For a few days I've been promising a column regarding the future of LeBron James and the impending free agency period. The reason some have what we'll call "interest" in this column is my ideas, which are rather unconventional. See, I don't see James in a New York Knicks uniform next year, but I don't see him in a Chicago Bulls uniform either.

I also see no merit in the current inundation of media coverage surrounding this issue. SportsCenter updates on the 10-minute mark are providing us with no real information, just the speculation of so-called "experts," who claim to hold insider information regarding the fate of the most beloved Cleveland athlete since Omar Vizquel.

Only LeBron knows where he will play next year. In fact, the only thing I am willing to say for certain is that the James gang will milk free agency to the very end. James loves the attention that comes with being the most coveted player in sports history and I expect him to visit at least ten NBA cities, giving all interested parties the chance to pitch their plan to him and every thirsty fan base a chance to dream.

While LeBron makes his tour around the league, Cavalier die-hards will wait on the edge of their seats, hoping the man who is supposed to put an end to a miserable half-century of sports history doesn't abandon them mid-quest. If LeBron does leave, his legacy in Cleveland will not be the one we all thought it would.

Instead of being remembered as the savior, he will be remembered as the man who promised to make the city party like Las Vegas. And he will be remembered as the man who failed. His legacy in Cleveland will not be as the greatest athlete, greatest clutch performer or even greatest Cavalier (Mark Price, Z). Instead it will be as the hometown kid who promised salvation--and never delivered.

Without further ado, the list.

Where LeBron will not play next season:

New York Knicks
  • Realize this: LeBron, even with Chris Bosh or Dwayne Wade, will be several years short of winning a championship in New York. They have no bench, and can't build one in one offseason. See the Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, Orlando Magic, Cavaliers: all four teams took years to build a real, deep bench. He does not want to wait until his 10th NBA season for a legitimate chance to win his first title and that is exactly how long it will take (3 years) before the Knicks are a realistic contender.
  • LeBron doesn't need the New York Knicks---the New York Knicks need LeBron James
New Jersey Nets
  • See New York Knicks. Even with the possible addition of John Wall through the draft, the team is young, has no permanent home and no bench.
Miami Heat
  • LeBron and Dwayne Wade will not play together next season. Here's why: Both players play best when the offense goes through them. They are used to starting with the ball in their hands and letting the other players capitalize on the attention paid to them by the defense. Wade is a point guard--there is no way you are taking the ball from him. Some will say LBJ gives up the ball to play with Wade, I disagree. His effectiveness on offense is not getting set-up by another player, but setting up the other players himself.
  • Miami has a better bench but they aren't good enough.
Where LeBron might play next season:

Chicago Bulls
  • Chicago presents a complicated situation. One one hand, LeBron has a unique opportunity to play with a potential hall-of-famer in Derrick Rose and one of the games' best young big man in Joakim Noah. The Bulls also have a deep bench and good resources, coupled with big market allure. On the other, Rose is another player who needs the ball to run the offense and you have to wonder how that works with James.
  • The bigger problem, and the ultimate reason why James does not go to the Bulls in July is the shadow of Michael Jordan. James can win 5 titles in Chicago and still be considered inferior. He will never be the greatest player in Bulls history; if he joined any of 25 other teams and won one championship he would be the greatest they had ever seen, and be remembered that way for years.
5 teams James seriously considers:

