At ESPN Los Angeles, I file a brief on behalf of the Clippers for LeBron James’ services. Some excerpts:
James shares some culpability for Cleveland’s embarrassing Eastern Conference semifinals loss to Boston, but James didn’t fail a test of character nor did he fall victim to a civic curse. The loss to Boston was a basketball failure. If James wants to remedy that, he’ll look at the candidates for his services and make a quantitative basketball decision based with a single question in mind: Which team has the best supporting cast to maximize his talents?
…For reasons that range from the historical to the theoretical, the Los Angeles Clippers have been removed from the list by most observers. Yet, the Clippers’ primary assets — a strong foundation at four positions and the financial flexibility — have never been more relevant to the discussion of James’ future. We’ve learned that James is human, that if surrounded by mediocre talent, his team will produce less-than-desired results. For James to win a championship, a few essential ingredients on the floor are required. From a basketball standpoint, the Clippers can give James what he needs.
No other team in pursuit of James has a better 2-through-5 set at the four other spots on the floor.
James’ four teammates would include two guys younger than him in Griffin and Gordon, and two older veterans in Davis and Kaman. James would be the true fulcrum of a complete starting unit that can dominate on the glass, guard the perimeter (and excel defensively overall under the right coach), run in transition and pick defenses apart in the half court both inside and out.
Behind that starting five, the Clippers will have another top-10 draft pick and curio DeAndre Jordan in development, along with a few vets who will happily accept the minimum to play in Los Angeles behind James.
The most important question a Clippers team composed of James, Davis, Gordon, Griffin and Kaman will pose to opposing coaches is this: Who are you going to leave to help on LeBron?
James’ addition would allow Kaman to return to the low block, where he’s most efficient. Opponents have to guard James so tightly on the perimeter that Kaman will pick up a couple of opportunities per game just by being under the glass or along the baseline inside of 15 feet.
Gordon won’t have to force the issue, as he started doing when the Clips desperately needed a bucket last season, which was often. Instead, the third-year guard can settle into being a lethal weak side threat alongside two phenomenal passers who know where to find him.
Griffin is a natural force and a much better option for James than a stretch-4 who can’t stretch or guard. Stoudemire was the right fit for the Cavs at the deadline. James would get many of Stoudemire’s assets with Griffin, a dedicated kid who will be eager and willing to sculpt his game around James and defend as if his life depends on it.
Skeptics might ask what about Davis? Is he willing to sublimate his ego to become the second (or even third) banana? Davis has already tacitly recognized that, on the other side of 30, he’s no longer a No. 1 option for a successful NBA team. He moderated his shot selection somewhat in 2009-10, an adjustment that lifted his efficiency numbers even as his usage rate dropped to its lowest level since 2002-03. He’d love nothing more than to graduate into a Jason Kidd-like role provided he has a closer he can pass to.
The loss to Boston taught James and the rest of us that breadth and depth of talent are far more important to a team’s success than anything else. That doesn’t mean James and his advisors are wrong to consider things like endorsement potential, livability, the voraciousness of the local press corps, proximity to Akron, ownership or a franchise’s historical legacy in the decision-making process.
But if James is truly interested in surrounding himself with four teammates who have a full range of talents to complement his game and embody a smart mix of youth and experience, he’d be short-sighted not to give the Clippers a very, very close look.
The story includes some more specific basketball arguments. You can read it in its entirety here.