Cavaliers

LeBron James' Status as a Legend Depends on His Free Agency

| by The Sports Columnist

The options must be enticing, like walking a buffet lined with Filet Mignon, the best ribeye and the freshest seafood.

Play in Chicago alongside one of the best young point guards for the next 10, 15 years.

Head to South Beach to run cats up and down the floor with D-Wade, one of the top five players in the game.

Compared to whom he's played with in Cleveland, LeBron James' options come the opening of free agency at midnight tonight are ridiculous. Put James next to Wade, or receiving alley-oops from Derrick Rose, or in a frontcourt with Chris Bosh, and he's undoubtedly on the favorite to win the next 13 NBA championships (give or take).

But aren't we forgetting about one less glamorous option? Yet an option that James still has the most to gain from in terms of his place in NBA history.

Yes, Cleveland.

Over the last couple months, I've been reading Bill Simmon's gigantic "Book of Basketball," an epic, thoroughly thorough history of the NBA. In it, Simmons ranks his different pyramids of the league's top players from 1-100. I believe James was somewhere in the 20s.

With the talent James possesses, there's no way he shouldn't end up in the top 5 with Jordan, Russell, Kareem and Magic/Bird (although Kobe's making a bid for a top spot, now, as well). The only way James could sabotage his legacy, to an extent, would be to play his best years alongside another top-five current player in his prime, such as Wade.

Think about it -- nobody was talking about Bryant as one of the best Lakers when he won three consecutive championships beside Shaquille O'Neal. Only when he ditched Shaq -- or had management do it, to be politically correct -- and finally won a couple as the team's unquestioned leader did this conversation of Bryant as the Greatest Laker begin.

If James plays alongside Wade, he'll have to share the praise after each championship. Wade is that good. This wouldn't be a Scottie Pippen-M.J. situation in which Pippen was a great player, but no one ever questioned who the leader was or whose hands the ball belonged in at the end. This would be completely different if James played with Wade or even the younger Rose, who will only get better and always want the ball in his hands.

To a lesser extent, the same would be true if James were to pair up with Bosh, as many experts have speculated. While Bosh wouldn't be handling the ball at the end of games, I'm sure the ball would go through him on plenty of possessions.

I have no idea what's going to make this decision for James. If I had to guess, I'd think he will pair up with another star. He hasn't shown the Jordan or Bryant singular thirst for championships, and at times during crucial games has seemed content to let the Mo Williams of the world run the offense. Maybe he doesn't care so much about always being the alpha dog, about everything being about him.

But if James truly wants to be remembered in the same breath as Jordan and Bryant -- and, no, he won't reach Russell status even if he plays with a Wade, Rose or Bosh, because no one in this era is coming close to the legend's 11 titles -- he needs to stay in Cleveland, be the man all the time, put up ridiculous numbers and start winning championships.

It's the most difficult route he could take, but it would also certainly be the most fulfilling road to legend status.

Oh, and Cleveland might just name itself after him.

So what's it going to be, LeBron?