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Will LeBron join Kobe in L.A.?

Sam Smith believes a LeBron to the Lakers’ scenario makes the most sense for him if he wants a chance to be considered among the greatest winners of all-time.
Sam Smith at Bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

Bryant and James teamed up for a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games... could they be together again in Los Angeles next season? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Well, at least I’m fairly sure now where LeBron James is going to be playing next season.

Los Angeles, most likely with the Lakers.

Stay with me a bit here, and when the Bulls are in Cleveland Thursday for the TNT national TV game with the Cavs, I doubt LeBron will have much to say on the subject. And this is hardly an overreaction to the Cavs slogging out of the starting gate this season with two losses and looking ready for pasture.

No, going to the Lakers makes all the sense in the world, and, at least to my view, fits LeBron better than it would other players of his caliber. Of which there’s basically only Kobe Bryant.

I’ve heard this scenario from some NBA people, though I’ve heard every other one as well, from staying in Cleveland to New York to New Jersey to running Berkshire Hathaway for Warren Buffett.

The general consensus seems to be LeBron stays in Cleveland given you can be a star from anywhere, the New York teams generally are a mess and would mean a step back in his competitive career, and he likes Cleveland. Makes sense and it probably is the second best option, though I strongly question the Cavs roster and decision making to help make LeBron a champion. Michael Jordan was able to accept the lack of titles into the late 1980s because the Bulls were improving and going farther each season. It appears the Cavs are backsliding.

The obvious reason this never gets discussed is no one can see James hooking on with Bryant. I really cannot understand why not.

How good a team would that be with Bryant, James, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom? Supposedly it would look like James searching out a place to win a championship instead of lifting his team to one. Allegedly a no-no.

But Bryant is 31; James is 24. Bryant has probably three really high level seasons left before some sort of a transition. It was the transition Shaq could never accept and why I think the Lakers dynasty broke up. Not because of Kobe. But because Shaq refused to be viewed as a supporting player to Bryant, and the Lakers understood that. So they traded him. Clearly the right move.

The Lakers are no sure thing to win the championship with the Celtics healthy and the Magic deep. But you add LeBron and it’s hard to imagine anyone beating them the next three or four years.

So then Kobe, working toward incredible immortality on the way to maybe 10 or 11 championships, backs off some to allow James to be the dominant figure when James is 27 or 28 and Bryant is looking at 35. Bryant could ease into a brilliant supporting role while the Lakers continue winning titles, and, in the end, like base hits, they count how many. Not how you got them.

The big reason I believe this could occur and work is because James is an unusual superstar. Jordan never would do it, and I doubt Kobe would. But you watched James in the Olympics and he seemed to embrace the supporting role, rebounding and moving the ball. He’s always said he wants to play with those Olympic teammates, and it doesn’t seem like the Cavs payroll can accommodate that.

Yes, James could go to Miami to join Dwyane Wade, and that’s possible. I’ve heard it speculated often and it puts James on the other side of the Finals from the Lakers with the Celtics having a short window. Of course, there is Dwight Howard.

Also, James is a unique superstar because he’s a very willing passer, more so than virtually every league leading scorer. He doesn’t fight the double and seems to have trusted teammates from Day 1, a trait we never saw with Jordan or Bryant. I don’t think James would have any problem submerging his ego for Bryant’s for a while knowing full well his talent already is surpassing Bryant’s. The transition under a coach like Phil Jackson would become obvious. It was Phil who practically begged Shaq to take that Lakers’ $20 million offer and accept the transition like Kareem did with Magic. Shaq was just too stubborn.

James also is unique in the way he has been so devoted to his group of friends from his youth, a star who doesn’t seem to chase other celebrities but is devoted to the group. I can see James comfortable in any role with a top team like the Lakers.

But James does have his sizeable ego. You’ve got to if you’re OK with a 10-story mural of yourself across the street from your office.

James has often talked about expanding his empire, and lately has been involved with books and movies. So where else but in L.A. would you want to be to be involved in the entertainment industry?

And, really, everyone wants to play in L.A. The weather is fabulous. You can be a star and have privacy because there are so many other stars. And then when you want to be a star you can because it is a city of stars. And basketball is by far No. 1, the only big city in the U.S. where you can say that. Plus, owner Jerry Buss knows stars sell and has been the most successful at recruiting and paying for stars.

I’ve heard the Clippers mentioned, though I see James preferring to join the best rather than try to overcome the best from a distance.

So how does it get done?

