(I thought it might be fun not to write about LeBron James for a few hours, but it's just impossible. Maybe tomorrow!)
Today the thing that caught my eye is Ken Berger's column on CBS, in which he suggests the Cavaliers should get an army of lawyers to sue people to stop LeBron James leaving:
First, the team would've alleged breach of contract by James based on the idea that he engaged in conversations with members of other teams about playing for them while still under contract with the Cavs. Second, the organization would've alleged that Wade, acting as a recruiter for the Heat, committed "tortious interference" with James while both were under contract with their respective teams.
Berger's article closes with a quote from an anonymous team executive who says: "It's an incestuous, friend-ridden business."
Yes. He just said "friend-ridden."
The suffix "-ridden" implies infection. Disease-ridden. Flea-ridden. Fungus-ridden.
Isn't that like having a sunshine-ridden day for the hors d'oeuvres-ridden reception at your love-ridden wedding?
There are towns infected with gang violence, methamphetamine labs, polluted drinking water ... you name it. And we're supposed to call the cops owing to an infestation of friends?
I think what upsets a lot of people is the mounting evidence that James had been thinking about uniting with Wade and Bosh for some time, and maybe did not give equal consideration to every team on the free agency market. Although I'm not at all convinced that the trio was long-destined for Miami, I was one of several reporters saying and writing before James announced his decision that playing with Wade and Bosh would be paramount.
I've got news for you, though: Getting to free agency means having freedom. That has long been interpreted as having the freedom to make more money. And everyone has always been fine with that. If everyone had taken the most money they could have possibly made, James would have stayed in Cleveland, Bosh would have stayed in Toronto and Wade would have re-upped with Miami and no one would have questioned anybody's character.
But there is absolutely nothing about free agency that says you have to use it to make more money. The great thing about freedom is that you can use it to do whatever you want.
James simply had no obligation to give every team equal consideration. He had the right to sign with any team he wanted to, for any reason.
He chose Miami, for friends.
The different teams vying for his services were hurt, as were their fans. That makes perfect sense. I don't begrudge them that. But I balk at the idea it tells us anything about James. It does not mean he has bad judgment. In what way is any of this different than, say Grant Hill snubbing the Knicks last summer to play with Steve Nash in Phoenix once again? Or how about Derek Fisher saying yesterday that he shutting down his free agent process because of his strong connection to Kobe Bryant? I find these things inspiring and tremendous. Personal connections should matter.
The teams had different strategies. New Jersey worked a Jay-Z/Mikhail Prokhorov blueprint. Chicago touted young talent at key positions. The Knicks sold New York and the chance to be a billionaire. Cleveland pushed the idea of home.
But the winning strategy was the one that enabled James to unite with Wade and Bosh. Credit Pat Riley with putting all his eggs in the right basket.
The underlying truth is that NBA players who reach the end of their contracts have earned the right to do whatever they want. They can go sign in Argentina if they are so inclined. Taking meetings with six suitors, and hearing them out ... that's just doing your due diligence. But nowhere does it say that one must enter all meetings with no preconceived notions, nor that you can't talk to other players about what they're going to do.
A few months ago Kevin Arnovitz and I were in the car. We brainstormed. If money were no object, and we could build a massive basketball journalism operation, who would we hire? I scribbled down a list as Kevin drove. I still have it somewhere. It was fun. It's good to think about these things -- it makes you smarter. And we have every right to think about these things. You never know when somebody's going to say "hey, who should we hire for X?" and then it'd be a good thing to have that list handy.
Similarly, the Knicks, for example, are hoarding cap space right now. Next summer, they'll be able to sign a maximum-salary free agent. To do that wisely, they will of course do their homework on every player in the league. They'll have a year of ranking, researching, talking to agents, getting every shred of insight they can about players who are currently under contract with other teams. And it's impossible to think no one from the Knicks' organization will talk to no one from the players' camps. The NBA is a very small town. Everybody talks to everybody all the time and any rules that aim to prevent will be broken by the minute.
We simply live in a world where free agents have a lot of power, and James, Wade and Bosh have demonstrated one of the ways to weild it. It's not what we're used to, but I can't see that it's terrible. A team can target another team's players for a year or more, and scheme to get him, and we all agree that's just pragmatic and smart. But if a player -- who has the extra benefit of being able to talk to players from other teams without much oversight or constraint -- wants to similarly research and plan for his own free agency, he's morally bankrupt?
I don't see what the big difference is. If teams can be sophisticated and long-term in planning their rosters, it's no good expecting players not to act similarly. After all, who has more at stake?