Would Lebron really leave Miami?.. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Is Lebron James taking the easy way out?

Today is September 12th, 2013. We are still more than a month away from the first regular season game of the 2013-14 season, yet somehow we find ourselves talking about a decision that can’t be made until July 1st, 2014 at the earliest. Look around, and you’ll find yourself in a similar experience—the 2009 off-season. That’s right, Lebron James is facing free agency once again.

Lebron James is not only the best player in the National Basketball Association, but he is also the most talked about. It’s no surprise that his impending free agency is a hot topic, and it only hurts that we are still in the off-season (people beg for a shorter season–I can only imagine the topics if we had a longer off-season). CBS Sports’ Greg Doyel wrote a column about Lebron’s Decision 2.0 today, and he had an interesting take:

Since he entered the NBA in 2003 LeBron has been chasing Michael Jordan, and he knows he can’t catch him without a bunch of rings. So he took a shortcut in 2010 and it worked. The Heat have won two NBA titles in three years, and they would’ve won a third had LeBron not shrunk during the 2011 NBA Finals.

So here we go again: LeBron’s free agency. This is a tired story already, one we’ve been sick of since it emerged last year as people started to realize, hey, LeBron could leave the Heat soon. There was the talk of his return to Cleveland. The talk of joining the Lakers. There will be more talk of both franchises in the coming months, and I’ll try to refrain from writing on LeBron’s every utterance because at some point I’ll be as sick of this story as you will. Maybe you already are.

Doyel has been known to ruffle some feathers, and this time is no different. In the column, he talks about how Lebron is scared, and just like he did in 2010, he’s looking for the easy way out. This has been talked about for more than just the past year, but basically since he signed with Miami. There is no escaping that this is a story, but are we treating Lebron unfairly? Kobe Bryant, who has also been said to be chasing MJ, also was a free agent back in 2004. Check out this portion from an article Chad Ford wrote back in ’04:

The skinny: Assuming Kobe isn’t serving time in Eagle County, Kobe’s dilemma is this — is there enough money out there from a good team to lure him out of L.A.? I can’t imagine him playing for the Jazz or Nuggets, based on geography more than the make-up of the team. The Spurs, Suns and, to a lesser extent, the Clippers would be more desirable options. The Spurs would be able to get close, if they give up on everyone else. The Suns would need to dump their two first-round picks or another player to get close to what Kobe will be looking for money-wise. The Clippers could get far enough under the cap to make an offer, but will Kobe come? They would be much better with Kobe in the backcourt, but without a point guard or a center, would they be a championship contender? Sign-and-trades are always possible, but the Lakers are in the driver’s seat.

I didn’t see anything about being scared, or about leaving, or even about Michael Jordan. Of course, with context, this is a different scenario. Kobe had legal issues, as well as feuds with Phil Jackson and Shaq, but nonetheless, there was no question of Kobe’s “courage”. Is there a difference in leaving a team, and calling out the management to find better players? Kobe made more headlines in 2007:

The Lakers passed up a possible opportunity to acquire star guard Jason Kidd from the New Jersey Nets at the trade deadline in February because they didn’t want to part with the 19-year-old Bynum — a 7-footer taken with the 10th overall pick in the draft two years ago

“Are you kidding me?” Bryant says in the video before using several profanities in adding that the Lakers should “ship out” Bynum.

Bryant also spoke in negative tones about Kupchak. Bryant called the Lakers’ front office “a mess” in a radio interview the day before first making public his desire to be traded.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Kobe. Being from Southern California, I have had a unique view on his career, and he is no doubt one of the best players of all time. He will get credit for playing for one team his entire career, but it isn’t exactly the perfect marriage. Don’t forget, he also once said “At this point, I’ll go play on Pluto.” Kobe wanted talent with him to help his legacy. Sound familiar?

Lebron James hasn’t exactly helped his own cause. He has a tattoo that reads “The Chosen One”, mirroring his Sports Illustrated cover from his high school days. He can come off as arrogant, and leaving his hometown Cavaliers crushed the state he calls home. James has had his career path chosen for him. He was supposed to be the next great player. He was supposed to win multiple titles with one team, and set every record in the book. Lebron is playing out his legacy in a possession by possession world, where if you want to see millions of reactions to one play, open up social media. Lacking a steady jumpshot, Lebron’s every miss would trend on twitter.

Should James re-sign with the Heat, and then call out the management until he wins again? If Lebron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all opt in, and James never wins a title again, will anyone give him credit for staying? Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin passed the torch to Dr. J, who passed it to Magic and Bird, who passed it to MJ, who passed it to Kobe, and now it’s Lebron’s turn. If he wins less than 5 titles, he will be viewed as great, but he wasn’t Kobe or Michael.

Let’s be honest, the Heat aren’t set up for much success following this season. They were challenged as much as you can be this season, and with a much improving NBA, it will only get harder. Bosh doesn’t know what his role is, Wade is slowed with injuries and age, and it’s not like Pat Riley is rolling in cap space. Lebron leaving would actually make some degree of sense. If he does leave, I won’t blame him, the pressure is heavy on the King. He doesn’t help his case by proclaiming that they won’t win 1, not 2, not 3, etc. He should quit the talking if he is really going to leave, but is he taking the easy way out? Not quite.

Tags: Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade Kobe Bryant Lebron James Los Angeles Lakers Miami Heat Michael Jordan Pat Riley

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