LeBron James signing with Miami? Don’t buy the hype.

So originally, I stayed up ‘til a little past midnight, hammering away at this column stating my prediction about where LeBron James would be playing basketball for the next few years, as he ends this ridiculous free agency shit-show and finally chooses a new home (or stays home after all).

Orginally, I was going to say:

With the ‘As the LeBron turns’ saga coming to an end within the next 24 hours, I’d like to cast, for the record, my prediction as to where LeBron James will be playing this upcoming NBA season and the subsequent four to six in addition. I think LeBron James is signing with the New York Knicks, the team that only a small handful of people are still talking about anymore.

But after about five and a half hours of sleep, I wake up in the morning, flip on Sportscenter, and find that ESPN is now saying LeBron is “leaning” towards joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

Well then. So much for the suspense of whom LeBron is going to choose in his one hour “I’m the center of the Sports Universe” special tonight!

Except for one little thing: I don’t buy it. And neither should you.

ESPN – probably courtesy of Chris Broussard, an ex-Cavaliers beat-writer for the Akron Beacon Journal – is reporting that league sources believe this is what’s going to go down. But let’s be honest: most league sources are personnel executives (or ex- executives) making their own speculations based on what they’re hearing from fellow personnel execs. Nobody really knows for sure. Hell, i’m convinced even LeBron doesn’t really know, for sure, what he wants to do.

Given what we know about LeBron James – the player and the commodity – signing with Miami just doesn’t make sense.

All along, we were lead to believe that the handful of teams who were frantically clearing cap room and dumping players like yesterday’s garbage were all at the mercy of what James, Wade, and Bosh would decide. Yet in a brilliant move, Pat Riley and Miami Heat executives made a power play of their own, capitalizing on Wade’s desire to remain in Miami and Bosh’s wishes to play in South Beach, locking up the two of them while LeBron was busy hosting suitors trying to woo him.

Now the Heat are in the driver’s seat. They’re already set for the next five or so years. They can stand pat, knowing they have a bonafide superstar/top-5 overall player, plus one of the best 2nd banana’s in the entire league already locked up. They can strong-arm LeBron into joining them, convincing him that with two of the headline free agents already joining forces, and the other remaining options quickly signing with other teams or re-upping with their previous ones, in the game of musical chairs that this ridiculous free agency chase has become, LeBron might be the one without a chair when the music stops.

But if you’re LeBron, do you put yourself in that situation? Do you want to be the last one invited to the party? Are you content to be little more than a glorified afterthought to the team that signs you? Is that how “The Chose One” wants to have his legacy defined?

It just doesn’t make sense. Wade had his mind set in resigning w/ Miami from Day 1, regardless of what anyone would tell you. Bosh made the decision to join Wade irregardless of what James would do, even after James lobbied his hardest for Bosh to join him in Cleveland.

So i’m restating my stance, right now: LeBron James is not going to Miami. He’ll be signing with the New York Knicks. Because, when it’s all said and done, he’ll see that New York is not only still a remaining option, but it could be the smartest option after it’s all said and done.

As far as the idea of him re-signing with Cleveland, he can’t and shouldn’t go back. It would be silly to go back to the same supporting cast of players saddled with lousy contracts, and a group who has helped James to exactly 1 appearance and 0 victories in the NBA finals. Does he want to be Kevin Garnett, wasting away his prime while toiling in a mid-market city with a supporting cast of misfits and has-beens? Certainly not. It’s already leaked that he’s even admitted as much.

To me, the Knicks present the best set of tools for James to cement his legacy, on and off the court.

Remember, this is “King James” we’re talking about. A guy who was anointed “the chosen one” and the heir-apparent to Michael Jordan before he ever played an NBA game. The one thing we keep hearing, over and over, is that the team that signs James has to be able to help further his brand image and world-wide status as much as his basketball career. He isn’t about to put himself in a debate where he could be considered the 2nd fiddle to Dwayne Wade, a guy who already sports an NBA championship ring and his own cache of commercial endorsements.

In New York, he would be playing in the most prevalent financial market in all the free world, a beacon for capitalism and world-wide commerce. The endorsements and potential off-the-court revenue could make his max contract an afterthought, much like it was for Jordan, who is still making millions long after his career has ended.

Instead of being an amazing layer of frosting on a cake someone else baked and prepared, James would automatically becomes the centerpiece of one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, who also happens to be completely renovating themselves, thus giving James the potential to approve or veto any moves.

As good as LeBron James and the Cavaliers were last season, LeBron’s lack of a reliable #2 guy alongside him was exposed in plain daylight. Anticipating this, the Knicks have already signed Amar’e Stoudamire, a player best suited as a 2nd banana, yet capable of putting up 20 and 8 every night; it also helps that he and LeBron are on friendly terms to boot. James, a player who Bill Simmons once described as a hybrid between Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, and Bo Jackson, would absolutely flourish in Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system, especially with the defensively challenged Stoudamire as his sidekick.

Add in the fact that the Knicks could use Danilo Gallinari and the lard-laden Eddy Curry’s expiring carcass to acquire a 3rd player – dare I say a Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony? – and the Knicks could assemble a squad that easily surpasses the one in Miami.

In Cleveland, LeBron James has the chance to preside over the mid-American city like a feudal Lord. In New York, he’d be nothing short of a Czar. In Cleveland, if he had won a championship, James would have been viewed as a messianic savior. In New York, if LeBron wins a title, he’d be worshipped no less than a god by the long suffering yet masochistically loyal Knicks fans.

The bottom line is that, as has been said many times, LeBron James faces three doors ahead of him, and he can only walk through one. Door #1 is remaining in Cleveland, proving that his loyalty to Cleveland, Akron, Ohio, and his teammates ultimately meant the most to him. If he ends up like Garnett, so be it, for that was the path he chose with other options available. Door #2 is Miami, with the chance of living in South Beach and competing for NBA titles every year, but never fully being able to establish himself as the face of the franchise (let alone the league).

Door #3 – playing in New York – may not have the emotional appeal of Door #1 nor the certainty of success of Door #2, but it provides him the greatest chance at what many pro athletes – and especially LeBron James – covet: immortality. James has the chance to transcend the game of basketball, take his brand to whatever level he and his associates so desire, with the potential to establish his empire across multiple platforms.

Let’s see if he’s wise enough to realize this. I’m willing to bet he is.

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