Shabazz Muhammad and “The Decision”Posted by AMurawa on April 10th, 2012
Andrew Murawa is an RTC columnist.
Two summers ago, Lebron James held the attention of basketball fans as he pondered the big “decision” about where he would continue his career. After playing his first seven seasons in his hometown of Cleveland, James was a free agent and being pursued by numerous NBA teams who had spent years freeing up space under the salary cap in order to be able to make a pitch for his services. As we all now know, after much deliberation, James opted to turn his back on the Cavaliers and other suitors in favor of taking his “talents to South Beach” to play alongside superstar Dwyane Wade as well as all-star forward Chris Bosh.
On Wednesday, college hoops fans get “The Decision” times two, as the nation’s two biggest recruits – Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad – will both announce which college campus they will be taking their talents to next season. Noel is considering Syracuse, Georgetown and Kentucky, while Muhammad garners the attention of fans across the country as he considers UCLA as well as Kentucky and Duke, already having eliminated schools like UNLV, Arizona, Kansas and others from consideration. At this point, depending on whom you ask, either the Bruins or the defending champion Wildcats are the favorite, with the Blue Devils seemingly a distant dark horse, but until his name adorns a National Letter of Intent to one of those schools, it is all guesswork.
To avoid rehashing the guesses of those with partial information, we’ll compare the choices in Muhammad’s hand to the teams that “King James” considered when he made his fateful decision in July 2010.
Lebron : Cleveland Cavaliers :: Shabazz : UNLV
Why this analogy works: When James signed with Miami, he crushed the hopes of Cleveland fans who had hoped that the hometown kid would stick around to continue trying to build the Cavaliers into a long term winner. James grew up in Akron, just 45 minutes south of Cleveland, while Muhammad will graduate from Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School this spring. But, just like James and Cleveland, Muhammad will forsake his hometown to ply his trade elsewhere at a bigger and historically more successful program. And, in both cases, if either player had landed with either one of these teams, those teams (the Cavs and the Rebels) would have been very good teams but not quite the favorite to take down the championship.
Why this analogy is flawed: The Cavs were apparently a significant possibility in James’ decision until very late in the process, while the Rebels faded from consideration some time ago.
Lebron : Miami Heat :: Shabazz : Kentucky
Why this analogy works: Of all the finalists in King James sweepstakes two summers ago, the Heat were the team that had most recently won a championship. They may not have won it the season previous, as would be the case if Muhammad chooses Big Blue Nation, but they would be the closest. And, in choosing to join Wade and Bosh and make a go of it in Miami as an elite threesome, James chose the team with the most proven talent (although Chicago and Derrick Rose might have an argument there too). If Muhammad chooses Kentucky, joining Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin (so far) in the Class of 2012 as well as whichever Wildcats decide to return to Lexington next season rather than declare for the NBA Draft, and whichever of the still uncommitted 2012 recruits (Noel included) choose UK, he would be joining the most talented roster of the three. Just as when James landed with the Heat, they immediately became the team to beat in the NBA, so if Muhammad opts for Kentucky, they’re a good bet to be the preseason #1 next year. Throw in the parallels of Miami president Pat Riley leading the charge in wooing Lebron and Kentucky head coach John Calipari pitching Kentucky, and this is the most obvious comparison. It doesn’t mean the Wildcats are going to land Shabazz, but if Lebron ca. 2010 were making this decision for Muhammad, he would be headed to Kentucky.
Why this analogy is flawed: I’m told there is a slight difference between Lexington and South Beach.
Lebron : New York Knicks :: Shabazz : UCLA
Why this analogy works: The Knicks of 2010 were a team with a proud past that were floundering in the present, just as the Bruins are in 2012. While the Knicks had missed the playoffs in six straight seasons after 2010’s 29-53 record, the Bruins haven’t been quite that bad but they have missed the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons, and have strung together a three-year record that is the worst in the school since before John Wooden took over the program in 1948. And, just as the Knicks had pinned all their hopes on being able to sign James and remake the franchise in his image, the Bruins are hoping to use the signing of Muhammad to turn things around in Westwood. Coupled with already inked recruits Kyle Anderson (ESPNU’s #5 overall recruit) and Jordan Adams and with Georgia big man Tony Parker still a possibility, Muhammad could turn around the fortune of the UCLA program overnight and yank head coach Ben Howland back off the hot seat in a flash. While Lebron turned down the opportunity to resurrect a famous franchise under the spotlights of a major metropolis, Muhammad could make a big splash in Los Angeles.
Why this analogy is flawed: While James’ move to New York would have set up the Knicks for many years into the future, it is likely that Muhammad is a one-and-done type of guy. He’d get the heat off of Howland in the short-term, but the Bruins would likely still need to reload again next summer.
Lebron : Chicago Bulls :: Shabazz : Duke
Why this analogy works: I’ll be honest, I had a hard time finding a really good analogy for Duke. Perhaps this analogy works if we say that Rasheed Sulaimon is analogous in some way to Derrick Rose, a comparison that is a stretch. I thought about comparing Mike Krzyzewski and Duke to Jay-Z and the Nets, but decided the Rose/Sulaimon comparison was slightly better. James joining the Bulls would have had him throwing in his lot with Rose rather than Wade, and given Duke’s current roster makeup, Muhammad going there would mean a terrific tandem of Muhammad and Sulaimon, with whichever Plumlee is around next season taking on the role of Joakim Noah. Still, of the teams in the Lebron Sweepstakes, the Bulls were one of the elites and one with a proud history going for it, and Duke is certainly one of the handful of elite college programs in the country. If Muhammad were to go to Duke, especially with the flawed roster the Blue Devils would have next year, he would be thrust into a Michael Jordan type role, needing to lead his team on both ends of the floor for that Duke team to be a legitimate title contender.
Why this analogy is flawed: At the time of the Lebron James free agency, the Bulls were without a head coach, while the Blue Devils are firmly set in the lead chair. Perhaps more importantly, everyone knew that – Lebron or no Lebron – the Bulls’ offense was going to feature a heavy dose of Rose; even at this late date, what the 2012-13 Blue Devil team is going to look like on the court is still up in the air.