Lebron left Cleveland? OK with me.
Ok well first things first, it’s been a while since I wrote anything so I’m back. That’s all I have to say about that.
Now the biggest news of the past week…you know more important than the fact that there are still two wars going on, an oil spill that has yet to be cleaned up, and impending economic doom for major sections of the globe, was the fact that Lebron James (arguably one of the two best players in the NBA) left his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to play in Miami with all stars, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. For those that don’t know much about basketball, Dwayne Wade is arguably one of the five best basketball players in the NBA and Chris Bosh in perhaps in the top 3 of players at his position. In other words, Lebron left his team to be part of a super team the likes of which might have never been assembled in league history.
After his move, I was shocked to see so many critics bashing Lebron for leaving his team. Now admittedly if you want to talk about the way he did it, I have to agree, putting an hour long show on ESPN to announce that he is going to leave the team he’s been a part of for seven years wasn’t the right way to go about it. If it was me I would have just released a simple press statement and ducked out quietly like a thief in the night. But hey, that’s me. Everyone has a right to do their own thing I suppose. So if Lebron wants to make an obviously bad PR decision, then that’s his right.
However, I’m less concerned with the how he did it than the why he did it and there was plenty of criticism about the “why” as well. Some critics contend that if Lebron wanted to be a real star he should have stayed on a weak team and waited for his front office to put some talent around him the way Kobe did in Los Angeles. Others say Lebron was a hometown hero in Cleveland and owed it to his fans there to try to deliver a championship to a city that hasn’t seen one in over 40 years, that it would have meant a lot to a city that has been decimated by the outsourcing of jobs and the economic recession. Still others say Lebron will never be counted as one of the great ones since he left a team on which he was undoubtedly the man, to possibly be someone else’s sidekick. Finally, Dan Gilbert the owner of the Cleveland team called Lebron a coward who was disloyal and a bad example for children who look up to him.
I have gripes with each of these lines of criticism and I think they can all be addressed in a pretty straightforward manner. Let’s just take a look at Lebron’s priorities since he came to the Cleveland organization. Lebron has steadfastly claimed that his only priority was winning basketball games. This is believable because Lebron James signed an endorsement deal worth approximately 90 million dollars upon his entrance into the league. He has also been able to sign deals worth several millions of dollars to play basketball. Needless to say money is probably not the biggest motivator in his life at this point. Furthermore, I assert here that Lebron James basketball talents are impressive enough that you could put him on a team with any eleven other players in the NBA and that team would probably win 41 out of 82 games every single season. In other words I am saying Lebron James alone could get any team in the NBA 40 plus wins which is generally good enough to make the playoffs every year. Again I would like to emphasize Lebron James is that good, he could get ANY team with ANY players to the playoffs every year.
What he can’t do is win an NBA championship without a good team with talented players. Many of the critics say Lebron should have tried to win it alone as the greats such as Michael Jordan did. The critics seem to forget that Michael Jordan played with Scottie Pippen who was considered the second best player in the league at varying periods of time. At the very least Scottie Pippen was among the top 5 players in the league in any given season and was among the top 3 players at his position. The title of best all around player in the game was practically coined for him (you could say Oscar Robertson was the greatest all around player ever Magic was the second best, and Pippen was the third best, if Lebron plays out his career the right way he could end up being the best all around player to ever play the game.) In addition, Jordan had Horace Grant who was one of the better power forwards in the league and was averaging between 13 and 15 points and about10 rebounds a game. These were a couple of Jordan’s teammates when he won his first 3 championship rings. For his second set of rings he was again partnered with Scottie Pippen who was still in his prime, Dennis Rodman, who is arguably the best rebounder to have ever played the game, and coming off the bench was Toni Kukoc who was the best player in Europe at the time. This team went on to win 72 out of 82 possible regular season games and is widely considered the best team ever to play the game. In other words Jordan had help, in fact he had plenty of help. To earn his rings Magic played with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who holds the record for most points scored in a career by any player, and James Worthy who was named one of the 50 greatest players of all time. For Kobe’s first three rings he played with Shaq who is on of the five best centers ever to play the game, and for his last two rings he has been playing with Pau Gasol who is widely considered on of the top two power forwards in the league and the list goes on and on. In other words, almost no great player in the history of the league has gotten a ring without some serious help.
