Monday, May 10, 2010

LeBron: New York State of Mind?

There’s a certain class of New Yorkers who, not being satisfied with merely being a great city, have to hype their city as the greatest city ever and the sole destination for anyone of substance or talent. Updike had a pretty good take on it: “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding." So it’s with that in mind that the recent Hey!-LeBron-Come-To-New-York hype makes sense. The tone is an odd mix of desperate (e.g. in New York: “You’ll Save Basketball”) and the entitled (in that same feature, the article claims that LeBron would win “six or seven” titles and, playing fantasy GM, imagines a team with Monta Ellis, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.)

It’s the special arrogance of this class of New Yorkers that their imaginations extend only so far. Because, of course, there will soon be multiple teams playing in New York, and so most of the reasons they put forth as an appeal for the Knicks doubles as an appeal for the Nets too. Sign-and-trade for Chris Bosh? Guess what, the Nets can do it too. Awesome city to make a buck in? I assume you can make money as easily from Brooklyn as from Manhattan. The only reasons LeBron has to prefer the Knicks would be: a) the coach, Mike D’Antoni and b) if the Knicks had better players.

Mike D’Antoni and LeBron James is, in fact, a partnership made in an imaginary heaven and that would actually be a neat thing to see happen and is one of the few bright spots in a potential LeBron move to New York. But b) is categorically untrue: as any NBA fan can tell you, the Nets sans LeBron have a far brighter future than the Knicks sans LeBron. The Nets have a 50-50 shot at John Wall or Evan Turner, two very appealing young talents. The Knicks don’t have a first round pick this year and might well not have first rounders in either of the next two. The Knicks also screwed up this year’s pick: they took Jordan Hill when they should’ve taken Brandon Jennings, someone who might have been an appealing reason to go to New York. If you held a draft of the combined New York and New Jersey teams (who will play for their team next season, i.e. David Lee doesn’t count), Brook Lopez would be the first pick. Another Net, Devin Harris would probably be the second. Danilo Gallinari, the first Knick, would be taken third. But then Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams would be fourth and fifth. The Knicks just don’t have much talent besides whatever they get this year.

Even if the Knicks ace the summer and get LeBron and Bosh, what’s next? It’s an exceedingly thin and top-heavy team. Can you play Gallinari, James and Bosh at the same time? Even granting the idea that the Knicks can trade for a player using Curry’s expiring contract, what kind of player are you going to get? New York betrays their own ignorance of the NBA by suggesting Monta Ellis, a trade that might lead to murder, though I’m not sure whether LeBron, D’Antoni or New York fans would do the necessary deed first.

Besides, the Nets have their own hard-to-duplicate reasons over the Knicks. There’s Prokhorov, the insanely entertaining Russian owner of the Nets. There’s the fact that Jay-Z, LeBron’s best buddy, is a part-owner of the Nets. And there’s the appeal of starting something new in Brooklyn.

LeBron-to-New-York partisans enjoy invoking the unique history basketball has in New York, but the history is less glamorous and mostly in the past. For one, that history is mostly in its ability to produce great basketball players, but that history is just that. Seattle, Houston and the Maryland suburbs around D.C. produce more and better talent than New York. Hell, Canada is producing more and better players than New York City these days. And the pro team is overrated—no better than the fifth best franchise in NBA history. To wit, NBA franchise rankings, in tiers:
Tier One: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers
Tier Two: Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs
Tier Three: New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers, Seattle SuperSonics

So history is not so definitively on New York’s side.

And all of the reasons LeBron might like New York he can find elsewhere. Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have proven you can make a billion outside of New York. If he cares about playing with good young players in a big American city, he can go to Chicago or New Jersey or LA Clippers. If he cares about kicking the league’s ass for years on end, he can convince Chris Bosh to go with him to Miami. While it seems a little greedy to say go to Chicago, as a Chicago fan I have to say we’re better than the Knicks. As a happy medium, I’d settle for the head explosions caused by a LeBron to the Nets signing.

But it must be said New York’s appeals are ineffable. I can’t write off their chances entirely, and there’s been too many rumors and too much hype to completely discount the Knicks’ chances of signing LeBron. Just know it wouldn’t entirely be rational on LeBron’s part to do it. This is not the first time the rumors have swirled; we forget this quickly, but as Playing for Keeps reveals, Michael Jordan was considering signing with the Knicks for a year (this was to be his last with the Bulls) and teaming up with Oakley and Patrick Ewing, a team that surely would’ve won the title. This didn’t happen. And there’s no logical reason to assume it will this year. This is why I’ll regret ever having written this if LeBron signs with the Knicks.

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