Bulls, Cavs prepared to fight for LeBron
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) – The preliminary bouts are finished. It’s time for the main event in the fight for LeBron James, free agent extraordinaire.
Chicago vs. Cleveland.
To the winner, the crowned King. Maybe.
With New Jersey, New York, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers having come and gone after making their pitches to land James, the Bulls and Cavaliers – considered co-favorites entering the summer’s LeBronathon – will have opportunities to convince the reigning MVP that they are the team for him.
The Cavs will go first at 11 a.m. on Saturday, when they will remind the Ohio-born, Akron-bred superstar that there’s no place like home.
The Bulls will follow at 2:30 p.m.
Chicago is counting on making a lasting impression as the last team through the door. The Bulls will tout their roster with young star guard Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. And Chicago could be working on a trump card to drop on James’ table if it gets a commitment from another high-profile free agent such as Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, a potential coup that could deliver James.
It seems to be coming down to the wire, but James is not feeling any pressure to make a decision.
According to a person familiar with James’ options, he has no timetable to announce where he’ll play next. The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the meetings, denied reports James had set July 5 as a deadline.
He might be close to deciding. Just not yet.
While other teams have made splashy presentations to James over the past two days at his business offices in downtown Cleveland, the Cavs have been making themselves more appealing to him. On Friday, they introduced Byron Scott as their coach, and he didn’t waste any time making a prediction on where he thinks James is headed.
“I think at the end of the day, he’s going to make the right decision, and he’ll be here in Cleveland for the rest of his career,” said Scott, who insisted he did not consult with James before agreeing to a contract. “His legacy of winning championships in his hometown will be like nothing he’s seen in his life.
“There’s nothing like winning at home. I won three titles in my hometown, and there’s not a better feeling.”
The Cavs will tug at James’ heart on Saturday. They are asking Cleveland fans to line East 9th Street and form a tunnel to welcome James to his meeting. Fans will carry signs saying “Home,” and the team is hoping the message hits James where he lives.
On Friday, he listened intently to presentations by the Heat and Clippers.
Miami used every precious second of its promised time with the King – and then some.
Team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra, billionaire owner Micky Arison and former center Alonzo Mourning spent nearly three hours meeting with James, trying to convince him to continue his career in sunny South Florida under the palm trees and the state’s friendly income tax laws.
The majority of Miami’s delegation arrived at 10:20 a.m. James showed up two minutes before the scheduled 11 a.m. looking like a summer camp counselor in T-shirt, shorts and a backpack.
At 1:50 p.m., the Heat’s brass paraded single file through the lobby of the IMG building without saying a word. Before getting in their cars, they passed the Clippers’ two-man contingent of acting general manager Neil Olshey and executive Andy Roeser.
Olshey joked that Riley went into overtime with James.
“We showed up on time,” Olshey said. “Riles went a little late. He has more to say. He’s written a few books, so maybe they were going over his motivational strategies.”
Roeser didn’t care what they were talking about.
“We were happy to see they left empty handed,” he said.
The Clippers wrapped up their meeting with James in about an hour. When they concluded, James was asked how things were going as he headed out the door.
“Good,” he said.
Riley felt the same way.
“This is a very fluid process,” said Riley, who wore his 2006 NBA championship ring, one of seven he owns. “We’ve had five meetings across the country in the span of 40 hours. We will continue with the process. It’s still early in free agency, but we feel very good with how our presentations have gone thus far.”
The second day of LeBronmania didn’t have as much star power.
On Thursday, James met with the Nets, who brought Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and hip hop superstar Jay-Z. The Knicks showed James a series of videos from fans and celebrities and both teams focused on basketball – and billions – during their discussions with James and his agent, Leon Rose.
The presentations were designed to show James how much more money he could make outside of Cleveland.
The Heat, who are more than $40 million under the salary cap, had a different strategy.
Riley’s pitch focused on the possibility of him playing with Wade, a U.S. Olympic teammate and friend. The Heat also have talked about uniting the two with Bosh, who was in the same draft class as James and Wade. Riley also praised working for a willing-to-spend, not-willing-to-meddle owner in Arison and talked about what it meant to be part of the Heat family, something to which Mourning can attest.
And Riley also speaks about building a dynasty, the word he’s been using with Heat fans for months.
Given all that, these days could largely define a huge portion of Riley’s Heat legacy.
“We feel very strongly about our commitment to Dwyane and our fans,” said Riley.
James granted the Clippers an audience, but it’s hard to imagine them making a more compelling argument for him to sign with Southern California’s “other” NBA team.
The club does have a nice core group of young players, including center Chris Kaman, forward Blake Griffin (a No. 1 draft pick in 2009) and guards Baron Davis and Eric Gordon. The Clippers also trumpeted Hollywood and the potential of adding wealth in the entertainment industry.
While other teams had more theatrical displays, the Clippers kept things simple as they showed LeBron why he should love L.A.
“We had a DVD, and it showed all the places that he’s already eaten, all the beaches he’s already gone to and all the clubs he already knows about and all the business opportunities he’ll be able to engage in,” Olshey said. “But what’s important is Baron Davis and Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman as his starting five. That’s what’s important to him. He’s well educated on that. He knows our team.”
That’s what the Cavs are counting on, too.
James knows them better than anyone – vice versa.
“We all know – and LeBron knows – how important he is here,” Cavs GM Chris Grant said during a news conference. “We’ve established a championship-caliber culture. We’ve won a lot of games the last few years. I feel we’re knocking on the door.”
AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.