"I don't know any more than you know," James said. "I only know what I read."
I can only hope that James was being diplomatic or intentionally evasive -- "lie" is such a big old ugly word -- when he was answering the question, because if what he said was true, then Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry is in a world of confusion.
There is only one reason for Ferry to procure Stoudemire: that James promised Ferry he would subsequently re-sign with the Cavs this summer if the trade were made. And perhaps the same would apply to a possible acquisition of Washington's Antawn Jamison: James has to commit to the Cavaliers if they are going to commit to him.
But while James and his GM have never admitted to such an arrangement (and probably never would), Ferry's decision could ultimately define his career in the front office. Molding the Cavs into title contenders while also securing James' future has made the GM's task that much more difficult and, unfortunately for Ferry, the two objectives appear to be mutually exclusive.
For their immediate future, the Cavaliers could not be playing any better right now. They have won 13 consecutive games, possess the best record in the NBA and have -- after a month and a half of uneasiness -- figured out how to play with the right mix of James, Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a steady rotation of various guards.
With Boston looking old, Orlando looking confused and Atlanta lacking size, Cleveland can undoubtedly take the East. Its true test, however, will be against the Lakers, who are heavy favorites to return to the Finals.
O'Neal and Ilgauskas match up with L.A.'s Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. James is arguably the best in the game and the Cavaliers' role players -- when healthy -- rival the Lakers'. It won't be easy, but Cleveland looks prepared for the anticipated Finals matchup.
In terms of Cleveland's long-term success, James, of course, is a unique talent, and though he has never promised the Cavaliers that trading for Stoudemire would assure that he re-signs this summer, the mere speculation shouldn't be an issue to Ferry. Michael Jordan was also a unique talent, and surely Ferry has to remember the personnel moves that Jordan demanded of the Bulls, which backfired because players are not always objective and are certainly not the best judges of personnel. (And let's face it, Jordan was in charge when the Wizards drafted Kwame Brown, so his history of questionable personnel judgment extends beyond his playing days.)
But beyond the rumors of who said what to whom, if the Cavaliers have not shown James that they are committed to winning by this point, there is nothing they can do before Thursday's trade deadline that is going to convince him. If he wants to leave in free agency, he will. He doesn't need Ferry to prove to him that Cleveland wants to win. Ferry has done everything possible in the past few years to put the Cavaliers in a position to be successful. The Cavaliers have not won a title, but it's not from lack of effort, and if James bases his decision on that, perhaps he's looking for an excuse to depart.
At some point, Ferry has to be secure that he has done enough to this point to put James in a position to win. In one way, I think Ferry owes it to the fans of Cleveland to stay with the status quo and go for a championship now with what he has in place.
No matter the scenario, a high-risk move of acquiring Stoudemire or Jamison is unwarranted. If Ferry trades for either and James does in fact re-sign with Cleveland, Ferry still loses the benefits of having Ilgauskas for at least much of the rest of the regular season, and the team's dynamics completely change, forcing everybody to adjust and redefine their roles with only 28 games to play before the playoffs begin. Granted, Phoenix could buy out Ilgauskas, in which case he'd be eligible to re-sign with the Cavs after waiting 30 days. Though Cleveland could have him back in time for the playoffs, would it be too late? Would the team dynamics be thrown off kilter even more? Most likely.
If he trades for Stoudemire, and James still decides to leave, then Ferry may feel pressured to re-sign Stoudemire to appease an angry fan base, meaning the Cavs will be tied to a player with a long history of injuries who has yet to prove he can lead a team deep into the playoffs. Or, if they take Jamison and James bolts, they'll be stuck with a 33-year-old who has two years and $28 million left on his deal and also doesn't have the greatest playoff track record.
If Ferry executes a major trade before the deadline, I'd like to see an accompanying slip of paper from James promising his enduring commitment to Cleveland.
Otherwise, it's a mistake.