LeBron James is expected to decide on his team around mid-week, according to a league source who has been provided the timetable by James' camp. With that in mind, here are five questions still on the table this holiday weekend.
1. Why does James need so much time? Original reports suggested that James would announce his decision Monday. That is unlikely, according to the source, and it's easy to understand why. James has been provided with a lot of information by the six teams who made presentations over the past three days, and there is no sense in rushing along his decision until he has made sense of the different proposals.
Another reason for him to take a few days before committing is to negotiate with one or more fellow free agents and decide whether they can work out a complicated deal to play together. Will James go to Chicago or Miami to play with Dwyane Wade? Will he stay in Cleveland and try to convince Chris Bosh to join him there in a potential sign-and-trade? No doubt he'll investigate a number of options.
James is the No. 1 free agent and he holds the most power, but he doesn't control everything. The attraction of Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, New Jersey, New York and the Clippers depends in part on the quality of players who will join him there. At the moment no one can say for sure how the market will shake out.
Just as the top high school basketball and football recruits are often forced to postpone their decisions until the last moment of NCAA signing day, so too may James be forced to put his decision on hold as the market around him continues to take shape.
James is expected to make his decision by Thursday, which is the first day free agents can sign new contracts. The source has been told that James could decide as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. But Monday now looks like an unreasonable target date to resolve his future.
2. Wade to Chicago? I don't doubt that Wade is intrigued by moving home to Chicago, and that the Bulls are a highly attractive franchise. But there are all kinds of other reasons for him to have taken a second meeting with the Bulls, including the possibility that he's trying to distract them from pursuing Joe Johnson or another player that Wade is hoping to recruit to Miami. I'm told he is also facing an extremely hard sell from his hometown friends to move back to Chicago.
Perhaps Wade will shock the market and declare he is signing with the Bulls. But that would mean Heat president Pat Riley has misread his own player, which would be a huge surprise. My hunch is that Wade will remain with Miami.
3. A Wade-and-Bosh pairing? When Bosh happened to sit in on the Friday meeting of Wade and the Bulls, it provided the sharpest image of the new market the players envisioned years ago when they agreed to become free agents this summer. Their intention was to control the market as no group of players has ever done before.
That's exactly what is happening as the players share information with each other and dictate the terms of their employment. In previous years players viewed each other as competitors for the best offers, and of course that still happens. But this year they are working together and pooling their resources as never before, and for the first time they appear to have better information than the clubs. Another example of this involves free agents Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire, who were teammates with the Suns and who would like to reunite on the same team this summer, according to a league source who knows both players. One reason why Johnson has been slow to commit to the six-year max deal offered by the Hawks, the source insists, is because he is interested in finding a way to play with Stoudemire. But will he take less money to team-up with his friend? That would be unexpected.
4. Stoudemire to the Knicks? He is arriving in New York Saturday night with plans to meet Sunday with coach Mike D'Antoni, his former coach in Phoenix. Stoudemire hasn't been a top priority for other teams with cap space, but if the Knicks can convince him to commit to their five-year max offer then he'll provide relief to a team that was in danger of coming away empty from the elite free-agent market. Once they have Stoudemire, they can work to add another player to join him.
5. Does the process work? Here's the irony of this circus: The one player who isn't contributing to the media frenzy is James, who is responsible for creating it.
While other players are making visits and giving interviews, James has proceeded on a sober and highly private course of meetings with the six franchises he chose as finalists. James has said over the last year that he'll join the team that gives him the best opportunity to win, and his behind-the-scenes recruitment this week is another example of that approach. He doesn't need to seek out attention, because he knows it will come to him. The off-court monies will come to him too, so long as he goes to a organization that helps him win championships.