Until now, any attempt to read LeBron James’s intentions for 2010 have relied on subtle clues: He’d wear a Yankees hat, or maybe hint at staying home to Obama supporters, or maybe hang out with a guy wearing an I [Heart] New York shirt. But Knicks fans willing to sacrifice another losing season because of the prize that may await next summer aren’t going to like this: ESPN’s Chris Broussard reports that LeBron recently told free agent Trevor Ariza that he would be in Cleveland beyond 2010, in a failed attempt to recruit the former Laker.
Let’s stay calm and first look at the positives: Broussard’s source is an unnamed “person close to Ariza,” which is vague enough for LeBron to deny saying it without having to call someone a liar. And the source said Ariza considered it a recruiting tool, so even he doesn’t seem convinced that LeBron meant it. If James is looking for a technicality, he has a player option to extend his current contract one year through 2010-2011, in which case he wouldn’t have been lying when he answered “Of course” to the question of whether he’d be in Cleveland after next season. And of course, Ariza didn’t wind up signing with Cleveland, so perhaps that nullifies the whole thing.
If this is true, though, and LeBron really has made up his mind — well, that would be bad, not just for the Knicks’ long-term chances, but for the psyche of their fans. There are still plenty of other free agents available next summer — Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade (maybe) — but LeBron was going to be the savior that instantly turned the Knicks into contenders. Sure, he may not have decided to come here next year anyway, and there’s obviously no guarantee he could turn them into winners, but at least we could hope those things would happen. And pinning that hope on Chris Bosh just doesn’t feel the same.
Update: Crisis averted! ESPN is now reporting that “sources close to the Cavaliers’ superstar” say that the “person close to Ariza” was wrong, and that LeBron didn’t say he was staying in Cleveland beyond 2010. (Broussard could not reach James himself for comment.) So who to believe? Who knows! After all, we suggested earlier that LeBron could just deny all of this, even if it were true. But the LeBron Watch is officially back on.