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An Audience with the King

Speculating on how the Clippers' meeting with the LeBron James in Cleveland today might have gone is an ultimately pointless exercise.  As is speculating on the Nets and Knicks meetings yesterday, or the Heat meeting earlier today.  In fact, my favorite quote of the whole spectacle so far has got to be the declaration after Jay-Z and the Nets left that their meeting was "frontrunner tremendous".  Really?  Well, the Nets did go first, so maybe they were in lead for the teams that had made their cases to that point.

Is it a tad disconcerting that during the most important meeting in team history the Clippers were represented by a rookie GM and a team president who has been largely anonymous on the basketball side for his 25 plus years in the organization?  Sure.  (Roeser is so anonymous that not one but two Cleveland sports writers insisted on spelling his name with an 'N', Roesner.)

The comparison to the Heat, who presented directly before LA, is pretty telling.  Miami showed up with team president Pat Riley, coach Eric Spoelstra, retired All Star Alonzo Mourning and owner Micky Arinson.  Of course for the Clippers, showing up with a coach was an impossibility while showing up with their owner would have been a pretty big gamble.  The Heat have almost three max salary slots, compared to one for the Clippers.  That was also the ratio of the lengths of their meetings - three hours for the Heat, less than an hour for the Clippers. Riley's a former player and coach who has won championships in both capacities.  Mourning likewise is a former player with a ring.  On the other hand, Roeser is a former accountant and Olshey is a former soap opera actor.

Did the Clippers' minimalist approach hurt their chances of securing LeBron's services?  I doubt it.  The obvious reason is that they had essentially no chance to begin with - so their odds could hardly get worse.

But there's another reason that the simple approach might be best for the Clippers.  The other suitors have all gone over the top in their pursuit of LeBron.  They've gutted their rosters to at least get close to two rosters spots.  Those machinations necessitate more complex pitches.  Imagine Miami's task in that room today.  "We want you and DWade and Bosh to team up in Miami, LeBron."  "Bosh just tweeted that he and Dwyane are in Chicago talking to the Bulls right now."  "Oh yeah.  Well, in that case we want you and Carlos Boozer and someone else who's pretty good in Miami."  Other than the Clippers and Cleveland, all the other pitches involve moving parts who aren't even in the room in Cleveland.  You can say that you're going to sign another superstar to pair with LeBron - but can you guarantee it?  LeBron undoubtedly knows more about what their teams are going to look like than they do.  He has a much better idea of whether and with whom he'll pair up next season.

The case for the Clippers, and Olshey emphasized this with Team LeBron, is dirt simple:  Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and (especially) Blake Griffin.  Olshey's task is to try to convince LeBron that Blake Griffin is as good as or better than, say Chris Bosh.  And in the case of the Clippers, there's no guess work.  No assembly required.  Here's your supporting cast, complete with superstar supporter.  Or as Olshey put it, "I can absolutely unequivocally say: Blake Griffin is as good as any Robin to his Batman there is available in the league."

So perhaps the Clippers have differentiated themselves by keeping it simple, by focusing on basketball.  LeBron and his people know about LA.  He knows where movies are made.  He's been on Leno and Kimmel.  There's no reason to bore him with stuff he already knows.  You have to figure LeBron and his peeps were happy that the Clippers didn't go too long, one way or the other.  If they have no interest in the Clippers, then they didn't waste much time.  If they do have some interest, then it's likely for basketball reasons, and that's what Olshey and Roeser focused on.

In the end, I do have to quibble with the decision to not include Blake Griffin on the sales team.  If Griffin is the main selling point, then why not bring him along?  He wouldn't have to wear green and red tights and a yellow cape, but have him in the room.  He's a pretty charming kid.  If you're entire case is built on the hope that LeBron wants him for a teammate, then seeing if there's a little meeting room chemistry is the first step.

Almost anyone who writes about the NBA, myself included, has long maintained that the Clippers in fact have no chance of landing LeBron.  The lineup is the best and most complete of the contenders, the city is a perfect fit for his off the court aspirations, and Griffin is probably the best single player on one of the existing rosters (Derrick Rose being the other contender.)  But the reputation of the team, and in particular the reputation of the owner, essentially guarantee that he'll avoid the Clippers, for the simple fact that he can.

But if you want to speculate on a scenario in which he could wind up in LA, it goes something like this (and citizen Banandy posted a fan shot to this effect earlier as well).

  • The case starts with the assumption that playing on the best possible basketball team is indeed the single biggest factor for LeBron. 
  • Starting from there, it's not difficult to conclude that the Clippers have a leg up on New York and New Jersey, who are coming off poor seasons and then weakened themselves further in the pursuit.
  • The Wade-James-Bosh to Miami story has plenty of superstar talent, but suffers from two problems:  I still don't think James wants to share the spotlight with Wade, and there's not actually enough money to pay them all at the end of the day.
  • Chicago is LA's competition from a talent standpoint, which is why they're considered a favorite to secure his services.  But what happens if Wade (a Chicago kid) and Bosh sign there?  Do the Bulls think they can get all three?  Well, even if they trade Luol Deng, they'll still be quite a bit short of three maximum contracts, so someone would be taking a pay cut.  Reports today (which are no doubt premature) made it sound like Wade and Bosh in Chicago is a distinct possibility.
  • If that were to happen, it would take the Bulls and Heat off the table, as there'd be no more room in Chicago and Miami would suddenly have the worst roster in the NBA.
  • At that point, and assuming that having a winning basketball team is the most important thing to LeBron, the Clippers would be the clear choice.

And he'd probably pick Cleveland out of loyalty.