The Lakers certainly have no salary cap room. They are in no position to pay James, which remains the No. 1 priority for all free agents. James just has to explain to the Cavs he’s leaving. If they don’t accommodate him, he’s going to New York or Miami and they get nothing. But if they do in a sign and trade to save the franchise, they get a young, potential All-Star center in Andrew Bynum. Maybe Lamar Odom as well or Ron Artest. Draft picks, some pieces like Jordan Farmar. The Cavs can compete in the East with a star center and some pieces added to what they have. It’s better than nothing as cap room doesn’t mean anything in Cleveland. No one’s going there.

Look, I believe James has no idea yet what he wants to do next summer. But I also believe the Lakers’ scenario makes the most sense for him if he wants a chance to be considered among the greatest winners of all-time. I believe that’s what he’s about now, and he accomplishes that only with the Lakers.

NBA news and notes

-- So who’s going to be the first free agent traded? How about Andre Miller? This clearly doesn’t seem to be working out well. Miller is a ball oriented point guard and it was interesting to see the end game sequence with Portland losing to Houston Saturday. Roy, who had 42 in the game, generally controls the ball at the end of the game for the Trail Blazers. But with about three minutes left and with Roy having scored seven of Portland’s last nine points, Miller took a quick jumper and missed. Roy then intercepted him on the next “Blazers possession as Miller crossed halfcourt to get the ball. Miller then drove into an offensive foul the next Portland possession and was lifted for Steve Blake. In Sunday’s win over the Thunder, Blake played the dominant minutes while Miller attempted one shot and had zero assists in 20 minutes. Pout City?

-- Sometimes you have to read the tea leaves, though since I use tea bags it remains difficult and inexact. Though it was interesting to read Sunday in the Cleveland Plain Dealer a critique of coach Mike Brown’s apparent lack of preparation for the season and curious lineups. The local press in the past has been strongly supportive of the coach, and you wonder if this could be the first signs of internal discontent coming anonymously from inside regarding Brown with the team’s slow start and again unsettled offense. There doesn’t seem anyone on the staff who’d be interim worthy, and this, as always in Cleveland, depends on what LeBron wants. I’ll look for more signs. And where the heck do you get tea leaves?

-- Toronto’s Jose Calderon missed his first two free throws of the season after making 151 of his 154 attempts last year….this latest rebuilding continues to go badly in New York. Don’t we all just love reveling in New York miseries. The Knicks lost to Charlotte after getting the game to overtime after trailing by more than 20, prompting Chris Duhon to rip the team, saying, “We lost this game before the game even started. A lot of us weren't taking the game serious, joking around, not really preparing for the game, and it showed.” Then at home Saturday, the Knicks fell behind by more than 20 again before losing in overtime to the 76ers. One Philadelphia reporter noted this curious Knicks huddle: “Between the first and second quarters last night at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks stood not in a huddle, but scattered along the sideline as if they had nothing to discuss. Knicks forward Al Harrington, who finished with 42 points and fouled out in overtime, stood watching the dancers, guard Nate Robinson sat on the scorer's table, his legs dangling.” In a continuation of the bizarre, a Knicks’ security guard chased Stephon Marbury from his courtside seat during the game because he was in the wrong seat. Marbury then left and told the New York Post he’s gotten what he wanted as he was filming his own documentary of his night at a Knicks game. This may not be a joking matter anymore with Marbury, who seems to have some more serious issues in mounting bizarre behavior. … Allen Iverson is due to return for Memphis Monday. But he told Booth Newspapers last week he’s no reserve. Just in case anyone wondered: “Nah, I won't accept it. Bench came into the play when I came to Detroit. You never heard about Allen Iverson coming off the bench ever in my whole career. It was never something people even thought in their head until I came to Detroit. Now, it's the big topic. I don't look at it as a negative. On a basketball team, you need guys to come off the bench. If that makes us a better team, with me coming off the bench, than that's something I would obviously do -- if it results in wins. But I don't know anybody in the world that would feel like me coming off the bench is the right thing to do if that's not making the team better. Everybody in the world knows I don't want to come off the bench. It's a media thing. I don't think it has anything to do with basketball. Anybody in their right mind, to me, honestly knows that on this team or the teams I've been on, that I deserve to start." Like a flaming car accident, we can’t help but look.