Cleveland Cavaliers
  • This one is simple. Despite the disappointment this season and the big questions around the franchise, there is no better situation for LeBron James. His family, friends and loyalty lies in Cleveland. In addition, returning to the Cavaliers provides him the opportunity to makeup for this years' failures.
Dallas Mavericks
  • James signs and Dirk Nowitzki re-ups and Dallas is an instant contender with a deep bench. Dirk is a second superstar level player who will have no trouble taking big shots in big games, but doesn't need the ball in his hands on every possession to succeed. For James and Nowitzki, each gives the other a teammate who won't disappear come playoff time--as both are so used to seeing in their supporting cast.
  • Dallas would have to clear cap space to make this happen. Possible sign and trade.
Portland Trailblazers
  • I love Portland because they are young, energetic and very talented. Brandon Roy is a second big-shot player, but can play off the ball when necessary. LaMarcus Aldridge provides the solid, youthful inside presence to compliment the James. Greg Oden, if healthy, is a bonus. Yes, Portland is a small market and out west (a disadvantage since the eastern TV market is dominant), but if winning is most important they will not be overlooked.
  • Portland would also have to clear cap space to make this happen.
Los Angeles Clippers
  • The Los Angeles market is big enough for LeBron and Kobe Bryant--especially as Kobe enters the second half of his career. The Clippers provide young talent in Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, as well as the veteran presence of Baron Davis. LeBron would have the opportunity to succeed with the same kind of young big-man, young guard packages that he has in Chicago and Portland. The only question becomes the willingness to work with Donald Sterling, who is something along the lines of the Al Davis of the NBA.
Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Kevin Durant would have to play the 2. The Thunder would have to clear some cap space. Yes, this is slightly complicated. However, that would leave a lineup looking something like this:
PG -- Russel Westbrook
SG -- Kevin Durant
SF -- LeBron James
PF -- Jeff Green
C -- Nick Collison
  • Now, I am certainly a Cavaliers fan and I would love to see LeBron James re-sign with Cleveland. However, this lineup absolutely captivates me. With that combination of young talent, the Thunder could win the next 3 NBA championships. No joke.
For those reasons, the best situation for James is Oklahoma City.


Scribbles in my Cavaliers Notebook

Oh, boy. What we've got here is a Shaquille O'Neal sized problem.

The Cavaliers just lost game five against Boston--their second loss at home in three games. They've looked lethargic, unfocused and complacent. For all but game three, LeBron James has looked human--far from the gigantic expectations we have for him. The rest of the team has hardly bothered to show up at all.

Mike Brown has a team that unquestionably goes 12 deep, but cannot seem to find five players capable of stopping Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, while making consistent baskets at the other end of the floor.

Where has Mo Williams gone? Never the best clutch performer, but Mo is "getting lit up like a Christmas tree," according to John Hollinger of ESPN. Frankly, that might be an understatement. Mo hasn't even bothered to slow Rondo or Allen (whomever he is guarding at the moment) down, and the result is a thrashing.

O'Neal and Antwan Jamison are leaving huge holes inside, so once Rondo breaks that first layer, he's home free. There is nothing stopping him.

And then there's LeBron. What is the matter with him? He has only really played like himself in 2 games (1, sort of, and 3). In the other three, he's looked like an average NBA player, with limited effectiveness. He won't drive, won't pull up and did a terrible job distributing to teammates. If I didn't know better, I would speculate that he just didn't want to win...which obviously doesn't bode well for the Cavs.

I do, however, know better...and in this case, I am inclined to believe LeBron's elbow injury is far worse than anyone is letting on. Maybe the problem is whether LeBron is letting on--I wonder if the coaches, trainers and other players are even aware of a larger problem. The fact is, James has played better with 2 or more days rest than he has with 1, leading me to believe his elbow is seriously hurt.

One more note...if the Cavaliers lose to Boston, Mike Brown has to be done in Cleveland. I've never thought of him as the greatest coach. He isn't terrible, but he isn't exactly a difference maker, especially in the playoffs. Ultimately, that might be what the Cavs lack down the stretch. His substitutions have been terribly unsuccessful.


Bruce Drennan's Tribe Analysis...

Watch This.

That was Bruce Drennan absolutely destroying the Indians lineup. And I loved it.

Frankly, the man was dead on...

If your name is not Austin Kearns or Shin-Soo Choo, you stink.

Travis Hafner, .233
Grady Sizemore, .223
Jhonny Peralta, .208
Matt LaPorta, .203
Luis Valbuena, .167

Those are all everyday players and those are their real batting averages.

This is ridiculous. These are major league ballplayers. They are all making hundreds of thousands of dollars to play baseball everyday. This is absolutely unacceptable.

We can't win with that. In fact, it's a miracle that we're winning at all. The only saving grace for this team is our pitching staff. The starting staff is fantastic (considering) and the bullpen has been bad, but not miserable.