Therefore any great player that is interesting in winning championships knows that he is going to need some very good players with him in order to get it done. Lebron did not have this in Cleveland, and it is not as if Lebron didn’t give the Cleveland franchise, particularly its owner enough time to figure out how to get Lebron some quality teammates. Lebron was on the Cleveland Cavaliers for seven years. In fact, Lebron signed a contract extension with Cleveland in order to give them more time and money. For those who are unclear on a contract extension this means Lebron’s contract was due to run out and he signed an extension with Cleveland. Not only did he sign an extenstion but he signed one for less money than he could have gotten had he allowed his contract to run out and become a free agent earlier. He stayed on Cleveland for 7 years. In business investors usually ask for short term (3 years), mid term (5 years) and long term (10 year) plans. By the 5th year it is usually expected that some type of progress is made. However in seven years Clevelands front office was guilty of some of the most head scratching moves in the NBA. Let us recount.
1.When Lebron first got to the Cleveland the team was owned by Gordon Gund, Gordon Gund managed to somehow due to bad negotiating or bad business lose the single best player Lebron James has ever played with Carlos Boozer. There is a whole controversy around it, but basically Gund contends that Boozer agreed to sign a 39 million dollar deal when he was worth 70 million dollars. Cleveland then refused to sign him for that amount and allowed him to go to another team where he has established himself as one of the top 10 power forwards in the NBA.
2.Gordon Gund then sold the team to Dan Gilbert (who’s ridiculous open letter to the public succeeded in showing the public just how much he is in over his head.)
3.But just in case the open letter wasn’t enough to make a person think Lebron just might have made the right decision let’s look at who Dan Gilbert hired to be Lebron’s coach and who Mr. Gilbert hired to pick players to surround Lebron with. Exhibit A the coach is known as Mike Brown, before coaching the Cleveland team Mike Brown was an assistant coach for the Spurs who focused entirely on defense. In other words he knew nothing about offense at all. He knew so little about offense that he outsourced the job to his assistant coaches, year after year former players and coaches would watch the Cleveland team and comment that its offense lacked creativity. Yet Mike Brown retained his job until the past year when Lebron was a free agent. Dan Gilbert waits until the year Lebron is going to be a free agent to fire the coach who knows nothing about offense. Exhibit B, the general manager Danny Ferry who is in charge of getting good players to play around Lebron. In order for me to talk about the terrible job Danny Ferry did we have to first assume that Mike Brown would have figured out what to do with good players if he had them, but I digress. In seven years, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded draft pick after draft pick so that they could obtain clearly washed up has beens and never would be’s and dress them up as players who could complement Lebron. The biggest acquisitions the Cavs made in seven years was to trade for Mo Williams, who although he made the all star game as a reserve, was never a top caliber player and a clearly washed up Shaq who was a shell of his former great self. In seven years the Cavs never drafted a decent player to complement Lebron. In comparison almost every other championship team actually drafted a player who could make a contribution. Let’s take the Lakers for instance they drafted Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum. Detroit drafted Tayshaun Prince. San Antonio drafter Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Boston drafter Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. Drafting good players takes a lot of luck but ultimately it is a measure of the ability of the general manager to pick and judge talent and how it fits on a particular team. Danny Ferry, the general manager who could pick players or trade for any truly decent ones was fired at the end of the last season when Lebron was a free agent. In summary, the owner Dan Gilbert waited until Lebron was a free agent to send Lebron the message that he had no confidence in the guys who Lebron had been forced to work with for the six years in which Dan Gilbert owned the team. Let me reitierate Dan Gilbert waited until the year Lebron could leave to let him know that he wasn’t working with a capable owner, general manager, or coach.
4.If that wasn’t enough Dan Gilbert made a mockery of the search for a new coach before finally settling on Byron Scott who will now probably lose his job in a couple of year because he’s in a bad situation.
5.Meanwhile over the past six years he watched other organizations put together successful teams and win championships. Ironically, Boston put together a team of allstars to win a ring and turn a terrible team into a contender. The Lakers made a great trade to put together a team and win two championships and get to the finals three years in a row. Even lesser teams such as the Orlando Magic were able to put together successful teams while Cleveland staked its hopes on Lebron’s talent alone. Interestingly, Lebron had to face many of these teams while they went on their way to win and contend for championships as he watched from home. I wonder what type of impression that gave him about his organization in comparison with others. Is it possible that he came to the conclusion that maybe his organization was more interested in putting fans in the seats and selling jerseys than winning championships?
6.Finally, Dan Gilbert took Lebron to task for being disloyal and cowardly. But I think Lebron’s loyalty is what kept him in Cleveland for so long while the front office floundered and exhibited either an unwillingness or inability to build a team truly capable of competing. Lebron James as a free agent had an option to choose the organization he thought was more organized and better run in order to secure championships. He chose Miami, an organization which consists of individuals who have already proven that they will go as far as need be to win championships. Moreover, this story is about three young men who put money aside to try to join their considerable talents in pursuit of a legacy that might be greater than the three of them as individuals. I think that is definitely something that people should be proud of and children can look up to.