Thank freakin' goodness, sports fans. We can now return to our regularly scheduled obsessions. After years of speculation, weeks of anticipation and several days of feverish, obsessive anxiety, LeBron James announced on what amounted to an infomercial about him that he will join the Miami Heat next season. He will join guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh to form one of the best three-player nuclei in NBA history. The incredibly dull, exasperating and overwrought 70-minute program brought to an end one round of high-profile questions, but James' decision launches another set of questions in motion. Here are a few answers.
Are the 2010-11 Miami Heat the favorites to win the title?
No. Not yet, at least. The NBA isn't a three-on-three league, and I don't think it's going to become one anytime soon. At present, the Heat have five players under contract, and they just gave away Michael Beasley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft to try to fit James and Bosh under their salary cap. Team President Pat Riley has his work cut out for him filling out the roster with something better than D-League caliber talent. Depth matters a lot in the NBA regular season, a grind that will often include stretches where the team will play four games in five nights in four different cities. It may actually take a year or even two to build enough of a rotation to make this championship caliber nucleus into a championship caliber team.
Is this the best threesome in NBA history on one team?
We won't know until they play together, but it seems reasonable to assume that at worst Wade, Bosh and James will be one of the best. Economist David Berri, author of The Wages of Wins, developed a Wins Produced formula and crunched the numbers projecting the Heat's 2010-11 season. The Heat trio finished behind three of the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls title teams of the '90s, and one of the Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale Boston Celtic teams of the '80s. Still, that's like a jazz pianist being compared to Thelonious Monk after one recording.
What now for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
The party is over, and for a few days there will be anger, frustration and recrimination. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert posted this hilarious letter last night on the team's Web site. The good thing is that new coach Byron Scott has taken two teams from the lottery to the playoffs, so the Cavaliers are in experienced hands. The smart thing to do would be to fire sale as much as possible of this team to other clubs with cap room and build through the draft. It sounds like an arduous task, but it's been done recently; by the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Pritchard, the general manager who built the Blazers is a free agent, so to speak. Once the hangover clears, hiring him would probably be a great first step in the rebuilding process.
It seems likely. The experience of playing together on the national team from 2006 to 2008 confirmed that Wade, James and Bosh are as adept at being role players as they are at being the focal point of a team's offense.
What does this do for James' legacy?
The current hullabaloo defies logic. After seven years of playing the role of hometown hero trying to bring a title to the beleaguered fans of Cleveland, which hasn't hosted a professional sports title since 1964, James has decided to take less money to play on a very promising team with two other top players in Miami. None of that should vilify him outside of Ohio, yet LeBron is getting more hate than the people involved in the Oscar Grant trial verdict. I suspect that this is pent-up irritation with the process than it is with the person. In other words, if James was a stock, then this is the time to buy; he might always carry the stain of leaving Cleveland, but his stature as a great ball player should be repaired before next winter's All-Star game.
Will this media circus become an annual ritual of the NBA off-season?
Fortunately, I doubt it. This off-season resulted from the confluence of some unique events: the incredible 2003 draft, the opportunity for three team-oriented players to play together on the national squad during the World Championships and the Olympics, and the current financial structure of the NBA. Carmelo Anthony, the prized unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011, doesn't seem to have LeBron's or even D-Wade's love of the spotlight. It's hard to imagine him doing more than a routine 20-minute press conference to announce his decision. Kevin Durant would be the prize of a free agent class in 2012, but he signed a contract extension this week that will keep him in an Oklahoma City uniform until 2015. The next collective bargaining agreement will almost certainly "harden" the salary cap, which will change player movement and payroll management in the league.
What happened this week was a once in a lifetime situation that resulted from the courageous work of Oscar Robertson. It was The Big O's lawsuit against the NBA 40 years ago that paved for free agency, and this week amounted to a garish celebration of self determination by athletes. It wasn't pretty, but it is over.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.