FAQ: 2010 NBA Free Agency Edition
So I reached out to my friends and asked what questions they had about the upcoming scramble -- and by scramble I mean gold rush, because that's exactly what the LeBron Sweepstakes is.
Here's what they came up with:
What will the impact of the "free agent summit" involving LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh be?
The possibility of those three players together is downright scary, but it's difficult to tell how realistic this scenario is. In fact, we're not even sure this so-called summit in Miami went down (Wade's representatives say he spent the weekend in Chicago). Sure, ESPN reported it. But until someone comes out in public with the equivalent of Johnny Roastbeef's wife's pink cadillac, it's all just speculation.
Right now, Wade is doing his best John Calipari impression. He's acting as a one-man recruiting team for the Heat in an attempt to build a super team in South Beach. If all goes according to Wade's plan, he, James and Bosh sign with Miami (joining Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley, the only two players officially on Miami's payroll) and the Heat fill the remaining spots on their roster with second round draft picks and role players. And Udonis Haslem. But only if he takes a big ol' pay cut.
The Heat have an estimated $27.3 million available under the salary cap (which is expected to be $56.1 million). They enter luxury tax territory at $68 million (meaning they'll be penalized for every dollar spent over that). And James, Wade and Bosh are all eligible for max contracts of roughly $16.5 million. I'm no math whiz, but I do know somebody's going to have to take a pay cut in this scenario.
So the question becomes: who's going to take the cut?
Will it be Wade, to bring superstar teammates to Miami? Will it be Bosh, to play for a true contender (something he's never done before)? Will it be LeBron, to take a shot at a championship and cement his legacy? Or will it be all three, to make things nice and equal?
I don't know -- I don't think anyone does at this point -- but I do know one thing: the agents for these players are going to fight like hell for maximum deals. Less salary means less commission, and agents hate to see money left on the table.
Even with a bunch of scrubs running the second unit, the combo of LeBron-Wade-Bosh would be an instant title threat. Teams in the East would be peeing their pants like the grandma in Billy Madison (consider Danny Ainge Miles Davis!). But I don't see this scenario working out at the negotiation table. There are just too many egos in play. And I'm not talking about LeBron, Wade and Bosh. I'm talking about Pat Riley and the player representatives. Like I said, when was the last time you saw an agent leave money on the table? Let alone three agents?
This "trio of stars" scenario is more tempting than Megan Fox in short shorts, but, ultimately, I think it leads to nothing more than a wildly entertaining "What If?" chapter in Bill Simmons' next book of basketball.
Will LeBron be part of a package deal?
Absolutely. Even if King James doesn't go to South Beach, I think he'll pair himself with another star on a team that can compete right away. There's just too much at stake for him to settle for anything less.
This is LeBron's chance to control his destiny. In Cleveland, his options for second banana were limited by his team's resources and the trade market. Now the possibilities are endless. He could do the trio thing in Miami with Wade and Bosh. He could play in Chicago with Bosh, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. He could go to New York along with Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Joe Johnson. Hell, he could conceivably pry Dirk Nowitzki away from Dallas if he wanted to. Can you imagine facing a front court of LeBron, Dirk and Brook Lopez in New Jersey? That'd be terrifying.
There are four teams with enough cap space to sign two max players: Chicago, Miami, New Jersey and New York. Of those four, I think Chicago is the most realistic LeBron destination -- with him on the roster, the Bulls have the best pieces in place top-to-bottom to be a championship contender. Miami is second, followed by New Jersey and New York (in that order).
The only major player that can't include a second star is Cleveland.
I think it would be stupid to rule the Cavs out -- LeBron is from Akron and places a premium on putting on for his city, as Young Jeezy says. But at the same time, other than playing the loyalty card, what does Cleveland offer LeBron that is so enticing? More money? A sixth year on his contract? The promise of a new coach?
Sorry, Cavs fans, but screw that.
LeBron wants to win. And returning to Cleveland doesn't offer him the best opportunity to do that. He's come up short two years in a row thanks to a crummy cast, and I don't think he's in a hurry to put himself through that again.
I'd be surprised if he isn't part of one of the many package deals rumored to include him. Including the package deal involving Eva Mendes and Stacey Dash. Oops, did I say that out loud?
How likely is it that LeBron wi
Not likely at all. I like Clippers fans, especially Clipper Darrell, but it's an extreme long shot that they win the LeBron Sweepstakes -- of the five teams listed in Vegas as LeBron contenders, the Clips are given the worst odds by far (+2000).
