After taking in the reaction from the LeBronapalooza last night, you would think the world had ended. Cleveland fans seemed ready to march on South Beach and there were NBA GMs sending out betrayal notes like some lost lover. Did anyone profit from this (outside of those obvious drama setters from ESPN)?
Ultimately, LeBron did just make himself a lot of money, but does he make the list of the 10 biggest winners from Thursday night?
10. Kobe Bryant
Funny. Even though the Miami Heat are now immediate title contenders with a trio that rivals anything the NBA has ever seen, there is some guy out in L.A. who is watching. And waiting. And working out. Kobe used to be hated to no end. Despised. Now, LeBron has unknowingly catapulted this country’s love for the reigning Finals MVP. The Laker star just became The Man by default. Everything that LeBron represents – personified in this slobber on LeBronathon that concluded with him taking the “easy way out” – will do nothing but help Kobe. Love the move or hate it, all of the pressure shifts to Miami. You think New York City would’ve been the grandiose? Take the force of 8 million people in the Big Apple, multiply that by 38 and then stack the history books on top of that. Now, the entire country has expectations for The Chosen One: deliver the goods. The more chips Kobe can stack up from here on out will count double.
9. Heat’s Second Round Picks
Miami’s three second round draft picks – Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler and Jarvis Varnado- now have pretty good job security. Pat Riley is probably warning them, “Basically, don’t blow out a knee or get arrested for vehicular manslaughter and you will be on the team.” With the max contract dollars being passed out like candy on Halloween, the Heat must fill out their roster with minimum salary players. The good thing for Heat fans is that Pittman, Butler and Varnado are solid second-round picks. If Pittman wasn’t overweight, he could’ve been a first-rounder. Butler has the requisite qualities needed to succeed as a career role player, despite the major knee injury. And Varnado has great potential as a shot-blocking specialist.
8. NBA Finals Ratings
The Heat has to be considered the favorites to make it out of the East. They have maybe the three best players in the whole conference. If they add some pieces like Mike Miller, it’s a formality. That’s not even discussing how the Heat will look in upcoming years. With the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, they have a chance to build a monster. One of the largest beneficiaries of that will be those June ratings and David Stern.
If the Lakers and Heat match up in the Finals next June, the ratings will be astronomical. This year’s numbers (an 18.2 Game 7 rating) matched anything since MJ left in 1998. 2011 could put those digits on steroids. LeBron and Artest. Kobe and DWade. Gasol and Bosh. Riley and Jackson. Jack and Anna K/Enrique. So much firepower, so much celebrity, it has the potential to eclipse anything the NBA has seen since it was 1987 and it was Boston/L.A.
7. Mo Williams & Antawn Jamison
While the Cavs probably won’t win more than 20 games with their current roster – when some of your best players include Anthony Parker and Anderson Varejao, it’s a good indicator that success is out of reach – Williams and Jamison are in for big stat spikes. They are used to this, putting up large numbers on teams without any expectations and no future in place. They can’t expect many wins, but their numbers are definitely going to climb.
This is what happens when you build an entire team around one player’s game. LeBron got out just in time before the walls collapsed around him. Now, the Cavs are going to endure at least five or so years of loosing. No one is going to go there. Their team is stuck in eons of luxury tax. Kind of sad: LeBron built most of this. It wasn’t good enough, so he bounced.
6. Dwyane Wade
Wade doesn’t have anything to lose with this move. He’s proven himself as the only perimeter player outside of Bryant to lead a team to a title since MJ. Starting next season, Wade will slip right into the off-guard role on this team as its primary scorer. He won’t have to worry about his titles being tainted. Since LeBron is the one chasing Jordan and Kobe, chasing history, he’s the one who will have to bear the weight of expectations. Wade gets off easy.
This is as star-studded a team as the NBA has seen it a long time. But, it will be James’ head if they don’t reach expectations. It may not be fair, but that’s the way it works.
5. Delonte West
Cleveland will kill him if he ever goes back.
4. Michael Jordan
LeBron was the latest in a long line of disappointments. With this move, I think Money’s legacy as the game’s best ever is completely safe (only way that is debatable is if Kobe wins a few more rings). James was the one guy who seemed like he had a chance: a clean enough image, packaged in a mix of unprecedented skill and athleticism. If he had gone on to win a few titles for his hometown, LeBron would’ve had the chance to match Jordan at the top.
Now, he can’t win with this move. Any championship will be expected, almost a necessity. And if they don’t win? LeBron will become the greatest failure in the history of the League.
Jordan was drafted into a situation in Chicago in 1984 just as dire as Cleveland’s was in 2003. They were loosing money, had no fans and a history of loosing. But, he made the playoffs every year and gradually built the Bulls into a dynasty, overcoming the Detroit Pistons and L.A. Lakers along the way. He met every challenge. Last night reeked of something else.
3. Eastern Conference
Heat. Celtics. Magic. Hawks. Bulls. Bucks. It seems like the East might actually play some ball this year. Since Money left the Chicago scene, it’s been a West World with nine of the past 12 titles going to teams left of the Mississippi.
The West still claim the defending champs and numerous other loaded squads like the Nuggets, Mavericks and Blazers. But the trio of Miami, Boston and Orlando should make for quite an Eastern Conference playoff run. For once, the two conferences have finally evened out. Amar’e Stoudemire went east as did Carlos Boozer, bringing back the big men that have been absent since Shaquille O’Neal’s departure in 1996. With LeBron sticking around to form a potential powerhouse, it brings the two conferences into balance. There are also teams like Washington, and particularly New York and New Jersey, that have promising futures with salary cap room and cornerstone players all because of LeBron’s presence as a free agent.
2. Micky Arison
According to the Positively Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau, every Cavalier home game with LeBron netted the team $3.7 million in revenue. Take that to South Beach, add in the lure of celebrity and partying, sprinkle in Bosh and Wade and who knows how much the Heat will profit from this?
Last season, the Heat was just 15th in the league in home attendance. That number is about to soar, as well as the team’s overall worth. Arison bought the franchise for just over $30 million back in the mid 1980’s. Miami’s net worth rose to $384 million during last season. Now with the game’s largest celebrity signing on, CNBC predicted in a recent article that James is worth $17.5 million to them during next season alone. The billionaire Arison must’ve slept easy last night.
1. Pat Riley
The mastermind genius does it again. For real, this dude is either really lucky or just smart as hell. No one believed it was possible- outsmarting every other GM in the League, including a Russian billionaire, to land the most prized free agent group in the history of the League. Remember 2000? That year saw the Orlando Magic attempt to trump the field by landing both Tim Duncan and Grant Hill. It never worked out. Normally, there’s just a combination of too many values – egos, contracts, shots, legacies, women, jersey numbers – to get so many great players on one boat. But, Miami has done it and they’ve done it with not two, but three max contract players.
Riley convinced Oklahoma City and Minnesota into coming along for the ride and now has every GM in the game saying, “What the hell do we do now?”
Riley just punk’d the NBA.
What do you think? Who are the biggest winners from last night?
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