Crowning achievement

FRANK ZICARELLI

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Mo is definitely on LeBron James' side.

The undisputed leader of the Redeem Team, King James enters the NBA season as the game's top player, with all due respect to Kobe Bryant, the league's reigning MVP.

With Mo Williams now part of the James Gang in Cleveland, the Cavaliers are more than capable of making a long post-season run and providing LeBron with that elusive ring.

"I'm motivated," James, 23, said. "This is the best chance we've had since I've been on this team.

"We have guys who can come in at every position. It's great to have this team."

When the U.S. struck gold at the Beijing Olympics, it was James who kept all the egos in check.

When he elected to forgo a longer contract with the Cavs, fellow 2003 draft classmates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh followed LeBron's lead.

That is why so many teams, the Knicks being the most obvious, are trying to shed salary as the summer of 2010 approaches, better known as the year of LeBron, when he can opt out of his deal.

That is the kind of power King James wields and the kind of star quality that separates LeBron from his peers.

Winning a title will only cement James' reputation as the king of the court.

The NBA enters its season with virtually no dark clouds, having put to rest the shame of Tim Donaghy's betting scandal. Seattle lost its team after the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City and several average to fringe players bolted for Europe, leaving the spotlight on James and a growing number of rising stars.

Established big men such Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan are giving way to the likes of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden.

Chris Paul and Deron Williams have supplanted Jason Kidd and Steve Nash as the game's top point guards.

More teams are playing an up-tempo game but, as Boston proved last season, the game's core, defence and rebounding, lead to championships.

James has earned every conceivable accolade the game has to offer. He was a one-man show for Cleveland in leading the franchise to an NBA final appearance two years ago, only to be swept by the Spurs.

But this year promises to usher in something special.

The league knows it and James certainly feels it.

"As a leader, I think I can lead these guys to the championship," James said. "We really believe that. It's not about making the playoffs any more. It's about winning a championship."

The Cavs have tried in vain to find that complementary piece for James, who, like Kobe, can get off any shot from virtually any spot on the court.

The Cavs just might have that second option in Williams, who averaged 17.2 points, 6.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds for the Milwaukee Bucks.

"There's not much of an excuse now," James said. "We have guys who can go out and play. Mo can dominate a game. We all know what I can do on the court.

"He can allow me to play off him. I don't have to bring the ball up as much. I'm going to emphasize on just running the floor a lot.

"You look at me in the summer time, when I'm playing with great point guards like Jason Kidd and Deron Williams and Chris Paul.

"For the most part, you just see me run the floor. It's easy for me.

"Now with Mo Williams here, I can do that. I can get out on the break."

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OTHER NOTABLE PLAYER MOVES:

y PG Mo Williams -- King James finally gets help; Williams can handle the ball, create his own shot and is more than capableof spotting up.

x PG Baron Davis -- Returns to L.A., where he attended UCLA, to run the show for the Clippers; Davis has lost weight and could easily lead the NBA in scoring.

y SG Ron Artest -- Ron-Ron joins Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in Houston, where the Rockets have their long-awaited edge, someone T-Mac can defer and one who will shut down perimeter players.

x SG Corey Maggette -- Joins Don Nelson's small-ball Warriors; fearless in attacking the rim, Maggette will get plenty of looks.

x SF James Posey -- The ultimate role player who played a huge role in helping both Miami and Boston win championships, the veteran joins a New Orleans team that needs a veteran presence.

y F/C Marcus Camby -- Will play power forward with Clippers alongside Chris Kaman; one-time Raptor was dumped by Denver in a salary-cap move.

y G/F Richard Jefferson -- A nice fit in Milwaukee, where Bucks are turning the page; R.J. became a victim of New Jersey's youth movement.

y SG O.J. Mayo -- Memphis won't win many games, but with Mayo, a healthy Mike Conley and Rudy Gay, team will be fun; Mayo and Greg Oden will battle for rookie honours.

(x - joined team via free agency)

(y - joined team via a trade)

STUDS AND DUDS

A look at teams and players on the move, either upward or downward.

1. Portland: Sky's the limit with a young nucleus of Greg Oden and Brandon Roy.

2. Al Jefferson: Timberwolves in good hands with Big Al dominating the paint.

3. Shaquille O'Neal The Diesel is done.

4. San Antonio Manu Ginobili's wonky ankle is a concern as Spurs get old.

5. Jamaal Magloire Big Cat's broken hand isn't the only thing in need of repair.

6. Stephon Marbury Poster child for overrated, under-achieving players.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder poised to strike once kids mature.

8. Vince Carter Says he's prepared to serve as a mentor for young Nets; many doubt it.

MONEY MATTERS

A look at the league's highest-paid players and their per-gameaverage based on an 82-game schedule. All figures in US dollars.

Player/Team Salary/Per Game

1. Kevin Garnett (Boston) $24.7 million ($301,000)

2. Stephon Marbury (New York) $21.9 million ($267,000)

3. Allen Iverson (Denver) $21.9 million ($267,000)

4. Jason Kidd (Dallas) $21.4 million ($261,000)

5. Jermaine O'Neal (Toronto) $21.3 million ($260,000)

6. Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers) $21.2 million ($258,000)

7. Tracy McGrady (Houston) $21.1 million ($257,000)

8. Tim Duncan (San Antonio) $20.5 million ($250,000)

9. Shaquille O'Neal (Phoenix) $20 million ($244,000)

10. Steve Francis (Houston) $19.8 million ($241,000)

highest team payrolls

All figures in US dollars

1. New York Knicks $99.4 million

2. Cleveland Cavaliers $89.6 million

3. Dallas Mavericks $85.9 million

4. Portland Trail Blazers $81.5 million

5. Boston Celtics $81.3 million

6. LA Lakers $79.5 million

7. Denver Nuggets $74.7 million

8. Phoenix Suns $74.4 million

9. Houston Rockets $74.2 million

10. Chicago Bulls $69.7 million

16. Toronto Raptors $67.4 million


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