Unlike the Bulls, Heat, Knicks and Nets, the Clippers can't offer two max deals, meaning LeBron has to more or less take them as they are.
Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin are stars on the rise, Chris Kaman is a legitimate center and Al-Farouq Aminu has Josh Smith-like potential, but Baron Davis is in the mix as well and I think his routine would wear thin on LeBron. At 31, Davis is past his prime. I think his presence is a deterrent, especially considering how much the Clippers are paying him next season ($13.5 million).
Also, Donald Sterling is crazy.
Barring a miracle, King James will not be in a Clippers jersey next season. The same goes for the Kings, Timberwolves and Wizards. Don't even think about it.
Will LeBron be there for opening night of the new Brooklyn Nets arena?
You mean when it's finally finished in 2012-13? Yeah, he'll be there. As a member of the visiting Bulls...
Just kidding. The Nets aren't that far out of the race. Now that Mikhail Prokhorov is in the fold they're legit contenders in the LeBron Sweepstakes. They just aren't in the Top 3.
New Jersey can put together a number of interesting scenarios for LeBron (including one that includes trade deadline wish list option Amare Stoudemire). In fact, the Nets were my favorite destination for LeBron heading into the 2009-10 season -- I never thought he was going to New York. I think a core of LeBron, Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and Derrick Favors could do very well. But it would take time -- Favors in particular won't be ready for another two years at the earliest.
The Nets have a bunch of talented, affordably-priced players; a well-regarded new coach in Avery Johnson; and an owner who could buy David Stern's favor with a wave of his hand, but they're coming off one of the worst seasons in NBA history. Nobody wants to sign with a loser.
Chicago and Miami have opened up more tempting "win now" scenarios for LeBron, and the Cavaliers' loyalty card trumps the upside of the Nets. I see New Jersey as the fourth-best contender to sign LeBron, so, no, he won't be in Brooklyn in October 2012 to coronate the new arena.
Are Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire worth max deals?
This is a difficult question to answer. Each free agent market is different. For example, there's no way Ben Gordon gets a five-year, $55 million contract in the 2010 free agent pool, but that's exactly what he got last year (when the talent pool was much shallower). Also, major contracts usually aren't judged with scrutiny until a player either a) underachieves tremendously, b) is up for a trade, or c) becomes dead weight on his team's salary cap. So, realistically, the deals given to Bosh and Stoudemire won't be analyzed closely for another few years.
With that said, good power forwards have the potential to put a team other the top. Just look at San Antonio with Tim Duncan and Boston with Kevin Garnett. Those guys immediately put their teams in championship contention when they arrived.
I'm not saying Bosh and Stoudemire are going to play at the same level as Duncan and Garnett, but I do think it's worth making the comparison. [Note: Non-stat heads, skip to the bottom of the section. I'll break it down without numbers.]
At age 25, Bosh is just entering his prime. Stoudemire, 27, is a bit older, so I'm going to separate the two for comparison's sake.
Here's a look at how Bosh and Stoudemire stacked up against those two future Hall of Famers at their respective ages:
As you can see, Bosh stacks up pretty well offensively against Duncan and KG at age 25. Like Duncan, he shoots efficiently from the field and frequently gets to the free throw line. If he played 40 minutes a game, his and Duncan's scoring averages would be virtually identical.
Defensively, Bosh has a long way to go though. His defensive rating is more than 10 points above Duncan and Garnett's at the same age (defensive rating is based on points allowed per 100 possessions, so lower numbers are better). At 6-foot-10, 230 pounds, he can't match Duncan's size and bulk. And while KG is similar in stature (6-foot-11, 220), Bosh can't match his intensity -- few can, which is what makes KG so unique and so valuable.
Bosh's defensive deficiencies are one of the main reasons why his win share rating is so much lower than Duncan's and Garnett's. He is talented offensively and he rebounds well, but those talents aren't enough to make up for his defensive lapses.
As much as Bosh thinks of himself as a stand-alone superstar, he's not. He isn't capable of carrying a team by himself -- we've seen proof of that the past two years -- and would do well to take whatever pay cut is necessary to play alongside LeBron, who would complement his weaknesses.
Bosh shouldn't, and probably will not, receive a max contract.
As efficient as Duncan was on offense in his prime, Amare is even more efficient. He scored nearly a point per game more last season than Duncan did at age 27 in two fewer minutes per game, averaging nearly two fewer shots. A lot of that can be attributed to Amare's unparalleled ferocity around the rim. The guy takes pleasure in embarrassing defenders -- 16 percent of his shots last season were dunks (as compared to 7 percent from Duncan in 2003-04). That kind of efficiency can be extremely valuable, as evidenced by the Suns' deep playoff run this season.
