Weekly Countdown: Surprises in store for top free-agents-to-be
All but one of these players has been invited to play in Dallas, yet there is more interest in where they'll go next season than there is in how they'll perform as All-Stars this weekend.
To understand the unpredictability of James' decision, look at the New Jersey Nets, who sometime this spring will be purchased once and for all by Russian billionaire
"It's not Bryan," this insider said. "It's Jerry."
A Western GM has since told me that
Right now, the Nets are run by team president
But no one will be surprised should the new owner want to build an entirely new organization in light of the Nets' 4-48 record and all of the tangential messiness surrounding them this season. In that case, a move to hire Jerry Colangelo would seem the ideal alternative.
"I know nothing about that at all," Colangelo told me Wednesday. "You're the first person I'm hearing this from. I've never even met [Prokhorov] -- all I know is what I've read about him and things I've heard second- and third-hand about him."
Prokohrov has refused any oversight role with the Nets until he buys the team, which depends on an upcoming Board of Governors vote and a completion of the Nets' real-estate deal to move to Brooklyn. (In the meantime, Prokhorov is expected to meet Sunday with Thorn in Dallas.) If he decides to hire a new management team, he is likely to seek the counsel of commissioner
Stern views the arrival of foreign ownership as a blessing that will increase the value of franchises as a larger pool of buyers emerges internationally to drive up demand. If Prokhorov's ownership is seen around the world as a success, if he is able to compete successfully within the byzantine financial rules of the NBA (which are far more complicated than any of the European leagues), then other foreign owners are likely to follow his path to the NBA. That's why it's so easy to envision Stern advising Prokhorov to meet with Colangelo, should the Russian ever seek such advice.
Colangelo owned the Phoenix Suns for 17 years before selling them to
So how does this relate back to LeBron? Consider this scenario: The Nets hire Colangelo, who then -- yes, this is almost too good to be true -- tries to hire his Olympic coach,
None of this may come true, of course. But it is an example of how difficult it is to say with certainty what may happen this summer. The possibility of Colangelo and Krzyzewski recruiting the Olympic stars to come to New York on the dime of a Russian billionaire is one of many scenarios that James may not be able to refuse. (And if he does, they could make the same offer to Wade and dare him to say no.)
I've been saying all year that James is likely to remain in Cleveland because he'll be viewed as utterly loyal if he stays and disloyal if he leaves, with the latter reputation threatening great injury to his chances of becoming the world's most popular athlete. But who's to say he views his future that way? To quote the narrator of
Maybe the Knicks can lure LeBron out of Cleveland, and he proves to be so good that New York is contending for the title by his second year. Maybe the Cavs will implode during the playoffs, and he'll sign with Dallas for the mid-level exception. OK, that last one really is farfetched, but the point is it's all too murky to be certain.
"I could see him going to L.A.," an Eastern executive said. And no, don't start thinking that the Lakers' momentary failure to sign Bryant to an extension has anything to do with leaving the door open for James to take over the franchise. The only sure thing is this: We're going to continue hearing all kinds of James rumors over the months ahead, and as of early July we'll look back and see that one of them happened to be true.
As for Wade, the panel predicts overwhelmingly that he'll stay with Miami, with one expert splitting his vote to give Chicago a 50 percent chance of luring Wade back to his hometown, and another voter predicting outright that he'll sign with the Knicks. Though I've heard no groundswell forming around the possibility of a move by Wade to the Knicks, look at this way: While James may have a hard time rationalizing a leap from a title contender in Cleveland to the bare roster of New York, Wade wouldn't be giving up as much by walking out on Miami. If the argument goes that James would become a bigger star by moving to New York, then the same dynamic surely applies to Wade.
"I would think it would be hard for him to leave all he has in Miami, unless he thinks the team isn't going to be good enough for his standards," an Eastern GM said.
But the executive doesn't dismiss the possibility of Wade's signing with the Knicks.
"That wouldn't surprise me either," he said. "It doesn't scare me to death if Wade goes to New York. If Wade is their guy, I don't say, 'Oh, no, what are we going to do?' If they get LeBron, that will be a big deal, the party's over [for the rest of the league]. But Wade is a little injury-prone, and he's taken wear and tear over his career."
Ten of the voters assume that Wade will stay in Miami, with team president
"Here's the thing people don't know about him," an Eastern team president said of Bosh. "He wants to be a star. He wants to be the No. 1 guy."
If true, then that's another reason for him to remain with Toronto, as opposed to becoming the No. 2 option to Wade in Miami (or to
Regardless of how Bosh may view himself, the prevailing opinion around the league is that he cannot be the top player of a championship team.
"I don't think Chris Bosh is a No. 1 guy," a Western personnel executive said. "For him to be really successful -- and he may not be willing to admit this -- he needs to be with another guy. If he goes to Miami, I think that fits his personality because Wade provides the best match [as a perimeter teammate] for him, but again, a lot of guys can't admit to things like that.
"Almost everybody at the top of this free-agent class is a wing player, but Bosh is the one big man that's coveted and could fit in with a lot of different teams," this Western exec added. "What I've heard through the grapevine is that the only cold-weather city he's going to consider playing in is Toronto."
