Part of the hagiography that comes with star NBA players is the notion that every off-season they attempt to improve a part of their game. I think LeBron James decided to focus on his General Manager skills this summer. Except that the brand conscious player-mogul was smart enough to not to want to appear to be as power hungry as Jason Kidd, who fellow narcissists now resent for damaging their image.
James likely gave Pat Riley an ultimatum in their year-end meeting. Major changes, including coaching, would be required for him to come back. The Corleone Godfather would have given James his answer right then and there, perhaps ominously repositioning the Haslem bobblehead. The Heat’s Godfather opted for a more public response.
In effect James had threatened Riley and Mickey Arison, two individuals who have experienced great success, wealth — multi-generational in the former and unable to recall what it’s like to worry about money in the latter — and the respect of their peers. Difficult, but not impossible James assumed.
The next day Riley delivered his unambiguous response in a nationally televised press conference about how it was time to show some guts and stick around, not shop around. The media were thrilled with the quotes but perplexed over the strategy, given that he was dealing with a player who had all the leverage. They overlooked Riley’s real target, James the budding GM, not James the player. Just as James had overlooked the difference between Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert vs Pat Riley and Mickey Arison.
Yesterday Terry Pluto, a Cleveland-based writer, had an article with an interesting perspective. Pluto notes that during James last 4 seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs had paid more in salaries and luxury taxes then the Heat did in his 4 seasons in Miami. Pluto’s point is that the Cavs were willing to do whatever James asked of them, unlike the Heat, as best illustrated by their handling of Mike Miller.
I took away something different than Pluto intended. The Cavs problem was their inability to say no to James, as opposed to not doing enough. As a Cav, James the player could not overcome the moves dictated by James the pseudo-GM.
At least back then James had an established coach to contend with in Cleveland in Mike Brown. If James goes back now, with a rookie coach and new GM, he will own it all. That’s Riley’s cautionary tale to James, along with the FU press conference reminder about the futility of threatening those who have already experienced great success.
At the end of yesterday’s reported meeting meeting between Riley and James, I hope that Riley left a max contract on the table and dispassionately added as he walked away, “If that thing is signed in the morning, I’ll know I have a partner. If not, you need to learn the difference between hiring Moe Greene and Mo Williams. Only one is dangerous, but both can be deadly. But you already knew that.”