Sure, you could play it safe and stay in Cleveland, but look around you: That might actually be the risky choice. The team is only getting older. Antawn Jamison does a nice job running lanes, but do you want to be playing with him when he’s 35? You will be, if you stick around. Anderson Varejao is a quality hustle player, but the Cavs are tied to him for five more years. Is he better than whatever player the Knicks can get in a trade for Eddy Curry’s expiring contract next year? (Monta Ellis? Ben Gordon?) Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson are also onboard with the Cavs until 2013. Three years from now, this is the team you will have if you stay in Cleveland. In New York, you could be running with Chris Bosh, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Monta Ellis. If the Cavs finally get over the hump this year, tip your hat and get out of there. If they don’t, are you sure they ever will? Which brings us to your other options. The following four teams have been furiously clearing the salary-cap space to offer you a max deal, or at least come close. They will be whispering sweet nothings in your ear, but, trust us, you don’t want to wake up next to them. We checked in with Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus, who has been studying your situation for months, for his analysis:
The Team: New Jersey Nets
Cap Space: $28 million
The Pitch: Moving to Brooklyn with new billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Pros: A young stud in the middle in Brook Lopez, a certain top-four pick in the draft this June, a former All-Star in Devin Harris, and young players who can contribute cheaply, especially if the team lands either John Wall or Evan Turner in the draft.
Cons: Coming off one of the worst records of all time. Some of the pieces, especially Harris, won’t fit well with James.
The Team: Miami Heat
Cap Space: $24.9 million
The Pitch: No state income tax; sunshine and beachfront.
Pros: James and Dwyane Wade would be an impossible duo to defend, and the Heat have some solid other pieces, like Michael Beasley.
Con: James would be ceding a lot of the spotlight to Wade, already an established star in South Beach.
The Team: Chicago Bulls
Cap Space: $20.5 million
The Pitch: The players to win right now.
Pros: In Derrick Rose, the Bulls have a terrific building block, and youngsters Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are solid pieces up front.
Cons: Chicago is a good market, but it’s still not New York or L.A. Rose and James are not an ideal partnership because both are most comfortable with the ball in their hands. Would be stepping into the shadow of Michael Jordan.
The Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Cap Space: $18.3 million
The Pitch: A strong young core in a big market.
Pros: Better returning players than any competing team, with a glaring hole at small forward.
Cons: Those players all want the ball in their hands. These are the Clippers, the city’s second fiddle. And owner Donald Sterling has a poor reputation among NBA players. (Former G.M. Elgin Baylor once claimed Sterling tried to run the team with a “southern-plantation-type structure.”)