The case for Wizards meeting with LeBron James

The case for Wizards meeting with LeBron James
June 30, 2014, 3:00 pm
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In the summer of 2010, LeBron James made a decision to take his talents from Cleveland to Miami. Before that ill-fated televised announcement, James met with other teams, some contenders, some not. One such squad was the Los Angeles Clippers - even with Donald Sterling locked in as owner. 

It's easy to imagine such a basketball marriage now because the current Clippers are no longer LA's other team and Sterling essentially no longer their owner. "Lob City" has skills, the kind that fills nightly highlight reels.

However, back then, they were coming off a 29-win season. Blake Griffin had yet to play an NBA game. There was no Doc Rivers, no Chris Paul, though there was a Chris Kaman. James called a meeting anyway.

"While James invited the Clippers to meet with him, it's hard to imagine them making a compelling argument for him to sign," the Associated Press reported on July 3, 2010.

[MORE: Wizards likely to bring back Gooden]

Obviously, James didn't join forces with Griffin, but rather Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Yet that public meeting clearly helped the Clippers going forward.

In 2012, ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz wrote about then Clippers general manager Neil Olshey and "The secret behind the LeBron meeting." At the time, agent Leon Rose with Creative Artists Agency represented James.

The meeting with James was vital to Olshey's long-term plan to change the way the top power brokers in basketball regarded the Clippers...

"What it accomplished from an education and relationship standpoint was to accelerate the learning curve for CAA about our organization and where we were trying to go," Olshey said. "You kind of have to educate the marketplace a little bit about how we're not the Clippers and whatever perception you might have of the organization: 'The reality is this. These are the guys we've paid. These are the draft picks we've moved. These are the resources we have. This is the practice facility. This is our cap flexibility.'"

That was the signal Olshey wanted to transmit to players and agents, particularly Rose and his stable of stars: The Clippers could handle themselves at the NBA's adult table. Olshey wasn't a denialist. He knew the history of the franchise and, more important, he knew that you knew that he knew. But he felt deeply that there were assets to be pitched.

"[The meeting with James] was one of the first substantive interactions," Rose said. "The process helped the Clippers and they represented themselves well."

Seventeen months later, the Clippers got their star.

Chris Paul wanted out of New Orleans. He was headed to Los Angeles, but Commissioner David Stern nixed a deal sending the All-Star point guard to the Lakers. Eventually Paul landed with the Clippers and helped turn the perennial losers into title contenders.

Paul didn't initially join as a free agent, but he didn't go kicking and screaming either. He eventually signed a maximum contract to stay. 

From the AP's story on the Clippers setting up the Paul acquisition:

"And sure, the Clippers are still owned by Donald Sterling... But the Clippers have been gathering momentum since Olshey replaced Mike Dunleavy (as general manager) in March 2010, patiently stockpiling good players around 2009 top pick Griffin while making runs at free agents such as LeBron James, who gave them a courtesy meeting last summer before heading to Miami."

The 2014 Wizards are in far, far better position than those 2010 Clippers on and off the court. There is no sketchy reputation to address. There are certainly assets to promote.

There is also this reality: Washington hasn't signed a high-end, All-Star free agent in many, many years. The franchise wasn't in position for such boldness for much of the last two decades. It is now.

John Wall, signed by Washington to a max contract, and Bradley Beal are stars in the making. The team looked imposing and exciting in reaching the second round of the postseason. The nation's capital is no mid-tier, flyover destination.

Those factors alone justify a meeting with top free agents. Not just a meeting for show, but also to talk dough. 

On draft night, I asked Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld about the possible pursuit of the high profile free agents. "We don't know. We'll see how everything is," he said. "We'll feel people out and see where we are."

Re-signing Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza are the Wizards stated top priorities this summer. If the belief is communication elsewhere diminishes the chances of keeping their own, then pull back on the courting as needed. 

Most agree Miami's "Big 3" are staying in South Beach. Therefore this might just be a bunch of words about nothing. Just don't forget that James loves Washington. Perhaps Bosh has a soft spot for the area as well. Carmelo Anthony knows these parts. Perhaps someone should ask if they want to set up shop here, or at least if they want to talk about it, publicly that is.