-- Ben Gordon is the subject of a forthcoming documentary, A Scorer's Aura, the story of his final months with the Bulls until his first home game with the Detroit Pistons. The filmmaker is Daemian Brown, one of Gordon’s childhood friends. The filming started March 1 with the Bulls. Daemian told AOL Sports that Gordon is “going to let people know how he feels about everything that has happened.” Gordon is executive producer. They hope to sell it to ESPN. … Drew Gooden, now in Dallas, is out again with a rib injury. … Nice payday for Thabo Sefolosha, who gets about $14 million for four years from the Thunder and starts over No. 3 overall pick James Harden. Said teammate Jeff Green: “He’s a defensive guy and guards the best player on the opposite team. He leads our defensive presence, so it feels good to know that we have him for another four years. Knowing that we’re going to have this same chemistry for another four years is a plus.” Sefolosha averaged eight points on three of four three point shooting in the Thunder’s 2-0 start. … Pretty laughable stuff the Lakers talking about breaking the Bulls win record then being dominated at home in Game 2 by the Mavericks. While his teammates blathered on, Kobe Bryant understood. Said Bryant: "Chicago had kind of like the perfect storm. They had the perfect team, terrific defensive players and then they lived right in the middle of the country so they got ample rest going from city to city.” … Superhero moment for Manu Ginobili Saturday night after a bat had twice stopped play in the first quarter of the Spurs win over the Kings. Yes. It was Halloween. Ginobili casually batted the flying mammal out of the air, saying, “I didn't think it was a big deal. Then the whole arena started chanting my name.” With players ducking and hiding. Ginobili said, “It's just a mouse with wings.” Ginobili insisted he didn’t kill the creature, that it was just dizzy and taken to the locker room for treatment. Yes, he’s Bat Man. Meanwhile, I talked to Ginobili last week when the Spurs were in Chicago, and Ginobili conceded his Olympic teammate Andres Nocioni might need treatment. “It is tough for him,” said Ginobili. “They are the worst team in the league, maybe one worse. But you have a job to do.” Nocioni is averaging 7.3 points and shooting 36 percent for the winless Kings with local media reports that Nocioni, notoriously entertaining for his conversations with himself, often wonders openly of what he can do.

-- Most everyone’s favorite for Most Improved, Anthony Randolph, is averaging about 17 minutes and shooting 30 percent and well down in the Warriors wacky rotation. … It’s been a less than dominating start for Amar’e Stoudemire, averaging about 18 points and six rebounds. Grant Hill, in comparison, is averaging 20 points and 9.7 rebounds for the 3-0 Suns. … The Rookie of the First Week was Brandon Jennings, whom the Bulls will see when the Bucks visit Tuesday. Jennings had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the opener and a dominating 24 in Saturday’s home opening win over Detroit that included a showtime behind-the-back move on Rodney Stuckey. Said Jennings: "That play I did on Stuckey, that was my part of putting on the show. But at the same time containing myself and trying to get the win. I got that (move) from Kobe Bryant. The only thing was Kobe dunked it and I didn't." Yes, cocky. Like his coach. … J.J. Redick, starting Sunday with Vince Carter hurt and Mickael Pietrus sick, scored 27 points with five threes and Dwight Howard knocked in 14 of 16 free throws in the Magic’s 125-116 win over Toronto. It was a three jamboree with the teams combining to make 27, and a message to the Bulls that with Washington and Detroit also offensive teams you are going to have to score this season to compete in the East. … It looks like Carmelo Anthony wants that scoring title, which has separated LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Anthony scored 42 in Sunday’s win over Memphis and is averaging 37.7 in Denver’s 3-0 start. … You wonder whether Chris Paul apparently going after Rajon Rondo and being kept from going into the Celtics locker room after Boston beat New Orleans Sunday had more to do with Rondo being a punk (the Bulls know that) or Paul growing ever more frustrated with his Hornets.

-- Talk around the NBA last week was of Random House halting publication of “Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA,’’ the supposed tell all book of jailed referee Tim Donaghy that had excerpts appear on the Deadspin website. The NBA probably wasn’t thrilled to read Lakers coach Phil Jackson say it wouldn't surprise him if some of the disgraced former referee's claims were true. The referee talked about referees purposely favoring stars (hadn’t heard that one before) and the idea referees would bet on which of them would call the first foul. "A lot of times we say during the course of the game, 'Their whistles are in their pockets. They're not going to call fouls tonight,' " Jackson said. "That's one of the things he (Donaghy) disclosed that I can buy." The point is some of the stuff probably is true. There are bad referees just as there are bad reporters. And even bad or dishonest politicians. I know reporters who have fabricated quotes. I have read of politicians jailed. But this also is a man in prison with a public grudge. I’m confident the majority of officiating is as good as they can be without rancor.



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