I've got some other stats for you:

Wes Hodges, .336
Jason Donald, .305
Carlos Santana, .314
Chris Gimenez, .338

All ballplayers at AAA Columbus, the minor league affiliate for the Cleveland Indians. Bring 'em up--that's what I say. Jhonny Peralta, Luis Valbuena, Matt LaPorta have done nothing to merit staying with the club right now. Peralta, for one, should just be cut. His defense is terrible and we can no longer justify his offense as a reason to keep him around.

The Indians might not get .300+ averages out of all these minor-league players if they bring them up today, but it certainly cannot hurt this team. At this point, starting me at third base couldn't hurt--not any worse than Peralta that is.


There's Always This Year

Why the Cavaliers must win now

Tomorrow night, when the Cavaliers open the 2009-2010 season against the Boston Celtics, it will begin the most important season in Cleveland history—basketball or other. This year, more than any other, the Cavaliers are primed for success, boasting a lineup with all-star talent, a reigning coach-of-the-year, a revamped arena and a city thirsty for celebration.

For Clevelanders, it goes beyond the basics. This is not the average season, or the average opener. Certainly bigger than the Indians’ 1995 and 1997 World Series runs and, arguably, bigger than the 1964 NFL Championship—the last this city has seen. This Cavaliers season goes beyond sports.

The season is unique because now, more than ever, Cleveland is a city devastated by circumstances. Years of fading industry, failing jobs, decaying infrastructure and fleeing citizens has left the city hollow, with hardly a trace of past greatness.

Walk down Euclid Avenue, through Public Square and look around. See the buildings, the streets, all empty. Yet, in some past life, some parallel universe, those streets and buildings were filled and the city was alive. This city had something special.

The Cavaliers give Cleveland the best chance to find that spirit again. A successful season—and by successful, a season that ends with a parade—could bring a wave of new life to Cleveland. No, it will not fix all the problems the city faces, but it can and will help.

Here, take a look at some of the different factors that make this season the season. The reasons why “There’s Always Next Year” does not apply.

Five teams—the Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have a shot at the NBA title this season. Four of these five will match up in the last two rounds of the playoffs and the Cavaliers match up well with all of them.

The Cavaliers have an undeniably loaded roster. The team lost no key parts from a 66 win 2008-2009, and added a future Hall-of-Famer, Shaquille O’Neal, while essentially giving up nothing. The team also added forwards Jamario Moon and Leon Powe and guard Anthony Parker, role players who will increase the team’s shooting percentage and shore up the defense.

Problems encountered in the disappointing Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic should eliminate themselves with O’Neal, whose presence in the post will limit Dwight Howard’s impact. The new wing play, which will assure a legitimate second defender when LeBron James—the team’s best—is already occupied, keeps the second, third and fourth options of teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs from running unopposed. For once, James will not be the only shutdown defender on the floor, enabling the Cavaliers to worry less about spreading the defense and leaving defenders alone.

Most importantly, this lineup will not be the same a year from now. The Cavaliers will not pay aging O’Neal 20 million dollars to stay in Cleveland and James, without whom the Cavaliers are average at best, is only under contract until July. There is no speculation here; those are the facts. James may resign with the Cavaliers, or he may go somewhere else. That possibility alone means the Cavaliers best chance is the season at hand—because next year is not a guarantee.

The potential economic impact of the Cavaliers success is the biggest reason why the team must take advantage of what this year has to offer. For a long time, Clevelanders have joked that "the economy is LeBron James," and while it certainly goes beyond the Cavalier’s superstar, his success and the season outcome will make a difference this year. A huge difference.

Consider this: Every time the Cavaliers play a home game, approximately 20,000 people infiltrate downtown Cleveland. They pay to park their cars, eat food at a local restaurant; perhaps they pair the game with some other form of entertainment. Then those same fans pay for tickets, souvenirs, more food, cotton candy for little Johnny, a few beers and maybe a pit stop on the way home depending, of course, on the distance.

