How can we fairly decide who has the best supporting cast for LeBron James? Someone bothered to answer this question finally, and the results are perfectly in line with what I've been saying for a year now. Finally, someone actually crunched some damn numbers, the guys at Basketball Prospectus, to be exact, and I will share it with you. Here is the study they undertook...
"What this involves is a comprehensive valuation of all of a team's assets--players, future draft picks and cap space. Think of this as an objective version, if less comprehensive, of ESPN's future power rankings (Insider). Underlying this effort is the use of three-year WARP projections based on the 10 most similar players from our SCHOENE projection system. Draft picks were valued using the average performance of past players by pick number, and cap space is generally valued at 1 WARP for each $2.5 million of room, a figure based on the historic efficiency of the free-agent market."
So what they did, is look at a team's cap room, draft pick status, and current roster, before LeBron shows up, and added up their WARP, wins above replacement level, to see what kind of team they would be before they got LeBron, over the next 3 years. I'll save you the nitty gritty, and present to you the projected win-loss records of every team with enough cap room to offer LeBron a max deal (except Sacto, who isn't going to offer a max deal to anyone) over the next three seasons, taking all the factors into account. The leader will surprise some of you, but not me, it's what I've been saying all along.
I'll take the WARP out of it and present to you what the BP study predicts their actual record to be over the next three years. and share some choice comments. Remember, these records are BEFORE LeBron. Based on WARP, LeBron was worth 25.3 (!!!!) wins to the Cavs this year, so any team that gets LeBron can expect to be much better then their pre-LeBron projection.
Worst - Washington Wizards:
2010-2011 record: 27-55
2011-2012 record: 29-53
2012-2013 record: 32-50
Total before LeBron: 88 wins over the next 3 years
The projections see Wall emerging as a force by year 3, but Gilbert dropping as Wall grows. McGee and Blache are the only talents on the roster, everyone else is a dud, their 4th best player over the next 3 years is projected to be their 2011 first round pick, and their 6th best player the 2010 first rounder they own from Cleveland. Ouch.
Second worst - Chicago Bulls:
2010-2011 record: 35-47
2011-2012 record: 35-47
2012-2013 record: 32-50
Total before LeBron: 102 wins over the next 3 years
One of the most interesting things I saw in this study was the fact that Noah's career resembles guys who peaked early up to this point. The projections are very bearish on Captain Ugly being even a good player by 2012-2013. Now, you can argue that Noah will stay at the level he was this year bare minimum, which would mean the Bulls would instead win 39, 42, and 39 games over the next 3 years without LeBron. Well, that's still a sub .500 record, which honestly is exactly what the Bulls are. We get so caught up in one tough 5 game series they had with the Cavs in the postseason, and forget how awful they looked after they traded Salmons. Deng, Gibson, James Johnson, and Hinrich are the only pieces the Bulls currently have worth anything not named Noah or Rose. This cold look at the numbers keeps in mind a fact many of you are forgetting, the Bulls are a team scrapping to get into the playoffs right now, which is pretty much exactly what the Cavs are without LeBron.
However, don't fret Chicago, remember, even when you don't get LeBron, you will get somebody, and when they add on to your 34 win nucleus, you will be a perennial playoff contender, unlike Cleveland will, who can't add anything of note after LeBron walks.
Speaking of the Cavs....
Third Worst - Cleveland Cavs:
2010-2011 record: 35-47
2011-2012 record: 34-48
2012-2013 record: 34-48
Total before LeBron: 103 wins over the next 3 years
Will you look at that? Without LeBron, the Cavs arn't a playoff team! Who could have foreseen this? Oh, I've been saying it all season. Granted, the projections think lowly of players like Jamison three years down the line, since he is getting old fast, and the projection things nothing of J.J. Hickson next year, which is about what I think of him. But the projection also thinks Mo Williams is worth like 5 more wins then Devin Harris is worth, so it goes both ways. Point is, Cavs are not a good team without LeBron. In fact, without LeBron, the Cavs are pretty much the Bulls, and that's not a compliment.
