Dreaming of LeBron

Posted: June 18, 2014

THE CONVERSATION started in our Sunday seats up in the scoreboard porch at Citizens Bank Park. Seeking a topic more exciting than yet another punchless outing from the once-mighty local nine, my adult son, the most intense basketball fan in the family, was bemoaning the talk of using Thaddeus Young as trade bait to move two places in the upcoming draft, his heart-before-head reasoning that the pile of young talent about to be stockpiled by your Philadelphia 76ers needs some type of veteran leadership going forward.

"I'm not sure Thad is that guy," I said.

"Then who?" he asked.

Later that same day, amid a sullen interview session following one final lackluster loss to the San Antonio Spurs, that guy appeared. Still looking exhausted from playing another game of one-on-five-six-seven-eight against the Spurs, LeBron James was noncommittal when asked in several different ways whether he expects to exercise his early termination option, whether he sees himself in South Florida next year.

"I will deal with my summer when I get to that point," he said finally.

Summer officially begins Saturday. LeBron must opt out by July 1 and probably will even if he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh intend to keep Miami's core intact. The speculation is they each would take less to allow Miami the flexibility to add a piece to their roster, although Wade, with $41 million still owed on his deal, didn't seem thrilled with that scenario when asked recently. Getting Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love has been discussed, although an argument could be made that neither would have swung these Finals in Miami's favor.

LeBron seemed to be making that point, in fact, when praising San Antonio after Sunday night's loss. "That's how team basketball should be played," he said. "Selfless. Guys move, cut, pass. You got a shot, you take it, but it's all for the team and it's never about the individual."

From the first time I watched James play in a high school tournament in Trenton, this aspect of his game impressed me more than any other. Regardless of what you think of him, he's a great teammate and floor leader. That day, I believe his team was pitted against a team from LA, a team with its own touted 6-9 star, and when the first half ended James had about nine points, but his team led by double digits. And when the game ended, James had the quietest 50 points a high school player ever scored, achieved not with a ball-hogger's mentality, but rather a winning one.

The Sixers are likely to have about $30 million in cap space to play with this summer. They also will begin next season with four top 10 picks on their roster and Young, provided they don't deal him. James will turn 30 in December and may not want to wait around for all that promise to be realized. On the other hand, he could radically accelerate that maturation process with his play and leadership, and thus secure forever a foothold among the NBA's most revered gods.

Think of the résumé then: Took underwhelming assemblage in Cleveland all the way to the NBA Finals. Centerpiece to Miami's star-laden run of four straight NBA Finals, winning two championships. Veteran messiah in Philadelphia, captaining a team full of budding superstars as they rise from the NBA ashes to a championship, establishing unequivocally his credentials as a winner.

Yeah, he'd have to overlook a few things, starting with that substandard practice facility at PCOM. But if the timeline for the state of the art building in Camden is met, that's a one-season inconvenience. And he'd also be playing for Brett Brown, whose job in San Antonio was both finding and developing those complimentary unselfish players LeBron was so impressed with - Patty Mills, Danny Green, 22-year-old Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

Their play made youngsters out of 38-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and 32-year-old Tony Parker. And James, who played 400 more minutes than any teammate this season and about 1,300 more than the suddenly rickety Wade, had to notice that - when he wasn't pulling his tongue up off the floor.

There are other scenarios that could add to his legacy, including a return to Cleveland, where a young, talented team seeks that final piece or two. But he didn't leave there on great terms, and anything less than a championship going back home would taint his legacy, not enhance it. Similarly there are all kinds of potholes in Los Angeles and New York, and similar restructuring challenges and decisions that would accompany a decision to stay put.

"So do you think there's any chance he'd come here?" my son asked hopefully as Domonic Brown took another big long swing at a third strike.

"Probably not," I said, and I could see the disappointment all over his face.

"But then again, I never thought Jim Thome would come here either," I said. "So what do I know?"

"Yeah," my son said, his mood lightening. "What do you know?"


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

philly.com/SamDonnellon

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

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