William Wesley, LeBron James and the "rift"

One of the more intriguing plots of this free agent season has been the much-reported rift between NBA powerbroker William Wesley and the most famous of his "nephews," LeBron James.

James' friend and business partner Maverick Carter talked about Wesley on the record to Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times a few days before free agency began.

Maverick Carter, James’s longtime business manager, said Tuesday that Wesley would not play a role in James’s deliberations and would not be present as various teams visit his client in Ohio.

“All the Wes rumors are untrue and he will not be at the meetings,” Carter said. “Wes has nothing to do with where he goes.”

After that, the accepted storyline in some media went even one step further, to conclude that Wesley was out -- as in out of James' inner circle. There was much talk of a rift.

It's the kind of story people like to believe about Wesley, but it was tough for me to believe. I know he has his critics, but I spent a lot of 2006 looking for some scorned player or person he was once close to. Somebody like that, I figured, would spill the beans. But wow is it ever hard to find players who fell out with the guy.

Meanwhile James and Carter -- they have blatantly held Wesley in the highest regard for a very long time. They have both stuck their necks out for him time and again. It was most bizarre to see Carter distancing himself from Wesley in this way. Wesley and agent Leon Rose have been closely linked for their entire adult lives and were integral to getting James to this point in free agency. James, Rose and Carter were going to kick Wesley out now?

Apparently not.

I got phone calls from Greenwich, Connecticut at the time of James' televised announcement on Thursday, from people saying Wesley was very much present and looking chummy with James.

And then consider this video footage of LeBron James and friends arriving in Miami on a private jet late that night. Here's more similar footage.

The bald guy in the dark suit, white shirt and no tie ... that's Wesley. There he is walking across the tarmac next to James and Carter, laughing and smiling. There he is greeting Heat executives. It's not the best video. Somebody who was there assures me not only that this was Wesley, but that a still photographer took a picture of Wesley and Carter smiling together. I'd like to see that.

But as Wesley is very apparently not out of the inner circle ... what gives? What was Carter talking about with that quote?

It's worth noting that Wesley told Jerry Stackhouse on the radio in mid-June about his role in James' decision, saying: "I haven’t sat down and talked to [LeBron]. I don’t wanna sit down with him and talk to him about it unless, you know, if he brings something to me or asks a question or something along those lines I’ll address it. But this is his decision for him and his family to make.”

Wesley on June 15 and Carter two weeks' later are both remarkably on message: James makes his decision, not Wesley. Maybe that's the gospel truth. At the very least, it's a good way to stay out of getting blamed for James leaving the Cavaliers or not going to the Knicks, Nets, Bulls or whatever. Wherever James ended up people were liable to hate Wesley for that, if he were seen as driving the decision.

In any case, seeing Wesley step off the private jet with the man of the hour, things certainly appear to be the same as they ever were.