Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why Is LeBron James in 2010 is so Coveted in 2008?

Many sports enthusiasts are complaining about the vetting for LBJ in 2010 (see here and here). Here is a common sentiment about what is happening from Peter King:

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. If I read one more story about where LeBron James might play two years from now, I'm going to puke.

b. Really: In what other sport are the next two seasons rendered totally meaningless for a cornerstone-of-the-league franchise like the New York Knickerbockers?

c. It's everywhere -- on talk radio, on SportsCenter, in columns, endlessly in every New York paper and Web site. I keep reading how smart and prescient the Knicks were for decimating their current team (playing with seven players Friday and Saturday night) and clearing out enough cap space for this great player, LeBron James.

So, why are teams willing to crash and burn for 2 years to make way for the possibility of signing King James? Rather than treating NBA teams like they are being irrational, lets think of a rational reason to engage in this behavior. I think this strategy would make the most sense if the NBA were more dynasty prone than other leagues (to win more than one championship over consecutive or nearly consecutive years). Here are lists of Championships on the NBA, MLB, and NFL championship lists. Consider the last 20 years of the NBA (07-08 is missing, but Celtics beat Lakers):
As we can see, not only do teams that win one tend to make a reappearance in the following years, but their MVP's tend to be repeating as well. So one fantastic player seems to be very key in not just getting to the big dance once, but it also seems to have lasting value. Is it worth giving up 2 years of good play for the shot at someone who can bring you many good years? Probably if you don't expect to be much of a contender anyway. Eyeballing against the other major leagues, this seems to be considerably less prevalent in MLB and the NFL.

My judgment is that LBJ-seeking is probably a very rational strategy, but unfortunate probably for fans.

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