Defensively, comparing Amare to Duncan and KG is like comparing Kirstie Alley-Jessica Biel bikini photos. The comparison is that there is no comparison. Duncan and KG allowed roughly 30 fewer points per 100 possessions when they were 27 than Amare did last season.
The same can be said for rebounding. Amare snatched just 14.5 percent of available rebounds last season. With the bulk that he has (he's 6-foot-10, 245 pounds), he should be grabbing more boards.
Ultimately, Amare is slightly better on defense than Bosh. He scores fewer points, but he scores them more efficiently, and his teams tend to win more. The Suns have been to the playoffs five times in Amare's seven-season career (I'm not counting 2005-06). The Raptors have been just twice in Bosh's seven seasons.
Steve Nash has a lot to do with Amare's success though. I don't think he'll be quite as good without Nash giving him perfect passes around the rim and in transition.
As a general manager, I'd give Amare $14 million per season and surround him with a similar cast to the one in Phoenix. But I don't think the GMs in New York and Miami will be as wise with their money. I predict one of them will sign him to a max deal this summer.
It sure looks like it. The Knicks are putting the full court press on Johnson as we speak. Now that they are no longer the favorites to get LeBron, they've reportedly shifted their focus to Johnson and Amare Stoudemire. In fact, the Knicks brass is flying out to Los Angeles to meet with Johnson as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Thursday.
After the way Johnson melted down in the playoffs (he averaged 18 points per game, but shot just 39 percent from the field and disappeared in the Hawks-Magic series), I'm surprised he's getting such lavish treatment. Then again, New York has to spin this not getting LeBron disaster somehow, and you could do a lot worse than Joe Johnson, a four-time All-Star.
The Knicks have a lot at stake. If someone else snatches Johnson (there are rumors of a sign-and-trade deal with Dallas), they're stuck with a lower-tier player like Rudy Gay or a player past his prime like Paul Pierce or Ray Allen. Those aren't terrible options, but I'm sure Donnie Walsh and Co. are trying to make a bigger splash than that.
The free agent pool drops off precipitously after Johnson and Carlos Boozer, inflating both past their worth -- no one is going to win a championship with Johnson or Boozer as their go-to guy anytime soon. I guess that's what you get when a big fish like LeBron in the pond. Everyone stops fishing for a while when they hear the big fish is around, but as soon as he's caught they're so hungry they'll gladly settle for a guppy.
Johnson is 29 years old. He qualifies for the veteran max (which is in the neighborhood of $19 million per season), which makes him eligible for a six-year, $119 million contract, but only if its offered by Atlanta.
Johnson turned down a four-year, $60 million extension from the Hawks last summer, which means he'll likely be looking for a contract worth $15-16.5 million dollars per season for five seasons. If Atlanta wants to stay in the picture they'll probably have to offer him six years (the hometown edge) or look at options for a sign-and-trade.
My guess is that Johnson will sign with the Knicks for five years, $75 million. Not bad for a guy who doesn't even crack the Top 40 in average PER from 2006-10.
Where will Paul Pierce end up?
At 32, Pierce will likely re-up with the Celtics -- he's only opting out of his deal to avoid getting squashed by the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement -- but his future in Boston hardly seems bright. The Big Three nearly won a second championship together, but now the wheels are coming off the wagon. Ray Allen, a fellow free agent, is probably going to leave, Kevin Garnett is on the tail end of his career and Rasheed Wallace is retiring.
On top of all that, Boston columnists seems to think the Celtics will be better off if Pierce jumps ship -- something about letting everyone walk and rebuilding around Rajon Rondo.
That's crazy talk.
Pierce is the heart of the team. His numbers have slipped a little, but he still has his best stuff on defense and is capable of producing brilliant scoring runs. Does anyone else remember Game 5 of the Finals?
Pierce is also one of the league's most battle-tested playoff vets, a clutch performer who always seems to come up with big shots at the right time.
If he does leave Boston, Dallas is a likely landing spot, according to Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated. The deal would require a sign-and-trade that includes Pierce and 'Sheed's soon-to-be-expunged contract in exchange for Caron Butler and Erick Dampier.
I think a move like that would be a coup for Dallas (they desperately need a player like Pierce to complement Dirk Nowitzki), but my guy says Pierce stays in Boston and ends his career as a Celtic.
