Last week Boris Diaw announced his agreement to a 3-year contract with the Spurs by tweeting "let's win it again!" I wasn't quite sure how to take it. Was this a rallying cry or a laid-back platitude from a laid-back dude? I guess it ultimately doesn't matter, since the Spurs now have Boris and (almost as important) kept anyone else from signing him. And, hey! A versatile small forward actually made a free agency decision. That's not to say the path for LeBron James is easy for him, or anyone, to identify. Nor is it so simple to say "He doesn't need a max contract, look at how much money he makes off of the court." Players are worth what teams are willing to pay them, and if Miami can't or won't give LBJ the max, then there are a gaggle of teams that most certainly will.
That includes his old team -- Cleveland. In addition to the nearly 100 million reasons he has to return to his home state, where The Cavaliers' max offer is $30 million less than what Miami can offer, there's this: the ability to mend the fences with owner Dan Gilbert while rebuilding the bridge he burned when he left northern Ohio. But wait! Isn't Dan Gilbert the same word-vomiting mortgage huckster who wrote LeBron an open letter four years ago, one which called him a "coward" and a "traitor" and promised that the Cavs would win a championship before LeBron would with Miami? I hope this bridge-building project has some contingencies built into the budget, because it sounds like the structure is going to cost more than $100 million.
Let's be honest here; none of the parties involved - not LeBron, not Gilbert, not the Miami Heat - looked good after The Decision. And nobody is going to look good after it all shakes out this time either. Cleveland or Miami, maybe both, will feel betrayed. If you think Miami and its fans will be okay because they care less about their team, then you're only focusing on those few fans who left with 28 sec... You know what, forget I mentioned that. The point is, there are passionate fans in every market, whether it's San Antonio or Cleveland, Sacramento or South Beach. LeBron's latest decision will spike Kleenex sales somewhere, perhaps multiple somewheres.
Of course, the Spurs fan in me wonders why it has to be so hard. Is it so difficult for a player to stay with one team his entire career? "Back in the 80s" is a shibboleth that thirtysomethings like me can't help but evoke in these modern times. But are concepts like continuity, pride, and loyalty really so antiquated? Must every prime free agent now have to go on tour before announcing boisterously to the foaming masses that their choice is Team X? Was the situation really so unworkable with Team W? Heck, even Kobe's blatantly expedient marriage to the Lakers has survived for 18 years.
So when did we begin this obsession with the Free Agency Summer Blockbuster? Back in the 80s (sorry) and even the 90s, big name players like Ralph Sampson, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Chris Webber switched teams via trade. Perhaps the first big free agent signing of the post-merger era was Shaq going to the Lakers in the summer of 1996. Slightly more recently, there was some hubbub surrounding a young power forward in the summer of 2000 who toyed with the idea of leaving South Texas for Orlando, which was the very place Shaq left four years earlier.
It's a big what if among Spurs fans regarding that summer of '00.
What if Tim had left for Florida, joined up with Grant Hill and Doc Rivers, and left us with only one title? What if Duncan had his own version of the "The Decision"? (Likely on PBS and moderated by Jim Lehrer) What if Pop or Peter Holt had subsequently written a scathing letter in Times New Roman wishing Tim the best of luck and thanking him for his three seasons? What if Tim and Grant, along with Mike Miller, had gone on to win two or three titles against the disintegrating Shaq-Kobe Lakers or the skittish Webber-led Kings? What if the Spurs had then quietly rebuilt after the retirement of David Robinson, brought in Manu, gone to the lottery and selected Pau Gasol or Yao Ming or (gasp!) LeBron? With that promising young nucleus, could they have convinced Tim to return to San Antonio in the summer of 2005 with a max offer and some custom paintball guns? We'll never know, of course.
With LeBron, the decision will be made, because it must be made eventually. This is the rock and the hard place between which he's squeezed himself. He has the ability to rebuild that bridge in Cleveland, but not without burning another one down in Miami. He seems to be keeping us all in suspense, if only because the single comfort he has while making his decision, is time.