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Shaun Powell

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Cleveland's hope of keeping LeBron James went up in smoke when James decided to join the Miami Heat.
J.D. Pooley/NBAE/Getty Images

Losers in LeBron sweepstakes must go to plan B


Posted Jul 8 2010 11:48PM

And just like that, their grand plans go up in talcum powder.

Can't blame them for trying, though. As insufferable as this recruiting process became, with round-the-clock reports and constant butt-kissing and whatnot, LeBron James was worth the so-called trouble. Any team that could give itself the chance to sign LeBron this summer had to give itself the chance. There really wasn't any choice. This was perhaps a once-in-a-basketball-lifetime thing. This was a shot, albeit from half-court with one hand behind the back. And those teams that participated in the chase and lost did the right thing by clearing salary cap space and begging, even though end the end, their money wasn't good enough (big enough?) for the self-proclaimed King.

The potential return for getting LeBron was tremendous. Signing LeBron would've meant a complete franchise transformation. Suddenly, everything would've changed: the goal (championship, of course), image, visibility, marketing strategy, ticket prices (up, up) and franchise net value. Yes, he meant that much. One player carried that much weight.

That's why the Knicks spent the last few years tossing salaries, and their winning percentage, overboard. And why the Bulls didn't re-sign Ben Gordon, their best fourth-quarter player. And why Miami was steadfast in its refusal to get Dwyane Wade any short-term help for two years. And why the Nets agreed to flirt with NBA infamy this past season. And why the Clippers didn't spend, although some might say the Clippers never spend anyway, at least lavishly.

They all made sacrifices on the court just for a chair in a conference room in Cleveland and a few hours of LeBron's time. It paid off for the Heat. So what happens now for the rest? Depends on the team.

Knicks. Your turn, Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks hope the summer of 2011 treats them better. That's when Melo is on the market, provided he doesn't re-sign with the Nuggets before then. Melo will have a chance to return to the East Coast (he was born in New York-born, Baltimore raised, Syracuse propped). And his wife is in the entertainment biz. The effort to land a franchise player will simply roll over into next year, without coming at great cost to the present, because really, what do the Knicks have to lose by waiting one more year?

The ink on LeBron's three-year contract with the Cavaliers was barely dry in 2007 when the Knicks began building to this point. More than any other team, they staked their entire franchise on signing LeBron, and although they did leave themselves room for contingency plans, he was clearly the prize. The marriage was too irresistible: the game's most marketable player working in the world's marketing capital. All they needed was his Hancock on a contract, and presto, 10 years without a single playoff victory would be forgotten. He was their Alex Rodriguez, their Eli Manning, the answer to their problems, both on the court and off.

That didn't quite work out so well.

But it wasn't a failure. From the outset, the Knicks' goal went beyond LeBron; they just wanted a star. He just happened to be the biggest. And now for the moment they must settle for Amar'e Stoudemire and hope to build around him. Well, actually, they're hoping to have better luck with Melo. There are too many risks involved with making Stoudemire the face of the franchise, namely, his microfractured knee and the simple fact that he never did anything special without Steve Nash around to run the pick-and-roll.

When the Knicks look back at the process, they made one glaring error. They bypassed Brandon Jennings in the 2009 draft in favor of Jordan Hill, a player they traded halfway through the season to help create cap room for LeBron. Hard to imagine LeBron turning down the chance to join a young, exciting point guard and a solid big man.

Clippers. Yeah, it was weird seeing them making a pitch for LeBron. As if they had a serious chance, which they didn't. But the Clippers, armed with a bit of money, a nice nucleus, LA weather and a pipe dream, did their due diligence. Kudos to them. But just as well, welcome back to reality.

It's a bit surprising they didn't make an equally aggressive move after Stoudemire, who would've been a nice complement to Chris Kaman. The only player they hotly pursued besides LeBron was Joe Johnson, who took bigger money from the Hawks. The Clippers weren't an option for Wade. So much for the A-list.

At least it's not a total loss for the Clippers. They'll welcome a newcomer next season anyway: Blake Griffin.

Nets. Friendship only goes so deep. Jay-Z discovered as much when his pal weighed the option of spending the next two years in Newark and saw nothing but 99 problems.

In a perfect world, one with the Nets already established in their new Brooklyn digs, and Derrick Favors already blossomed into the next big thing at power forward, and Mikhail Prokhorov writing big checks to cover the luxury tax, maybe LeBron would've considered the Nets. But that's in the next lifetime.

The Nets should take this time to keep their payroll small and their hopes high while watching their kids develop and their new arena go up. Better to use this time to collect a few more lottery picks, and genuine Nets fans along the way, because they'll need both when it's time to jump ball in Brooklyn.

Bulls. Of all the sweepstakes losers, the least amount of tears were shed in Chicago, where the Bulls believe they stand the best chance, along with Orlando, of keeping the Supreme Team from reaching the NBA Finals.

That might be a bit of a stretch. There's a new head coach who's unproven and the need for another scorer. Plus, the Bulls are still in the development stage and took a step backward last season. But perhaps in time, provided they make solid decisions in the near future, who knows? By adding Carlos Boozer, the Bulls have star power (Boozer, Derrick Rose) and the role players (Joakim Noah, Luol Deng) to at least make a charge toward post-season success.

In the end, you wonder if LeBron was spooked by a statue parked outside the United Center. Either he has such respect for Michael Jordan that he didn't want to ruin the legacy, or he felt he'd never approach it. Probably the latter.

Only one team made sense to LeBron. Wade, Chris Bosh and now the big piece. Team Supreme.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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