On Tuesday morning, LeBron James ensured all eyes would remain on him this offseason when he informed the Miami Heat that he is opting out of the final two years of his current contract with the team to become a free agent. A report by Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post followed shortly thereafter, citing league sources that indicate the Denver Nuggets will take a shot at luring the mega-star to the Mile High City:
“The Nuggets…will line up and make their pitch, along with pretty much every other team in the league. Nuggets executives have said they will be aggressive trying to improve the roster — no matter how much of a long shot it is. The leaders to land James are widely believed to be Miami, Houston, Chicago, Dallas and possibly the Los Angeles Lakers. But a host of other teams, such as the Nuggets, will be doing everything they can to figure out a way to get him interested in at least taking a look.”
Look, we all know the odds of LeBron bringing his talents to Denver are slim to none, but if the Nuggets don’t at least throw their hats into the ring, the front office would lose all credibility with fans the next time they talk about wanting to build a championship contender in Denver. The Carmelo Anthony situation (and to a lesser extent, the short-lived Andre Iguodala experiment) forced Nuggets fans to face a difficult truth: The NBA’s biggest and brightest stars aren’t interested in putting down roots near the Rocky Mountains. While I firmly believe Denver is the greatest city on earth, for whatever reason it doesn’t meet enough of the requirements star players are looking for when it comes time to pick their next destination. Cities like Miami, L.A. and New York offer players bright lights and 24-hour lifestyles. Boston boasts one of the most storied franchises in sports and — love ‘em or hate ‘em — has some of the most passionate sports fans in the country. And Houston is a franchise that’s shown it’s willing to spend big bucks to bring stars to their neck of the woods. Sadly, Denver remains a second-teir NBA city, and until a superstar player chooses to play here on his own accord, that isn’t likely to change.
So is it a waste of time for Tim Connelly and his staff to chase LeBron? Yes and no. They likely know they aren’t on LeBron’s radar as he considers his next landing spot. But pursing him in earnest is important to the franchise and its fans. If they put together a solid pitch for LeBron, he may not choose to come to Denver, but it could show stars who enter free agency over the coming years that Denver is a viable potential destination run by a group of execs who are committed to building a winning culture in the city. And for us fans it proves that, no matter the odds, the team is actively trying to improve and elevate the franchise from good to great, and take the steps required to one day bring a championship to our little mountain cow town.
It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but imagine what would have happened if the Denver Broncos hadn’t gone all in during the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. The Broncos still might be a team searching for an identity while slugging it out with the other also-rans to simply make the playoffs. Instead, John Elway and his staff pushed all their chips into the center of the table and managed to bring one of the NFL’s biggest stars to town, immediately putting them in the SuperBowl conversation. That’s the outcome Connelly needs to remember as he chases LeBron, and he needs to be willing to gamble just like Elway did.
When all the hubbub dies down, I fully expect LeBron to suit up for a team other than the Denver Nuggets next season (and I honestly think he’ll end up back in Miami with a restructured contract that gives the team flexibility to bring in key pieces to retool their aging lineup). But I’ll be content with the Nuggets swinging and missing on LeBron, so long as they swing for the fences.