In fact, distance traveled is another factor all together. Great professional teams draw crowds from all around the country. A great Cavaliers match up (say, Cavaliers v. Lakers on Christmas) might draw some out-of-towners to witness a great game. If a Los Angeles millionaire flies into Cleveland, stays at the Ritz, makes a trip out with his entourage for pre-game drinks, goes to dinner, then hits the game and later finds a nice club to mourn his beloved Lakers’ loss at (maybe with the players themselves), it all equals one thing. Revenue. More importantly, it means revenue for the city—a city that really, really needs some.

For the 2007 NBA Championship vs. San Antonio, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland estimated that each playoff game played at the “Q” generated an economic impact of, get this, 3 million dollars. This is the combined effect of everything mentioned above. Fans come to the city to go to the game and spend money on local businesses as a result. For playoff games, when the atmosphere is particularly electric, fans without tickets still come to town, choosing to go to area bars and clubs to watch the games with others. Either way, the city wins.

Some economists will argue the economic impact is actually an illusion and that those entertainment dollars would have been spent somewhere else, had they not been spent on the game. Essentially, they argue that the game just eats up entertainment money in one big burst, and doe not really create a big revenue increase.

The impact can go beyond the traditional concepts, however. Consider a study by Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Maryland Baltimore County department of Economics. Their work, which examined “The Economic Impact of Postseason Play in Professional Sports,” concluded that the hometown of the winning team from the Superbowl had an average increase of $140 in per capita household income.

The reason, as speculated by Coates and Humphreys, was not that more money was spent, but rather that the productivity of workers had increased because of an increase in worker morale, due to the victory. While, there were no specific correlations drawn between per capita income and an NBA Championship, one could speculate that a downtrodden city like Cleveland could experience a serious increase in morale if a professional sports team finally experienced national success.

Indirectly, the Cavaliers success affects the city in another very important way—exposure. This does have economic implications, but it also affects the overall national opinion of the city so commonly referred to as “the Mistake by the Lake.” A seven game series alternating between a place like San Antonio or Los Angeles and Cleveland will provide the city with approximately 14-20 hours of national television coverage, with a multi-million person viewing audience.

Aesthetic shots of the city, whether taken from the “Q,” the Goodyear Blimp, or other locations gives Cleveland a much needed increase in positive exposure. More importantly, it exposes some of Cleveland’s entities to the world. A good year for the Cavaliers is a good year for many of the organizations and opportunities in Cleveland.

Cleveland State University is certainly one of those entities affected. Jim Drnek, dean of students at Cleveland State, says, “Anything that shines a positive light on the city of Cleveland benefits anyone and any organization that’s located close to or in downtown. I think we would benefit from the positive publicity. I think there are some real tangible things…there might be some kind of victory celebration that could come near campus…and we’ve got a front row seat to all of that.”

The impact at Cleveland State would go beyond the exposure. Many Cleveland State students are Cavaliers fans that would be affected by a win in a way that so many others in Cleveland would—a new sense of pride. Said Drnek, “Since most of our students have come from the region, most of them have grown up following the sports teams—especially the Cavaliers, with their success. I think it would do wonders for the morale of our student body.”

When it comes to the broader impact on the city, the potential is similar. A championship could change the way Clevelanders look at everything. “The impact is immeasurable,” says Drnek, “because, Cleveland has had a bad rap for so long, for no good reason. It is a wonderful place to live, the people are friendly, there are things to do, its affordable. I think [a Cavalier’s championship] would bring recognition to a city that really deserves it.”


Is the Stimulus Enough?

As published in the February 17, 2009 issue of The Cauldron.

(Author's note: I apologize for my tardiness. I thought I had posted this with the notebook earlier in the week...)

Congress gave its stamp of approval to a $787 billion dollar stimulus bill late Friday night. The final version, which has been cut up and put back together in Washington for about a week, passed the House with no GOP votes and seven Democrat defectors, 246-183.

In the Senate, all Democrats gave it the nod, with three Republican senators crossing over to help push the bill through 60-38. The result left many Republicans fuming over what they are called very partisan legislation. I have some other concerns.

The Congress passed this bill on Friday after it had only been posted for a few hours—meaning most law-makers had two or three hours to read the one thousand seventy-one page bill, or they were voting on it without actually knowing what it contained. Take it from me; after reviewing the legislation, I am confident none of our congressman could have read it in less than a twenty-four hour period.

