to carry the offense for the full 82 while he himself coasts and picks his spots until the playoffs.  That can’t happen with Dwyane Wade.

The deterrent here is the growing perception surrounding Harden.  James takes pride on the defensive end and he could find a player as lazy as Harden undependable.  But that perception has been solidified among fans and pundits.  What do other players think about Harden?

Several outlets have reported that the Rockets will make their pitch.  It’s a longshot but so was Dwight Howard.


About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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