Is Lebron James costing Cleveland quality free agents?

So first it started with Charlie Villanueva. Then Ron Artest. Then Trevor Ariza. Then Rasheed Wallace. (Not that there was much published reports of Cleveland's interest in Sheed... only fan and blogger interest.)

I posted the following comment on Fear The Sword:

just had this thought...

we know Artest says he chose LA for the weather, the city itself, and his friendship with players like Kobe and Lamar Odom.

But I also wonder… did Artest maybe choose LA over Cleveland because of Lebron himself? Lebron is recruiting players across the country, but I’m sure some players have to be cautious considering Lebron himself hasn’t given Cleveland a true commitment beyond this next season.

Look at it this way. If your Ron Artest, do you sign with the Lakers, who just won a championship, have one of the top two perimeter players in the league, and one of the top 5 post players in the league…. or do you sign with Cleveland, a team on the cusp of the championship, who has one of the top two perimeter players in the league, and one of the top 5 (or 10) post players in the league?

Really, the difference between the two franchises (other than location) is the "What if?" scenario? Kobe is signed beyond next season (he likely will opt out, merely to get his final big contract till he turns 36), Pau is signed for the next 4 years. In Cleveland, neither Lebron nor Shaq will be under contract after this season, and there’s no certainty that either player will be back, especially if the Cavs do not win the championship.

Pretty much, to any free agents looking at Cleveland, do they want to risk being left behind on a lottery team if things go sour this season and Lebron and Shaq bolt? I mean, even Trevor Ariza’s decision makes sense in this light. Why go to Houston, a team with no hope this season, but maybe the season after and beyond? We know why he turned down Portland (he’s still upset over their treatment of him from the Rudy incident), even though they have a better future than Houston. And why turn down Cleveland, who could give him a chance to put it to the Lakers in a possible Finals showdown?

Obviously, this met with some derision in the thread, but we'd be doing the same if someone said Kobe's non-commital status was costing LA free agents (which it hasn't).

But what's interesting is that only a couple of days after I posted this thought, suddenly it has begun to pick up steam, not only amongst fellow fan posters, but also some bloggers and even a ESPN reporter.

I've actually come across another fan who wonders the same thing as me. What is going on in Cleveland? Why can't one of the two best players in the league, along with the most well known NBA athlete since Michael Jordan (Shaq), recruit top level talent to come play for a championship? Boney brings up this point:

Also, does it worry any of you that all of these guys are signing with other teams after LeBron supposedly has meetings with these guys or when Mike Brown contacts them? I mean, there were reports from Windhorst that made it sound like Rasheed, Ariza, Artest, Villenueva, etc were all coming to Cleveland. None of them did. Aside from Villenueva (who got more money than the MLE) how come Ferry or LeBron couldn’t seal the deal? Ariza would’ve been a nightmare for the Eastern Conference if CLE acquired him. Why would he go to Houston when Houston is destined for the lottery next season? You would think if "The King" had as much pull as we’re lead to believe and with as much money as Dan Gilbert is threatening to spend that we’d see Artest in a Cavs’ uni or Ariza in a Cavs’ uni, right?

And then this in a follow-up:

All of the sportswriters say that Cleveland is open for business and making reports of LeBron making trips to see Artest, Ariza talking to Ferry, etc… and then those guys sign elsewhere for the same (or less) money for a team that didn’t have as good a record as Cleveland… especially Houston with Ariza.

Heavy poster Buckeye Brad responds with this:

Ron Artest had a home in LA and always wanted to play there so it was a long shot that he was going to sign in Cleveland anyways. Sure, LeBron met him to recruit him to the Cavs but that didn’t mean he was going to sign here. I never though he was, actually. Villanueva took more money to go to Detroit so you can understand that. The one guy I really wanted in Ariza, and I was puzzled by his signing with a Houston team that has two injured stars (for the same money), but maybe he thought that was his chance to be "they guy" on a team. Who knows what his motivations were, and I wouldn’t suggest we try to guess those motivations.

But now comes a report on ESPN from sometimes Cav-homer Chris Broussard (did anyone look more upset about Artest choosing LA over Cleveland than Broussard?) that Lebron this past Sunday, in a last ditch effort to steal Trevor from his verbal agreement with Houston, told Ariza "I'm staying."

My favorite part of the report? This:

"Trevor asked LeBron if he would be in Cleveland after next season," the source said. "And LeBron said, 'I'll be there. Of course, I'll be there.'"


When James told Ariza he'd be a Cavalier past next season, Ariza was less than convinced.

"He thought it was just a recruiting tool," the source said. "LeBron definitely said it, but until he signs the contract it doesn't mean much."


James' future in Cleveland has been an issue with potential signees.

Artest, whom the Cavaliers had interest in before he agreed to terms with the Lakers, was concerned about signing a multiyear deal with Cleveland because of James' ability to leave in 2010. And even O'Neal, who was traded to the Cavs less than two weeks ago, tried to find out about James' long-term plans with the club during trade talks.

So... thoughts on this? Remember, Shaq becomes a free agent next season, Lebron will (most likely) opt out, Anderson Varejao still is not resigned, and essentially, since Lebron's arrival, what notable free agents has Cleveland signed? Granted, they've been under cap space constraints most of his time wearing the Cavs logo. But every year it seems Cleveland restructures it's roster with yet another trade.


Chris Broussard now reports, according to sources close to Lebron James, the Cleveland star never said he would be playing for the Cavs beyond 2010. So now the question becomes, who's lying, and why? Atleast, why would Ariza lie? He has nothing to gain. And what does Lebron really lose by finally commiting to Cleveland?

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