So much of this free-agent forecasting takes on the sound of pop-psychology analysis, as the executives try to evaluate a player's ambitions as well as his style of play.
"He could stay because they can pay him more than anyone," an Eastern team executive said of Bosh. "I always say it takes more for a guy to leave than to stay. With Bosh, you've got to give the guy the max or he's walking, but he's not a max player, I don't think. On the other hand, I really don't think he wants to carry a team. He says otherwise, and it sounds like he loves being the [No. 1] guy in Toronto, but I'm not buying that. I personally think he doesn't want to carry a contending team day after day, that he doesn't want that pressure. So looking at it that way, I could see him playing with Wade or
"I think he gets lured down to South Beach," said an agent, who obviously doesn't represent Bosh. "I think his emotions are up and down, that he likes it up there. But I really don't think Toronto is going to max him out. The owners are going to have a new definition of who a max guy is, and there are only eight or nine players who are at that [level].
If Bosh decides this summer he isn't going to stay in Toronto, added the agent, "I do know that Toronto will explore sign-and-trades for him so they get something in return. That's where they feel comfortable, and they probably have told his [agent] that, so that he won't just jump ship."
My feeling is that the Hawks will pay Johnson the max. It's against their nature as the lone franchise under the luxury-tax threshhold among the league's eight winningest teams this season. But they're already paying him $15 million this season, and the additional costs of bumping him up to a max salary approaching $17 million next year will be easier to swallow than the financial consequences of losing him.
The most common speculation is that he'll jump to the Bulls, based on the size of their market, their need for a shooting guard to help fill out their promising young roster, and the friendship between owner
The 6-8 small forward, for whom former team president
"Their team is doing so well that they're forced now to pay him," an Eastern personnel executive said. "But here's a thought for you: Let's say that Bosh ends up somewhere other than Miami; in that case I could see Miami making a run at Rudy Gay. They could have Wade at the '2,' Gay at the '3' and [
I continue to doubt we'll see many deals at next Thursday's trade deadline, because most teams are seeking financial relief and only a few are willing to take on salary. If anything is likely to break, it will happen in the 24 hours before the deadline, when trade demands will grow more realistic. Should the market thaw, the Cavs will be one of the teams ready to acquire expensive talent.
Don't think they won't be aggressive. As well as they've been playing during their 28-4 run since early December, and as much as rival executives may assume that James will remain with Cleveland, the Cavaliers cannot rest on any assumption. If, for example, the rest of the league thinks there's an 80 percent chance James will re-sign, Cavs management has to be focusing on the 20 percent chance he may leave. But it's not just about satisfying James; it's also about doing everything possible to secure a championship now that they appear so close to that goal.
But other teams may outbid Boston for Butler, who is expected to be moved by Washington over the next week. I continue to believe Allen won't be traded, because it will be so very difficult to acquire a useful talent who is worthy of the years left on his contract.
If he is going to the trouble of playing in China, then we can assume he'd like to play in the NBA again. (Which is not meant to forget that he's also trying to market his line of sneakers to the Chinese market.) But I'll be surprised if he plays in the NBA again after being such a disappointment with the Celtics last season, when he appeared to have little confidence in his jumper. If he proves capable of knocking down shots as he used to, then he might create some interest. But Marbury is a 33-year-old with a lot of mileage and baggage, and most NBA teams will view him with suspicion.
Stern will lead the owners into a formal meeting with the players' union Friday in Dallas, where both sides will discuss the owners' initial proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement for 2011-12. I don't know anyone who anticipates that meeting to go well. The two sides figure to be far apart.
When Stern holds his news conference the following day, less important than any details he provides will be the tone of his remarks, as well as those of union chief
Thanks, Matthew. The most memorable winner has to be the layup
While some of his peers say they would rather have the long weekend off, the Magic coach appears honored to be overseeing the Eastern All-Stars this weekend in Dallas.
"I don't really think there's a lot of momentum, period. What do they say in baseball: 'Momentum is when you've got pitching the next game'? Basketball's a little bit the same: Momentum is how you play the next night. A lot of this is about not getting caught up in the momentum, especially when it goes bad. You've got to get ready for the next night."
Under the proposal, nothing would change for the playoff teams that earn playoff spots 1-7. The No. 8 spot, however, would be up for grabs.
No. 8 would play a home game against No. 15, No. 9 would play at home against No. 14 and so on. The loser of each game would be eliminated, while each winner would advance to the next round.
At the conclusion of the mini-tournament, the playoffs would revert to the traditional format, with the winner of the No. 8 seed opposing the team with the best record in the conference. The results of the postseason tournament would not alter the rankings of teams heading into the lottery.
The new system is meant to incentivize losing franchises at the end of the season. Lottery-bound teams would now have a reason to keep their veteran players active in hope of creating extra gate receipts, whether from the mini-tournament or the playoffs.
Warkentien's proposal raises concerns that a franchise could cynically rest its players over the final weeks to improve its lottery position, and then restore a full lineup for the mini-tournament. But at the very least, the committee should investigate whether this idea, or something like it, can be created to deal with the issue of tanking, a late-season abomination that brings out the worst of the worst each year.