Middle of the pack - Los Angeles Clippers:
2010-2011 record: 38-44
2011-2012 record: 40-42
2012-2013 record: 41-41
Total before LeBron: 119 wins over the next 3 years
Before you ask, the projections think Blake Griffin will be a stud. In fact, they have him worth almost exactly as many wins as they have Derrick Rose worth (they are both former #1's from back to back years after all..why not similar projections?). And oddly enough, it feels Eric Gordon is as valuable as Joakim Noah. Think what you will about that, but clearly Davis, Kaman, DeAndre Jordan, and the picks the Clippers own are far better then anything else the Bulls have, and considering the Clippers have nobody at SF, meaning they don't give up any wins to get LeBron's wins, and it's clear the Clippers would be a very good option for LeBron. The fact the Clippers are projected as a .500 team for the next 3 years is pretty nice for the franchise, a testament to the fact they are talented, no doubt. However, there are better options for LeBron...
Third best - Miami Heat:
2010-2011 record: 40-42
2011-2012 record: 43-39
2012-2013 record: 44-38
Total before LeBron: 127 wins over the next 3 years
This is with Wade on the team, of course. Even without anyone new added, the Heat are projected to be a playoff team, something that was proven this season when Wade took those bums as far as they could go. Mario Chalmers is actually a pretty solid player in these projections, who knew? Even Beasley is projected to be as valuable as Baron Davis, a surprise to me. This projection also makes the assumption that Miami uses some of it's cap room to resign Dorrell Wright, who was a quality wing that the Heat are very unlikely to find better then for the price Wright would cost. But this is a good nucleus for LeBron.
Second best - New Jersey Nets:
2010-2011 record: 39-43
2011-2012 record: 43-39
2012-2013 record: 47-35
Total before LeBron: 129 wins over the next 3 years
Lopez, Harris, the #3 overall pick, $10 million in cap room to spend in addition to a max contract, and a couple ok players like The Chairman make New Jersey a very talented roster moving forward. For the record, these projections think nothing of Courtney Lee or Chris Douglas-Roberts, I doubt many will disagree with that. The Nets have little outside shooting, so they may be a better team on paper for LeBron then they would be in reality, but overall, the Nets are projected to be pretty good. Better then I project them, I'll say that for sure.
Best - New York Knicks:
2010-2011 record: 41-41
2011-2012 record: 51-31
2012-2013 record: 47-35
Total before LeBron: 139 wins over the next 3 years
Now this projection assumes (correctly) the Knicks are getting Chris Bosh. Bosh including the Knicks on his list of teams he would accept a sign and trade to, and the Knicks being the team that has David Lee to send back in return, makes this matchup most likely. But the moral is, Bosh alone makes the Knicks a .500 ballclub next year, and after that, him alone makes the Knicks a home court contender, and that's considering nobody is signed with that second max player cap room.
Why the huge jump from 10-11 to 11-12? Two reasons. One is that Eddy Curry comes off the books, allowing the Knicks to sign a guy who is projected to add 4 wins in 11-12, and 4 in 12-13. The other is because Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker, Wilson Chandler, and Toney Douglas are all young. They are projected as good players next year, and only to get better. People discount the Knicks talent, but everyone who is left on the Knicks roster is a talent that matters. Toss in Bosh, and you got a team full of guys who are above average basketball players, then consider the cap space for a $10 million guy, and the roster only gets better. And if the Knicks can flip Curry's expiring for that $10 million guy sooner, you can add more wins onto the total.
Now I know, basketball isn't played in a computer, blah blah blah. You can have whatever opinion you want. But how interesting is it that when someone actually crunches the numbers on what team is the best, considering the cap room, the draft pick status, and the players, not just from last year, but over the next three years, accounting for their age, and does so by using already defined stats as a measuring point, that the Knicks are clearly the best destination for LeBron James ON the court to play for?
Bottom line, everyone can shout their opinion on who has the best team for LeBron to play with to the high heavens, it don't mean a thing to anyone. But someone actually did a study to find the answer, and they agree with me, so everyone who wants to put down the Knicks as a team is free to find a unbias study that shows me that their team is the best destination, or they can eat it.
When the numbers show that LeBron can win the most on the court with New York, combined with what New York offers off the court, what chance does anyone else have of signing the back to back MVP?