Weekly Countdown: Which max free agent will jump first?
Counting down the days until sentences can be ended by a period instead of a question mark.
Consider the Knicks, who have met with
In the first couple of days there has been a lot of pitching and promising, but where is the big money? It's still on the table of what is turning into an enormous game of poker. Has Chicago made an offer to Johnson? Could Miami work a sign-and-trade for Bosh that would leave them with max room for Wade and James? Are the Nets in with a chance at signing James?
Johnson figures to be a key indicator here. If he accepts a reported six-year max offer from Atlanta and takes himself off the market, that will dump further pressure on the Knicks and Bulls and other teams to make an outright offer elsewhere. Because Johnson and James are the only big-name wing players available now that
In the meantime, there are at least six teams waiting to hear a decision from James over the holiday weekend, and they're being careful to not make a move that could damage their chances of landing him. At the same time they're pursuing other stars to either team with him or replace him on their envisioned rosters. Gamesmanship is a crucial dynamic now -- which owner or GM will emerge as the best poker player, with the most informed and cool-headed reading of the other players at the table?
I spoke with a college recruiter yesterday -- because this is recruiting as I can never remember in the NBA -- and he pointed out that the key is to sign the first player. Once you have the first guy, now you have a foundation to attract others to come, he said.
And that makes sense. Because, by signing Johnson or Stoudemire or Bosh, now you've removed the hypothetical. Now James will look at that player's new team and think realistically about joining with him there. Once one of these big names leaves the market, the frenzy is going to grow because no team will want to be left out. Someone may jump at a sure thing instead of holding out for LeBron.
They'll appeal to his sensibilities. James knows himself that his fame will be hollow if he doesn't win NBA championships. That's why he has repeatedly maintained his decision will be based on basketball. Of course his earning potential is an important consideration, as well as the understanding -- shared by most people -- that winning those championships would have the biggest impact in New York, just as
The Cavs will also know how to engage with James in a personal way. Before the Nets met with him Thursday, minority owner and friend of James',
But first things first: If James moves to New York or another big market and he doesn't win, then he'll deal with the same misery faced by
That's why I continue to view Cleveland as the leader in this race. But who knows what he is thinking?
There has been similar surprise at some of the other
These are all middle-class signings. Gooden's last multi-year deal was worth $23 million over three seasons, so this amounts to a cut in pay that reflects the market. If the Bucks derive 12 points and eight rebounds per night from him, he'll be well worth his salary compared to some of the other contracts forthcoming in the NBA.
If the Bucks re-sign
Are the owners sending the "wrong message" to the players' union with these early signings? After all, the players are being asked to absorb salary cuts and shorter contracts in the next collective bargaining agreement. My own feeling is that these contracts are the start of a more cost-efficient trend. The league needs to rebuild its middle class. You can argue whether Milicic or Gooden are worthy of their new contracts, but the bottom line is that the contracts aren't enormous by recent league standards.
The real test will come when one or two of the teams with major cap space is unable to sign a big-name free agent. Will those shut-out teams spend their money extravagantly to make a splash? That will send a message to the players that things aren't nearly so bad as the owners are making it out to be.
Even with Jefferson off the books, they don't have cap space, not with $44 million committed next season to
Should he really trade Nowitzki for Bosh? Bosh is a better rebounder, but he isn't the go-to scorer Nowitzki has been. Nowitzki has been league MVP and he is the face of a highly successful franchise. If you were going to list the problems that have kept Dallas from winning a championship, Nowitzki would be at the bottom -- he is one player who does what is expected of him. The issue is finding the right pieces around him, as opposed to replacing him outright.
Interesting idea, especially if you're a Lakers fan. That trade would weaken Denver, leaving the Nuggets without their go-to scorer in Anthony while providing the Lakers with a 26-year-old MVP candidate who can take over as Kobe Bryant ages. The Nuggets are going to want to receive a star replacement for Anthony, and they'll only generate that by moving him to an attractive team that will be able to sign him to a long-term deal beyond next summer, when he can become a free agent. This trade proposal leaves them with no star power with which to rebuild, unfortunately.
That's a good question. In general terms, I would say a healthy Griffin would be No. 1 because of his size and mobility. But if the team with the No. 1 pick had a need at point guard, then of course it could rationalize choosing Wall No. 1.
The third factor, which may be available to other teams: Assistant GM
Most fans (and many NBA owners) have never heard of Cho, but people in the league view him as a prototype for the next NBA era, an executive who draws on a number of backgrounds to come up with solutions. "Rich is incredibly talented," said Presti. "He has great versatility in his approach and skills and is someone that consistently thinks of the long-term interest of the organization."
Someday, Cho will be a GM or team president in the NBA, and as such he'll be able to draw on his experience in the business office while not needing to hire legal counsel or a capologist -- he'll fill both roles himself. "The combination of all of those things gives him a really good future," said Sund. "Going back over my career of 30 some years in the NBA, I wish I'd picked up a law or business degree along with my understanding of basketball. I've been in basketball all my life, but the different dimensions Rich has -- I wish I had them."
Crucial to all of these planners is their ability to translate a player's strengths and weaknesses into a salary. What is the player's value in the current market? The Thunder's success has depended on making the difficult decisions of knowing when to spend on certain players -- like the three-year, $15.6 million deal they gave to center Nenad Krstic -- and when to walk away from others who aren't worth big money. "I always felt I was a half-step ahead with Rich," said Sund. "When I was with Seattle he'd already developed a software package of evaluating every player in the league, it was all done by numbers and all I had to do was type in the name or the value. Plus he's one of those lucky guys who has a photographic memory -- he can remember everything that happened from when you were trying to do a trade four years earlier or when you were looking at a guy in the draft."
"This game has become a numbers game," said Hawks director of pro personnel/college scouting
If James stays in the East he should make his decision to quickly, in hope of attracting another star to join him. Because he has yet to prove he can beat Boston or Orlando in the playoffs.