As the clock expired Saturday night on the Clippers’ dramatic 102-101 loss to Cleveland, LeBron James was gracefully playing the role of NBA statesman. After he embraced teammate Mo Williams in victory, he strolled over to a disappointed Eric Gordon.
“[James] told me to keep on playing hard,” Gordon said. “He said I’m getting better and better each year he sees me play and just keep it up.”
Earlier in the evening, James offered Blake Griffin some “words of encouragement,” according to the Clippers’ rookie.
I make it a matter of personal policy not to speculate on James’ whereabouts post-June 2010. His circle of confidantes is notoriously small and most of the guesswork at this point amounts to nothing more than a high-grade parlor game.
This much we know: If the Clippers take on no major salary commitments between now and summer, they will have the cap space to compete with the teams you hear most frequently mentioned as potential suitors for James’ services. Whether or not James would consider the Clippers is another matter, but J.A. Adande thinks he should:
The Clippers are committed to $39 million in salary for next season, and would be willing to clear up a little more room under the salary cap to offer James a contract worth about $100 million over five years. That’s about the same amount he could get with any of the other cap-space-clearing teams such as New York, Miami and Chicago.
What none of them could provide is as talented and deep a surrounding lineup as the Clippers, who could send out Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Griffin for the opening tip alongside LeBron. There would be All-Stars, former All-Stars or potential All-Stars at every position…
The bottom line is James will get paid a lot of money to play basketball no matter where he does it. The true variables are talent and market, and L.A. offers as good as he can hope for in both cases…
It could be an easy fit.
James has been enjoying the L.A. scene since he was hanging at the ESPY Awards the summer he graduated from high school. This city already loves him. He pulled more than 19,000 fans into Staples Center on Saturday night, a number only Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have been able to match this season. There were all varieties of LeBron James jerseys (the Cavaliers have more outfits than Lady Gaga) in the stands.
James has the showmanship Los Angeles craves. He was flipping shots in over his head in pregame warm-ups; he’s ready to break out that huge grin at a moment’s notice, or scowl for effect after a fear-inducing dunk…
LRMR, the talent agency that represents James’ corporate profile, has defined as its mission to make the superstar a “global icon.” On the website, the company’s logo reads, “LRMR: Innovative Marketing & Branding.”
It strikes me that signing with the Clippers would present James with one of the great rebranding challenges in the history of pro sports, if not the broader landscape of corporate imaging. Fair or not, the Clipper brand doesn’t command much respect in the marketplace — though it’s important to note the Clips are a healthy franchise financially. Adding James could make the Clippers one of the most potentially sophisticated rebranding stories since Tylenol, nuclear energy and John Mayer.
I’m not naive enough to believe that rebranding challenge is anywhere near the top of the list of criteria when James ultimately chooses his next home. But if he wants to truly gauge the impact of his personal brand in the consumer marketplace, signing with the Clips would be the utmost test.