RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
LeBron James has been given some lofty titles over the years - the King, the Chosen One, Best Basketball Player on the Planet. You may add to that list de facto GM of the Cavaliers. The NBA's free agency period started today. James is a free agent. That means he could go and play anywhere he wants. Now, no one thinks he'll leave Cleveland, but he hasn't signed yet. And the word that trickles from his camp is that he's waiting to see if the Cavaliers can build a championship team around him. Joining us now is longtime NBA reporter Bob Ryan. Hey, Bob. Thanks for being with us.
BOB RYAN: Well, you're welcome.
MARTIN: We don't know specifically how much input LeBron James has here, but he does have sway. Is it safe to say no NBA player has had this much power over a team?
RYAN: Yes, it is. There's a unique circumstance here, which is that he's hometown. And there's a mutual circumstance here. I think one reason why most of us think he will not leave Cleveland is that he has now recast himself in a positive light after having cast himself in a very negative light the way he departed Cleveland. And now he's back, and he's the savior. Of course, he's from Akron. He's local. And would he risk sullying his long-term reputation, his ultimate reputation, by being cast as a villain again by abandoning Cleveland in the lurch, leaving the bride at the altar a second time? I don't think so.
MARTIN: You think not.
MARTIN: (Laughter). So is this a testament to the immense stardom of this man - this singular player, LeBron James - or is this a sign of something that could happen elsewhere with a different player?
RYAN: Having said what I said about the power that Cleveland has over him, his power is unprecedented because he is the best player in the game with multiple skills. And he can help anybody out there be a, quote, unquote, "better player" by the nature of his game and the vast array of his skills. And he's someone that anyone would want to play with. And he also is a showman. He's a pitch man. He's a walking public relations advertisement for Northeast Ohio. He makes money for people. You know, they're talking in terms of when the new NBA contract kicks in in a couple of years and a new TV deal takes hold, that his next contract - not this one; this is going to be a one-year bridge contract - would be for upwards of 40 - I said four zero - million a year. That's how valuable he is.
MARTIN: Is a player having this much power a good thing for a team?
RYAN: Oh no, no. I mean, there - not - no, it certainly isn't. Number one, he has, apparently, overruled the coach on numerous occasions during this past season, and there's an open question as to whether or not coach Dave Blatt will even return. Not that he isn't under contract, not that he didn't take a team within two games of winning a championship, but because he has incurred LeBron's displeasure to the extent that we hear - and it has been reported that he has - it would be an easy call who you would retain. You would retain LeBron James.
MARTIN: The Cavs were two wins away from an NBA title this year. That was with a ton of injuries on their team. So do they really have to do that much work to build up a team that can win a championship?
RYAN: They do not. They need tinkering on the edges. And in fact, I am one of the many who believe that had Kyrie Irving specifically not gotten hurt, that they may have had enough wherewithal to win the championship this year. They're right there.
MARTIN: Former Boston Globe columnist, long-time NBA reporter, Bob Ryan. Thanks so much, Bob.
RYAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.