I understand the urgency of passing this legislation, but insisting on the final vote a mere two or three hours after the final draft was written is a bit unreasonable. The money we spend right now has to be allotted very carefully. You cannot claim accountability when the persons casting the votes do not fully understand the money being spent.

The more I look into the contents of this bill, the more it seems President Obama and the Democrats are passing a stimulus bill just to pass a stimulus bill. They set themselves up with a deadline of President’s Day, and they have done everything short of torture GOP congressmen in order to meet that date.

Included in the stimulus package—according to the Christian Science Monitor—is $308.3 billion in new spending, $267 billion in social services and $212 billion in tax breaks. Among the tax breaks is $116.2 billion for Obama’s “Make Work Pay” campaign, $20 billion in tax incentives for clean energy, $14 billion for higher education expenses and $4.7 billion earned income tax credits for families with three or more children.

The package allots $48 billion for infrastructure, including $27.5 billion for highways. Another $11 billion will modernize the nation’s electric grid. The plan also provides $86.6 billion in federal matching payments for Medicaid and $19 billion to modernize health technology. Among the $100 billion for education, $15 billion will raise the Pell Grant for low-income students by $500 to $4,860.

While its reassuring to see our government taking the initiative to restore our economy and improve our world, a lot was left out of this legislation. Deliberations earlier this week removed $3.5 billion for energy efficient federal buildings, $200 million for the EPA, $3.5 billion for higher education construction, $100 million for science and $300 million from federal fleet of hybrid vehicles. A lot of that was replaced with trickle down tax cuts, or simply removed all together.

Compromise is a necessary tool, but removing every pro-energy, pro-environment, pro-science/math/technology allotment was not the answer. If the Democrats were going to be stubborn and pass legislation with zero support from the Republicans they should have stuck to their guns and gotten the big things funded.

President Obama did not even get his headline item through in its original form. The “Making Work Pay” program will only give families $400 or $800 dollars instead of $500 and $1,000. If the President cannot stand up to the opposing party on his first big piece of legislation, we might have a problem on our hands.

Now, I am not an economist and I cannot claim to know what the future holds. I can tell you that legislation like this is easy to recognize as half-hearted crap. The Democrats passed a stimulus package because they felt like they had to and they would have passed it no matter what.

The American people voted the Democrats into a majority because they were sick of the old worn out policies that had been running us into the ground. However, four years of the Democrats passing weak legislation and allowing the Republicans too much leeway with cuts and changes will leave us with nothing when Obama’s term ends in four years. If the Democrats want to control Washington for the long term, they have to change their policies, and their politics, now.


Jacksonian Political Notebook

As published in the February 17th, 2009 issue of The Cauldron.

Reid J May

Israeli Elections

Israel held its parliamentary elections last Tuesday, marking the second such occasion in less than one year. The last election resulted in a win for the centrist Kadima Party, which was subsequently unable to form a government coalition with rival politicians.

Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, may be faced with a similar challenge this time around—as of Friday, the party held a one seat lead, 28 to 27, over rival Likud Party and leader Benjamin Netanyahu. About 100,000 votes remain to be counted and results will be verified sometime later this week.

Both Kadima and Likud are claiming victory—and the right to form a government with their leader at the helm—in this election. While Kadima won the same number of seats in the September 2008 election, Likud gained 15, giving legitimacy to its claim of mandate by the people. The Israeli election committee still needs to certify all results.

Iran Willing to Talk

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that he will welcome talks with the United States in a “fair atmosphere with mutual respect,” according to CNN. This news came one day after Barack Obama spoke of the need for a face-to-face dialogue with Iran.

Obama said his administration is reviewing the current policy towards Iran and says that the U.S. wants to use all resources to resolve issues with the nation. That would likely require a compromise on the uranium enrichment Iran continues to seek.

Ahmadinejad claims Iran is seeking nuclear capabilities for energy purposes and says they are against the use of nuclear weapons.

Gregg Drops Out As Commerce Nominee

Judd Gregg (R-NH) withdrew his nomination to become commerce secretary on Thursday citing “irreconcilable differences” over the economic stimulus bill and the 2010 census, according to Fox News.

