From a dollars and cents perspective, the most important question in the NBA right now is this: what uniform will LeBron James be wearing for the prime years of his career? The two known contenders are Bruce Ratner's (and a few others including LeBron's idol Jay-Z's) soon to be Brooklyn Nets and Dan Gilbert's Cleveland Cavaliers.
As an aside, William Wesley is said to be tight with both Gilbert and Jay-Z. As someone who has LeBron's ear, he could be a key player in brokering LeBron's next move.
Roger Brown of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer points out that players coming off the first three years of their rookie contracts as restricted free agents who have been offered max deals to stay with their teams have always accepted them (anyone dispute that? I'm prepared to believe it, just hadn't heard it before). He seems to believe that LeBron James will likely do the same:
Since it was the most money he could earn anyway as a fourth-year player, why not take the offer rather than hold off in hopes of more riches a year or two later? And while risking one bad injury that could blow everything?
Now, is James that sure he's willing to go where no NBA player in his shoes has gone before and reject a contract extension with tens of millions of sure money? Hmmm.
If James passes on the Cavs' offer and enters the 2006-07 campaign as a potential restricted free agent in 2007, he'll guarantee himself an entire season of answering questions like, "Why did you turn down such a huge offer from the Cavs?" "Aren't you clearly saying you want out of Cleveland?" "Are you afraid of being seen as greedy?" "Don't you worry Cavs fans will turn against you?"
Is James, who has carefully built a glowing image and worshipful following here, ready for all that, day after day? Hmmm, again.
James' agent, Leon Rose, has developed a rep in NBA circles as a well-liked guy who doesn't use adversarial, hardball tactics in representing clients. Would Rose be up for the sudden public scrutiny and criticism that would come from being "the agent who had LeBron say no to the Cavs?" Hmm, yet again.
In short, maybe Cavs owner Dan Gilbert should stop his unseemly bragging about how much the organization is willing to grovel to keep James and just quietly let things unfold.
But Roger, what you fail to acknowledge is that NBA salary will always be but one medium sized dish on the buffet of LeBron James's income. And in New York City there is some unbelievable cake for superstars. You have to think about things like this: what's the total combined income of everyone who lives within an hour of the arena in Cleveland. What's the total combined income of everyone who lives within an hour of the new arena Frank Gehry's designing in Brooklyn?
'Cause at some point, sponsors are going to pay LeBron based on the people they think he can influence, and how much money those people can spend on the sponsors' products. Any way you slice it, LeBron James is more valuable in the media capital of the world. Way more valuable.
Even with a team in LeBron's backyard, Dan Gilbert will have to work his tail off to keep LeBron James in Cleveland, because the money's not on his side, and a lot of stuff in this life ends up being about the money.