In 2010, the superteam formed in Miami was the collective obsession of summer league, but James' return to Cleveland is decidedly less intriguing to league insiders than to the general public. Was LeBron's statement in SI.com published in earnest, or was it a public relations stunt? Most execs shrugged and opted for a middle ground.
"He wanted to leave," a general manager says. "He couldn't afford to get saddled with Dwyane Wade on a long-term deal. He thinks Kyrie [Irving] is better than Chris Bosh. He's going to have complete control [in Cleveland], and Pat [Riley] can wear thin. He had plenty of excuses to leave."
NBA execs can be cynical, but on the matter of LeBron, those that profit from broad interest in the NBA expressed some gratitude.
"We should pay LeBron a big piece of the cap for driving interest," says one general manager. "We had a World Cup final going on, but it was a LeBron special for 48 hours. He's carrying us. As far as I'm concerned he's earned the right to play wherever the [hell] he wants."
Once upon a time, NBA offenses were almost entirely about isolation possessions and exploiting mismatches. A corner-3 shooter was a novelty act, and drive-and-kick schemes were regarded as gimmicky.
Goodbye to all that. The shooting revolution reigns supreme, which is why it's difficult to find naysayers in Las Vegas on Channing Frye's 4-year, $32 million deal, and there's more support for Jodie Meeks' 3-year, $19.5 million contract than you might imagine.
"This is where the analytics movement is driving the market," says a general manager who can be fairly characterized as middle-of-the-road on analytics. "We're seeing the extinction of the mid-range game. It's a driver-and-putter league now. Nobody wants to play with their irons."
Players who wouldn't have gotten a look 15 years ago are now in high demand, and non-athletes with a reasonable shot fake are the NBA's answer to the left-handed relief pitcher.
"You have to be able to shoot the ball" said the NBA veteran. "Especially big men. You look at Spencer Hawes. Look at Channing Frye. That's good money. You can have a job for a long time if you can shoot."
The coaches consulted had more holistic views of what's happening on the floor in 2014. Yeah, shooting is vital, but there are plenty of teams leveraging other strengths to succeed.
"You're seeing as much diversity as you've ever seen before," says a head coach. "It used to be that coaches were afraid to be unconventional because they were worried about criticism."
Today, there's cover to be unconventional, and the game and its fans are the beneficiaries. And the very best teams in the league are those that can switch up styles on cue. See the San Antonio Spurs.