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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Let the LeBron era begin
By Kevin Asseo

LeBron James
James is being touted as the next superstar of the NBA

LeBron James is on his way to the NBA, with more hype and higher expectations than any first-year player before him.

He is expected to be the saviour of the beleaguered Cleveland Cavaliers franchise (who will select James with the first pick of the NBA draft on 26 June).

And in a larger sense, he could be the saviour of the NBA itself, carrying the league into the post-Michael Jordan era.

Is it too much to ask of an 18-year-old who has just graduated from high school?

The fact remains no player - not Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, nor Tracy McGrady - has come out of high school and been an immediately productive player.

It has taken at least a year or two for each of those players to develop.

A handful of truly great players who, as dominating as they have been while playing against relatively weak competition at high school or college level, have actually improved upon entering the NBA, such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

James could be that type of player - the one thing players of that calibre have in common is their supreme passing ability, and he is a fantastic distributor of the basketball.

Playing against world-class competition will be a tremendous challenge but playing with world-class team-mates could be even greater factor in James' progress.

These will not be high school kids standing in awe of James's moves and getting hit in the nose with a bullet pass.

They will be superlative hoopsters who can always get to the right spot on the floor and finish assists with huge dunks.

But those moments are still months away.

Until then, all the talk about James revolves around off-the-court matters - first and foremost, the $90m endorsement contract he has signed with Nike.

LeBron James
James is an excellent passer of the ball

A deal of that magnitude immediately spurred rumours that Nike will have more of a say in the handling of LeBron's career than the Cavaliers.

One thing is certain - neither his shoe company nor his soon-to-be new team are willing to take it slow with James.

Searching for a new coach, the Cavaliers actively pursued former Knicks' coach Jeff Van Gundy but negotiations reportedly soured when the coach would not give assurances about guaranteed playing time for James.

So the job fell into the lap of Paul Silas, who was sacked by the New Orleans Hornets shortly after they were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs.

The headlines following Silas's hiring were not "Cavaliers hire Paul Silas" but "Paul Silas to coach LeBron."

Silas is a tremendous coach who New Orleans never should have sacked in the first place.

Silas has not yet talked extensively about the task of coaching James, offering only a few words at his introductory press conference while denying there is a "guaranteed playing time" deal in place.

"He's a young player that will take a lot of nurturing," Silas said.

"It'll be a task for the whole organisation to help him become the type of player that he wants to be. The only promise I'll make is that this team will play hard."





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