Gregg and President Barack Obama do not hold consistent views over the execution of the 2010 census, which Obama wants to have overseen by the Whitehouse. Republicans see this as a violation of power and have threatened to take the case to court if Obama does not reverse his plans.

According to CNN, a Republican aide familiar with Gregg’s decision said the Senator consulted with GOP leaders before making his decision. It was also indicated that Gregg had concerns about being muted on cabinet decisions that were important to the Democrats, but not the Republicans.

Gregg said it was “his mistake, obviously to say yes.” He continued that it would have been an even bigger mistake to take the job and then “not be able to do it as it should be done on behalf of the President.”

Clinton Travels to Asia

Hillary Clinton will depart Sunday for her first overseas trip as the Secretary of State. Clinton has plans to stop in China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. This decision represents a change in diplomatic tradition that the first overseas trip of a new administration is to Europe.

CNN quoted Clinton saying that the Obama Administration wants to develop a “broader and deeper” relationship with Asia, which is a region often neglected in the past. Most of Clinton’s discussions will focus on the global financial crisis, although furthering trade with the region is another stated goal of the trip.

Clinton also plans to name a special envoy, which will speak with North Korean officials regarding new diplomatic relations and the resolution of nuclear threats within the region. Clinton, according to CNN, said the United States is prepared to seek permanent, stable peace with North Korea. She also said, “If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations.”


Goodtimes in Goodyear

The first in a series of updates from Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona

Reid J May

Pitchers and Catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona for their first workouts of the season on Thursday February 12, and with that in mind it’s time to start thinking about the big questions behind this year’s Cleveland Indians ball club. From now until opening day Goodtimes in Goodyear will appear in the Cauldron periodically to update Cleveland State on the happenings out west.

To start things off, here are five questions that Indians brass will begin considering between now and Opening Day, April 10, 2009.

Who will round out the rotation? Going in the Indians have two guaranteed starters in 2008 Cy Young Award Winner Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona. Carl Pavano has been guaranteed a spot in the rotation so long as he remains healthy all spring, and Anthony Reyes is likely to claim the fourth if his end of the season elbow issues do not flare up again. The fifth spot will need to be filled internally, at least until mid-season when Jake Westbrook returns. Candidates include Dave Huff, Aaron Laffey, Zach Jackson, Scott Lewis and Jeremy Sowers, with Laffey considered the favorite.

Who starts in Left Field? For now, Ben Francisco looks like he will get his shot. If Francisco struggles in the early part of the year the Indians will not hesitate to bring try one of the three highly touted prospects waiting in Columbus. Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Trevor Crowe all have a chance to be a factor with this year’s club. The Indians also have the versatility of Mark Derosa to fall back on. If need be, Derosa can play either left or right field. Do not count on seeing much of David Dellucci.

With both Kelly Shoppach and Victor Martinez proving their worth, who plays? Ideally, the Indians would love to play both Shoppach and Martinez, while still finding at-bats for Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner. Because they cannot, look for Martinez to significant time (25-40 games) at first base, and possibly DH if Hafner struggles. If Garko plays the first half of 2009 like the did the second half of 2008 it will make it difficult to leave him out and we might see him get some time in the outfield—apparently Eric Wedge will try him there in camp—to keep all three (Hafner, Garko, Martinez) bats in the lineup. If all four of these guys are having monster years look for someone—most likely Shoppach or Garko—to be trade bait in July.

How will the bullpen shake out? An annual debate in Cleveland, the bullpen has a definitive tone to it this year. Six spots are guaranteed to Kerry Wood, Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt, Masa Kobayashi, Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis. Look for recently signed Vinnie Chulk to compete with Ed Mujica, Jon Meloan and Adam Miller for the seventh and final position.

Will Mark Derosa see time at second base? Probably. The more significant question is how much time, and that will be answered over the course of the year, not in March. If Jhonny Peralta struggles with his range at shortstop, Wedge may be eager to move Asdrubal Cabrera to shortstop, leaving Derosa a as the second baseman. For now, expect to see him at third consistently.