Is there any chance Dirk Nowitzki leaves Dallas?
No way. He's the backbone of that franchise. Before Dirk arrived, the Mavericks had made the playoffs six times in team history. Since then, they've been to the postseason 10 straight times, including a Finals appearance in 2006.
Besides, he and Mark Cuban get along like Matthew McConaughey and bongs.
Nowitzki just wants to restructure his deal before the new CBA kicks in.
If I'm sure about anything this summer it's this: The German stays in Dallas.
Short answer? No.
If Amare leaves, the Suns still have around $43 million in salary cap commitments next season. That means a high profile forward such as Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer would have to take a four to five million dollar pay cut to come to Phoenix, and that's not likely to happen.
Steve Nash is good, but he's not take a four or five million dollar pay cut good, especially not when your name is Carlos Boozer -- he'd ship his own grandma to the top of a mountain if it meant wrangling a bigger contract.
Other power forwards on the market include David Lee, Luis Scola and Tyrus Thomas.
Lee is probably just out of Phoenix's price range (Suns owner Robert Sarver is the Scrooge McDuck of the NBA: a notorious penny pincher) and it's doubtful that Houston lets Scola get away (he's a restricted free agent, so the Rockets can match any offer). That leaves Thomas, a combustible player whose athleticism is a siren song that many teams have contemplated swimming toward, but only one team (Charlotte) has taken the plunge for.
Thomas averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game for the Bobcats and it looks like they want him back -- they've extended him a qualifying offer of $6.2 million.
It looks like the Suns are out of luck unless they want to outbid Charlotte for a play on the roulette wheel.
What players are free agent sleepers?
There are quite a few of them actually. If I had to pick three favorites, though, I'd go with Raymond Felton, J.J. Redick and Kyle Korver.
Felton made real strides last season under Larry Brown in Charlotte. He cut down on his turnovers (2.1 per game compared to 2.8 in 2008-09) and improved his defense significantly. He also upped his field goal percentage to 46 percent, by far the high mark of his career. He's the best point guard on the market, but hasn't received much attention because of the other big names. He's going to be paid very well this summer.
Redick broke through with the Magic last season, recording career highs in points, assists and 3-point shooting. He's a sharp shooter who proved he can also play great defense on the perimeter when he took on fellow free agent Ray Allen in the Eastern Conference Finals. Everybody seems to hate this Dukie, but the 25-year-old made himself some pretty good money with the way he played in the playoffs. I'd be surprised to see him stay in Orlando -- they just don't have the resources to keep him.
Unfortunately for Korver, it's a buyer's market for 3-point shooters. With Allen, Redick, Anthony Morrow and Channing Frye in the mix, Korver looks like he might be the odd man out. That's great for whichever team gets LeBron. Chicago, Cleveland and Miami all need outside shooters and Korver led the league in 3-point percentage last season with 53.6 percent. He may not be paid as well as he should, but Korver will be able to find a good home on a competitive team.
Regardless of what happens in free agency, are the Lakers still going to be the favorite to win the championship next season?
Yes, the Lakers are still the favorite to win it all. But only if Phil Jackson returns -- and that's a big if considering his recent health concerns.
With Phil leading the charge, Kobe Bryant falls in line, Pau Gasol perfectly executes the triangle offense, Andrew Bynum plays his role and Ron Artest behaves himself. Without Phil, who knows? But if I had to bet my life on one decision or the other, I'd say Phil comes back.
There's no way he turns down a fourth 3-peat unless he absolutely can't do it physically.
The national media will paint LeBron's destination with broad championship-colored strokes, but the Lakers are the defending champs and they deserve to be considered as the team to beat until proven otherwise, especially since Derek Fisher is the only member of their core with the potential to leave -- and I doubt he will considering his relationship with Kobe and his past success with the team.
LeBron is more talented than Kobe. He's also a lot younger. But success in the NBA is built around more than just talent. It also depends on chemistry. Just look at what the Celtics were able to acheive in the postseason.
Whichever team signs LeBron will get an instant boost in the talent department, but who knows what the chemistry on that team will be like. It could be Clooney, Pitt and Damon on Ocean's 12. It could be Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen on Attack of the Clones.
LeBron and his new team will be the runaway storyline of the 2010-11 season, but it's a mistake to count out the glitterati in La La Land.
[Thanks to Khaled, King, Shotgun, Joe and Cousin Matt for contributing questions. And, yes, those are all real names.]