LeBron James’ True Desire to Put NBA Titles Over Mass-Marketing Deals to Be Tested

Will LeBron James the loser of a franchise in NYC?Cleveland Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry has had one restless, sleepless night after another since the apple of his franchise, one LeBron James, came to town and somehow exceeded a world of expectations almost immediately.

Keeping James content in his hometown state has by all accounts been an uphill battle: the Cavaliers haven’t exactly been considered a model franchise that’s a desirable location for premier NBA talent in a long, long time. And if that ping-pong ball with their logo hadn’t magically dropped into the King’s coronation slot back in ’03, there’s little to believe they’d still be nothing more than an Eastern Conference also-ran.

But James changed that, he took them to a NBA Finals appearance, and has them poised for a possible return this season, backed by what looks like his strongest overall supporting cast yet. So here we are.

There’s been some missteps and strike outs along the way, but credit Ferry for retooling the backcourt around Mo Williams and Delonte “ETB Favorite” West and for at least giving head coach Mike Brown some decent frontcourt options to plug in around James and Big Z.

Having finally surrounded James with more proven talent, Ferry’s next challenge, as you may have heard about by now, is convincing him to stay in Cleveland come 2010. Nobody really knows where James’ mind is at, but he’ll clearly have the opportunity to make a move if he’s so inclined. The endless scuttlebutt, of course, has him logically moving into the biggest market in the US and perhaps the world, The Big Apple, to join the New York Knicks.

It makes total sense, right? The world’s most marketable athlete in the world’s biggest marketing city. The big Madison Square Garden stage, the bright lights, yada yada yada.

As we saw this evening, however, as James’ Cavs whipped the Knicks 119-101, New York might promise the opportunity for more endorsement deals and a brighter star, but the franchise itself remains in disarray and for the most part resembles one of those Cleveland teams James was dragged down by in his first few seasons.

More on LeBron James and the NY Knicks after the jump…

Does anybody have faith in the New York Knicks to put the pieces around James that’ll help him legitimately compete for NBA titles during his prime? More importantly, does James? Sure, GM Donnie Walsh is doing his best to clean up the stinking garbage pile Isiah Thomas left on his desk, and recently he shed the bloated contracts of Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford to help clear the way for a max-money offer to James in ’10. And Mike D’Antoni is clearly a coaching upgrade over Zeke, too.

But look at that roster: come the time for James to make The Big Decision, the Knicks will currently have unknown commodity Danilo Gallinari, rising talent Wilson Chandler, and never-was Jared Jeffries under contract (I can’t see Eddy Curry still being around for the final year of his deal). And that’s it. Sure, that allows for a full roster overhaul, but a ton of money will be locked up in James–can Walsh use the leftovers to make this worth his time, beyond the glitz and glamor of NYC? And D’Antoni’s system has proven to be excellent at procuring regular-season wins… but can he guide his teams to win the big ones come playoff time?

There should be enough money to bring in another top-tier free agent, but there’s no guarantees they’ll get one… and the Knicks are obviously going to need one. There’s talk of Chris Bosh perhaps joining James in NYC, but there’s going to be plenty of teams, including the Detroit Pistons, likely bidding for his services as well.

Will James have faith in the offices of Walsh & D’Antoni?

I’m not so sure on both counts. Maybe, maybe not. That’ll be on James to decide–and like everybody else, I’m very curious to see what he ultimately does. Right now, though, it’s shaping up to be a decision between marketing ops and where he can best compete for titles year in, year out. James remains a tough one to figure out; just ask Danny Ferry.

LeBron James Photo Credit: Icon SMI

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