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Thursday, July 13, 2006

LeBron James Will be a Cavalier Until at Least 2010

Wednesday was signing day in the NBA, which means that many of the trades and contract deals that have been speculated about became official. The top story without question is that LeBron James signed a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers for three years, with a player option for the fourth year. The deal that he signed as a rookie ends after the 2006-07 season, so James will be a Cavalier until at least 2010. The coverage of this story has been fascinating and amusing. When Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony immediately announced that they planned to re-sign with their teams but James was silent, speculation ran rampant about whether James planned to leave Cleveland early for greener pastures. Then, someone came out with the "scoop" that James would stay in Cleveland after all. Next, a "bombshell" dropped when word leaked out that James would not sign a five year extension but instead agree to a three year extension; supposedly, James' decision influenced Wade to make a similar move.

Some commentators are acting as if James and his agent discovered some secret loophole in the collective bargaining agreement but if they would have been more concerned about getting the story right as opposed to getting it "first," James' decision would not seem so mysterious. Tim Duncan signed the exact same kind of deal in 2000. There are two good reasons for not signing a five year deal: one, the player is not stuck with the team if the organization fails to make the right moves to contend for a championship; two, the player will have the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent when he will presumably be in the absolute prime of his career. Scottie Pippen opted for the security of a long term deal early in his career and spent many years resenting how underpaid he was when player salaries exploded but the Chicago Bulls refused to renogiate his deal. Michael Jordan was similarly underpaid but made up the difference with his tremendous endorsement deals. Both he and Pippen received large contracts at the end of their careers that at least somewhat compensated for the seasons in which they did not receive full market value, so in the end they obtained both security and a big payday.

What nobody is talking about is the one potential downside of James signing a three year deal: an injury or off-court problem that diminishes James' value. Everyone assumes that James will be getting a huge payday with his next deal in three or four years but in the meantime he is giving up the option to have two more years of guaranteed salary, which amounts to roughly $30 million. Remember Ralph Sampson? He won Rookie of the Year in 1984 and All-Star MVP in 1985. In 1986 he and fellow "Twin Tower" Hakeem Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals. At that point, Sampson certainly would have been considered worthy of a max deal if the current system had been in place then. In 1987 he suffered the first in a series of injuries that derailed his career. James won Rookie of the Year in 2004 and the All-Star MVP in 2006. He certainly seems destined to become one of the game's all-time greats and he has already banked tons of endorsement money--but the future is promised to no one, not even the self proclaimed "Chosen One." So, opting for a three year deal may turn out to be a good move, but--contrary to what you are reading and hearing--it is neither precedent setting, nor is it without risk.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:29 AM


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Early Summer League Returns

Although it seems like the NBA Finals just ended (they did), the NBA summer leagues have already kicked into gear. If you haven't had a chance to see the games in person, NBA TV's rebroadcasts of selected contests begin on Thursday. Meanwhile, looking at the box scores, a few things have stood out:

1) A ton of fouls have been called. Summer league has a no foul out rule, leading to some interesting stat lines: in a 90-87 Detroit win over Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire nearly had a quadruple double: 17 points, nine rebounds, 10 fouls (!) and eight turnovers. He shot only 3-9 from the field. Keep in mind that he put up those numbers against the likes of Cheikh Samb, Jason Maxiell and Nik Caner-Medley, not Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess. That microfracture surgery that Stoudemire had is no joke--just ask Chris Webber, Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway and a host of other players who never returned to pre-surgery form. Stoudemire is younger and stronger than those guys but that does not guarantee that he will ever again be the explosive player that he was before he went under the knife. He looked like a shell of himself in his brief return to action last season.

2) Marcus Williams had 24 points and 12 assists in an 86-84 New Jersey victory over Orlando. The Magic are holding J.J. Redick out of action for now to protect his balky back. Do you think picking Redick over Williams is a topic that may be examined once or twice or 1000 times in the next 5-10 years?

3) John Lucas had 26 points and four assists in an 88-82 Houston win over Portland. The Blazers' two prize rookies, Brandon Roy (12 points, eight assists, five rebounds) and LaMarcus Aldridge (eight points, three rebounds), performed solidly in their first taste of NBA action but Portland's best player that night was Martell Webster, who had 29 points and shot 5-8 from three-point range.

4) Number one overall pick Andrea Bargnani had 20 points and four rebounds in his summer league debut, a 93-85 Toronto win against Washington.

5) Of course, no summer league recap would be complete without an update on the Renaldo Balkman story. New York's surprise first round draft pick had six points and four rebounds in his first summer league game, a 95-71 New York win (!) over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course, Cleveland was led not by LeBron James but rather Sasha Pavlovic, who had 20 points. In his second game, Balkman had eight points and four rebounds but Phoenix blew out the Knicks 89-70; Stoudemire had 24 points but only 1 rebound in that game. Balkman had 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists in a 79-78 overtime win versus Sacramento. Ron Artest had seven points, four rebounds and four assists in limited action. So, Balkman has hardly set the world on fire but his numbers are improving each game.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:00 PM