It's time to look at the winners and losers in the LeBron deal.
Several folks have asked what this means as far as championships and teams rising or falling back. Obviously getting their hearts LeBroken was horrible for the Cavaliers. Anyone who spouted nonsense about LeBron not really being that great is about to see what a difference he made to that team. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are now going to be taking 50 shots per game. Williams will shoot 40% and Jamison 48% and the Cavaliers will lose...a lot. The Knicks and Clippers are left in sad sackdom as well, which is little surprise. Of the two I think L.A. has the better chance of getting out but nobody is going to have fun trying to use that massive cap space productively with so many free agents off the market now.
Miami becomes a new power, maybe THE New Power, in the league. Along with the evident benefits, though, comes incredible pressure. People are suspicious of how these three stars will mesh. You can count me among that group. I have no doubt that they'll fare fine in the regular season but steamrolling through the playoffs may prove a more difficult challenge. These three are like huge tanks on the battlefield. They give an instant, nearly invulnerable, advantage. There's no way anyone takes them head on. But a clever, targeted, experienced opponent in the right terrain may be able to make hay in the space between and behind the behemoths where armor is weaker and responsiveness slowed. I'm curious to see how they fare against established teams. This is not Dennis Rodman taking Horace Grant's place, joining an already-established Pippen and Jordan in Chicago. These are three huge talents who don't know each other having to acclimate and sacrifice to make the team work in a crucible. Expectations are now through the roof. If Miami doesn't win a title this year people are going to mutter (and coach Erik Spoelstra should watch his back). If they don't win a title within two years everyone on the planet will declare the experiment a failure and begin asking which star is to blame. At that point the road gets rocky, quotes get plentiful, and chemistry takes a hit. Second place in the league simply will not do for this team. It's a great shot but they have to hit and hit now in order to make it work.
The far more interesting question to me is whether this is good or bad for the league. We've already covered it being bad for the Cavaliers but sadly "bad for the Cavaliers" doesn't make a bit of difference league-wide. Despite the devastation wrought in Ohio there's little doubt that the league has seen immediate benefit from this circus. Any time your sport leads news broadcasts (not just sportscasts) during the fat part of your off-season you're happy. Having a new marquee team isn't a bad deal either. On the other hand this is a little like pairing Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage as a tag team. (Add in the Ultimate Warrior if you care to in order to get the three-way fidelity.) It's great for the initial pop but in reality you're wasting two or three major draws in the same match when you could have sold more tickets by spreading them out among many matches. The (then) WWF did go with exactly this kind of pairing for a while but they never did it long for this precise reason.
One could argue that mega-teams like the 80's Celtics and Lakers were great for the league even with the concentration of talent but that talent was perceived as home-grown and honestly acquired. The New Heat don't benefit from that perception. Even though everything happened fair and square under cap rules people will still consider this a shady team-for-hire, more along the lines of the Shaq-Wade Heat (who won a title that nobody outside of Florida cared about a year afterwards) than those enduring 80's teams. Continuing the wrestling parlance, the star-studded Miami team just became solid heels to most of the world, a team that others will love to see fail rather than succeed. That can certainly work to publicity advantage (see the Celtics and Lakers to this day) if it's accompanied by grudging respect, but because of circumstances this team will have little. If they win everyone will shrug their shoulders and say, "Big deal, it's what we expected when they spent all that money." If they lose people will cheer and go on with their lives, figuring there isn't much more to watch once the gloating and "I -told-you-so's" are done. Neither eventuality will inspire long-term, loyal viewing once the Heat have left your hometown.
In that sense it probably would have been better for the league for LeBron to go anywhere else outside of Cleveland. New York and Chicago would have set up huge Eastern rivalries with a big-time city pairing its own stars against Miami's new duo. The Clippers would have lessened the effect being on the West Coast but that's still another huge fan base drawn in and you have the natural LeBron-Kobe rivalry for king of the city. Even a place like Dallas would have set up more interesting permutations. In short, it was probably good for publicity's sake that LeBron moved but he moved to a place where short-term gain will be great but long-term interest will suffer. That encapsulates the benefit to the league: immediate bonanza but once the curiosity has worn off and judgment has been passed the extended payoff will wane in comparison to what it could have been.
This was an interesting move for sure. It engendered a media circus unprecedented for this time of year and this kind of stimulus. Ultimately, though, it won't contribute to the health of the league as much as the initial blush and rush promise. The NBA is a big winner, for now. We'll see about later.
P.S. ESPN was also a huge beneficiary of this process, though it seemed cheesy to hear of media personalities coyly referring to "their sources" when they knew for a fact where LeBron was going. Apparently instead of coming out and reporting he was going to Miami they kept it under their vests in an attempt to preserve the suspense and to bolster our confidence in their connections. In any other situation they would have flat-out said where he was going, just as they have for a host of other free agents whose moves were not so obvious.
P.P.S. LeBron is already a multi-millionaire and is about to get a hefty new contract. Couldn't he find a better shirt?