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LeBron James to New Jersey or Brooklyn? No, and not quite

In the run-up to tonight's New Jersey Nets home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a lot of sportswriters are speculating whether Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who becomes a free agent in 2010, would stay put in Cleveland, just down the road from his hometown of Akron, or move to the bigger cities of New York or Los Angeles, where he could become even more of a brand.

There are a couple of variables. First is money. Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst writes:
Out of all those teams, none can pay James more than the Cavs. Second, as of now, the team most of the speculation surrounds, the New York Knicks, is not one of the teams with the needed space.

While the Cavs could sign James to a $133 million multi-year contract in 2010, other teams could pay only about $102 million.

But the money issue isn't dispositive. After all, on a bigger stage, James could earn more endorsement money.

Also, at a certain point, additional cash is less important than lifestyle (James likes Cleveland, but he might also like a bigger city) and the opportunity to win.

What about the Nets?

Rebuilding in basketball is a chess game, and the Cavs have been trying to build a winning cast around James. Will they get it right in two years?

The Knicks have retooled their offense but not their lineup, while the Nets, with James's friend, superstar Jay-Z, as a part-owner, have made wholesale changes, with a suite of promising young players.

But they don't have a new building. Former shoe executive Sonny Vaccaro told the New York Times today:
“LeBron’s relationship with Jay-Z will go on regardless,” Vaccaro said. “He’ll be an international celebrity in New York. If the Nets aren’t in Brooklyn, he’s not going over there for even $200 million. They’re putting pieces together. They’re doing the right things. They’re just living in the wrong building.”

Brooklyn, 2011?

The Record's Al Iannazzone speculates:
So does James, because of his strong relationship with Jay-Z, forgo the Knicks, wait another season and play for his meager 2010 salary to align his star with the hip-hop mogul and part-owner of the Nets one year later in Brooklyn?

It would have to be a perfect storm.

First, the Nets have to make sure they’re in Brooklyn. Two, they may have to clear more money...

But the arena can't get built by 2011. My calculation is that, even if lawsuits are cleared by mid-2009, the 32-month construction timetable suggests a best-case opening in March 2012.