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Today's NBA is so much about LeBron, nothing moves till alpha dog does

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For years there has been talk of updating the NBA logo, of replacing that vintage silhouette of Jerry West with something less vintage, more modern and representative of today's NBA. And today, the replacement is clear:

LeBron James.

Just put LeBron in there, and don't bother with the silhouette. Make the logo his No. 6 Heat jersey. Make it his No. 23 Cavaliers jersey. Hell, go one better than that and make the logo LeBron's face. That means LeBron would be on every jersey in the league, but that's more representative of today's NBA than anything else the NBA could put there.

LeBron's the league. I'd say he's the tail wagging the dog, but that doesn't seem right. He's the dog unto himself. Everyone else is the tail, being led around by LeBron as he sniffs the landscape, noses through everyone's stuff and then lifts his leg and marks his territory.

And it's not LeBron's fault. This is not an attack on LeBron. It's not an attack on the league. Hell, it's not an attack on anybody. This is just an acknowledgement of the NBA world in 2014, and that world is controlled by LeBron.

Look around at the free agent market. It's stagnant. Almost nothing is happening, and why? Because teams want to sign LeBron. Players want to play with LeBron. And until LeBron makes up his mind, almost anybody with even the faintest hope of signing LeBron or playing with LeBron will sit and wait.

LeBron is an alpha dog unlike any the NBA ever has seen, although here is where I'll ease off the "LeBron is a mighty god, and you shall bow down" rhetoric for a moment and acknowledge something else: The NBA (and the world) has changed to the point where an alpha dog like LeBron -- and there have been others, namely Michael Jordan but also Magic Johnson and before him Kareem and Wilt and Russell -- can control the fate of an entire league. Free agency and astronomical salaries have gotten us to this point. The salary cap has gotten us here. Mainstream media attention and social media adoration got us here.

The entire NBA is waiting on LeBron James' next decision.  (USATSI)
The entire NBA is waiting on LeBron James' next decision. (USATSI)

And LeBron got us here, with help in 2010 from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. When that trio agreed to band together in Miami for (slightly) less money than they could have commanded had they signed with three different franchises, it changed the way the NBA business was done.

In today's NBA, players are at least considering the notion of taking less money to join with another superstar or two -- or, for slightly lesser players, to follow those two or three superstars -- in the hopes of winning an NBA title and basking in all the mainstream media and social media fawning that comes their way.

"Sacrifice" is a word some would use to describe this trend, and while what LeBron, Wade and Bosh did four years ago wasn't the opposite of that word -- what they did in 2010 wasn't selfish by any means -- I'm not sure I'd go as far as to call earning $14.5 million a year a sacrifice. Each member of the Big Three could've earned $16.2 million in 2010. Instead James and Bosh made $14.5 million, and Wade $14.2 million.

Are we calling that a sacrifice? I'm not. I'm calling it the changing NBA, where players:

A: Earn so much money that it's not that big a sacrifice to take slightly less if "slightly less" is still more money than they could spend in a lifetime.

B: Realize whatever money they leave on the table can be recouped in the form of endorsements, prestige or legacy enhancement.

And in today's NBA, LeBron is the biggest legacy enhancement going. If you're Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant, this is a humbling experience. Nobody but his latest team, the Knicks, is standing around waiting to sign Carmelo. A team with that much money and ambition prefers LeBron. Nobody is standing around waiting to see where Carmelo goes, and nobody is jumping to sign with the Lakers to play with Kobe, because a player with that kind of stature prefers to play with LeBron.

See, LeBron wins. Or comes damn close. Carmelo never has, and Kobe never will again.

Two NBA titles in four years. Four NBA Finals in four years. LeBron did that. He had help from Wade and Bosh, but that help shrunk over the years, and so did the talent on the Heat roster, and still the Heat reached the 2014 NBA Finals. That wasn't the Big Three who took on San Antonio. That was LeBron and the Seven Dwarfs. Shane Battier was Happy. Chris Andersen was Grumpy. Mario Chalmers Bosh was Bashful. Wade was Achy.

Carmelo is said to be leaning toward a return to the Knicks, and maybe he is, but maybe he's tired of waiting on the Rockets, who are waiting on LeBron. Bosh is a max-contract player as well, but he's waiting on LeBron to see if an NBA title might be easier won, if for slightly less money -- a sacrifice, some would say -- in Miami. Really good role players like Pau Gasol and Luol Deng are waiting, whether by their choice or the choice of the teams pursuing them, for LeBron to decide.

You know who I like in all of this? Kyle Lowry. He was another potential role player, albeit a very good one, in the LeBron show. He could've waited out LeBron, possibly joined him in Miami, and had an easier road to the NBA title than the one awaiting him in Toronto. Instead he took the biggest deal he could get, and while that doesn't make him noble or anything like that, it makes him his own man. Kyle Lowry took care of Kyle Lowry, and did it on Kyle Lowry's terms. That makes him unusual, a rebel in today's NBA that has players waiting for the alpha dog to mark his territory before claiming some of their own.

The NBA: Where LeBron happens.

 
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