This year's NBA free agent market has created a circus and the silent ring-leader of this big top is the NBA's "man-child", (each of those hold equal weight) LeBron James. Although free agency doesn't officially begin until July 1st, the campaigning began unofficially months ago. I've heard a lot of theories and thoughts but the one that i find to be the most scintilating is LBJ re-surfacing in Los Angeles - in a Clippers uniform.
The thing that makes L.A. unique from a basketball perspective is the fact that this market has been able to sustain two profitable franchises, with one being less than average on a regular basis; there are very few cities who can generate this type of revenue. The revenue base is strong, with many multi-million dollar entities, from high-end companies to a Kodiak theatre's worth of a-list celebs. In a study posted on Forbes.com in December of 08, it was revealed that the Lakers were 2nd in operating income while the Clippers were 13th among 30 NBA teams. The fascinating part of this is the Clips holding steady with no legitimate reason for hope or a superstar to rally around. LBJ could change both of those. With a legitimate superstar, and perhaps the most popular, he would be a cash cow for ticket sales (season and isolated). Russell D'Souza, co-CEO of SeatGeek, supports this theory when he talked about this years Eastern Conference playoffs, "Average ticket prices for the Orlando Magic's's home games in the secondary resale market "dropped immediately" to $154 from $177 when the playoff opponent was the Boston Celtics". LBJ would also bring legitimate hope along with his Gucci suitcases, especially when paired with all-star caliber veterans and sprouting superstars in their own right.
The Clippers have all the essential pieces in place to stay and help LeBron. With 18Pt/10Reb center Kaman locked up through 2012 along with fiesty guards Baron Davis (2013) and Eric Gordon (2012), LeBron has an ample amount of help. Not to mention he will be playing with last year's first overall draft pick Blake Griffin who showed quite a bit of promise before his season-ending injury. I have essentially just named their starting lineup. You add a couple of specialists and this team is as rock solid as any. The glaring difference with this Clipper team aside from its obvious scoring firepower is the presence of a veteran leader already in control, Baron Davis. The same Davis who took his 8th-ranked Warriors and slayed the number one seed Dallas Mavericks with primarily heart and grit, something the 09 Cavs obviously lacked. Below is the player payroll for the LA Clippers.
Los Angeles Clippers Date # of total
Player- signed- years- salary- misc- FA
Steve Blake ........... 7/13/07 3 $12 million t-opt '10
Rasual Butler ......... 7/14/06 4 $14 million '10
Bobby Brown ........... 7/25/08 2 minimum '10
Mardy Collins ......... 7/5/06 4 $4,769,702 rc '10
Drew Gooden ........... 7/30/09 1 $4.5 million '10
DeAndre Jordan ........ 7/15/08 2 minimum t-opt '10
Steve Novak ........... 9/11/09 1 $1.03 million '10
Travis Outlaw ......... 7/18/07 3 $12 million '10
Brian Skinner ......... 9/16/09 1 minimum '10
Craig Smith ........... 7/17/08 2 ??? '10
Chris Kaman ........... 7/12/03,10/29/07 4+5 $11,214,368+$52.5mill '12
Eric Gordon ........... 7/2/08 4 $12,290,944 rc t-opt '12
Baron Davis ........... 7/10/08 5 $65 million '13
Blake Griffin ......... 7/10/09 4 $23,298,732 rc t-opt '12+13
Dear cynic, i already hear you lamenting about the Kobe factor. The fact that Kobe already runs L.A. can easily be a deterant to the untrained eye. But every rivalry has to have a genesis and this can be where LeBron makes his historic legacy. Coming into L.A. and creating a gang like turf war (couldn't help the gang reference when discussing Los Angeles) would generate huge buzz, forcing patrons to pick a side similar to the Mets/Yankees dichotomy. LeBron and Kobe are already fighting for what seems like exclusive support from NBA fans, it appears to be one or the other, no in between. This would only fuel the long-suffering argument of who is the real king of the NBA. Although this rivalry wouldn't be Magic vs. Bird, it would be the lone credible personal rivalry since then; we already know Kobe is willing to throw his chips all in. For the NBA this would almost guarantee a Kobe vs. LeBron match-up in the playoffs. Nike would finally get real utility out of their puppets and the basketball world would finally have its wish. LeBron would get to create his legacy, similar to Jordan. The United Center (where the Chicago Bulls play) is known as "The house that Michael built". LBJ could create his own legacy out in LA, especially if he can dethrone Kobe, the king of kings in the NBA.
A large part of this theory is dependent upon LeBron's willingness to collide with and defeat challenges. He obviously wants to win a championship but he has also been quoted saying that he wants to be the first billionaire athlete in the world. I don't know if that takes away from his desire on the basketball court but a market like L.A. would certainly help him find more money, especially if aspiring owner and entertainment mogul, David Geffen, gets majority ownership of the team from Donald Sterling.
This would be a very bold move that can put LeBron exactly where he needs to be on all fronts. It makes sense and dollars. But now we have to see if LeBron has the onions to take on such a challenge.