Since Michael Gearon Jr. has spent $25,000 to raise the issue, we’d be derelict in our duties if we didn’t follow up for free. Let’s say the Hawks do pursue LeBron James. (I know — Atlanta is never mentioned as an LBJ landing zone. But let’s pretend.) Would he find a team here that could win him that slippery NBA title?
Shockingly enough, he just might.
Ric Bucher of ESPN the Magazine offered the best insight on why LeBron and the Cavs haven’t won it all. Wrote Bucher:
The team has been constructed on the presumption that he is Michael Jordan, a scorer and finisher, rather than Magic Johnson, a playmaker who needed a go-to closer alongside him to win titles. “They tried to make him Michael,” says one league executive. “He’s not.”
Remember when LeBron was playing high school ball for St. Vincent-St. Mary? The belief then was that he would be an NBA point guard, not the league’s leading scorer. He wound up being the league’s leading scorer for two reasons: First, because he’s so good he can do as he pleases, and second, because few of his teammates can make a play on their own.
LeBron averaged 29.7 points in 2009-2010. The next-best Cavs — Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, and the latter was there only 25 games — averaged 15.8 points. Shaquille O’Neal averaged 12 (but played only 53 games). Nobody else was in double figures.
Let’s do this: If you take LeBron away from the Cavs and Joe Johnson from the Hawks, which team would be better? The Hawks, I submit, by about 15 victories over an 82-game schedule. The Hawks would still have finishers in the prime of their careers — Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, Al Horford. Heck, Even Marvin Williams is a career double-figure scorer.
Now let’s try this: Take Joe away and plug LeBron into the Hawks’ starting five. (And if the Hawks are to have any chance of landing James, they’d have to let Johnson leave. They can’t afford both. They’re not far enough under the salary cap.) Here’d be your lineup:
PG, Mike Bibby or Jeff Teague; SG, Jamal Crawford; SF, LBJ; PF, Josh Smith; C, Al Horford. Bench: Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, et cetera. Or you could keep Crawford as your sixth man, let LeBron play the 2-guard and let Marvin remain the small forward. Either way, that’s at worst — at worst — a 60-win team.
I’m not sure LeBron can expect to sign with many clubs and win 60 games in Year 1. The Bulls? They’ve got Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, but they might have to shed Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in a sign-and-trade for James. And there’s no guarantee James and Rose, both of whom need the ball all the time, can co-exist, and Noah is more a rebounder/defender who scores occasionally than a polished big man on the order of his former Gator comrade. (Noah averaged 10.7 points last season.)
The Knicks? They’re starting over. The Nets? Just lost 70 games. The Clippers? Get real. The Heat? The King isn’t going to share a throne with D-Wade. Even if LeBron returns to Cleveland, he’ll surely find a new team — one without Shaq, who it’s believed drove a wedge between LeBron and coach Mike Brown, since canned, and also without Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West.
Maybe you laughed when you heard the Hawks — the Hawks, of all teams — had been fined for tampering with the biggest free agent ever. But maybe you shouldn’t have. I’m not saying LeBron is going to sign here — it’d be the longest of long shots if he did. What I am saying is that he should take a look. He might like what he sees.