By Ian Thomsen
July 07, 2010

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have committed to Miami while Carlos Boozer is on his way to Chicago. That leaves LeBron James as the last big-money free agent on the board.

The important specifics of the Miami agreements were unknown on Wednesday, the day before new contracts can officially be signed. Will both Wade and Bosh receive max deals, or are they planning to accept less money in order to create room for James to join them? Will the Raptors accept Michael Beasley in a sign-and-trade for Bosh, which would clear space for Miami to offer near-max deals to James, Wade and Bosh altogether?

To view it from Toronto's perspective, will the Raptors receive compensation for Bosh that would enable him to earn a six-year, $125 million max deal, or will Bosh settle for five years and leave the Raptors with nothing in return?

Wade and Bosh confirmed the agreement Wednesday on ESPN, which first first reported the two players' decisions.

James plans to announce his decision Thursday night during a one-hour special on ESPN -- commercial proceeds to go to the Boys And Girls Clubs of America -- with the setting of the announcement suggesting in and of itself that he will re-sign with Cleveland.

James grew up in Akron within an hour's drive of Cleveland, he has never lived outside the Cleveland area, and his potential departure has been awaited with tremendous apprehension by his native region. If James is planning to leave his hometown, one of the cruelest ways to break the news would be via a one-hour TV special to celebrate his exit.

James has managed his image as well as any young NBA player since MichaelJordan. He has to understand how badly he would alienate fans not only throughout the country but also in his hometown if he were to abandon Cleveland in this way. For someone of his unique commercial standing, taking out an hour of live TV makes sense only if he's going to declare loyalty to his hometown and celebrate his desire above all else to win a championship for Cleveland. An announcement like this is meant to help James' image -- not damage him -- which is why I view it as a sign he'll remain with the Cavaliers.

James' other options remain to sign with Chicago, where he could potentially join Boozer along with the Bulls' All-Star point guard, Derrick Rose; or Miami, where he would team with Wade and Bosh -- his fellow classmates from the 2003 draft -- to form the makings of a young dynasty. The problem with going to Miami would be the lack of complementary players as the capped-out Heat would be left to sign veterans to minimum $1 million contracts.

Miami and Chicago would appear to be less-likely alternatives to remaining in Cleveland. As outlined here yesterday, New Jersey, New York and the Clippers -- the other teams to make presentations to James last week -- are out of the picture.

The Nets and Clippers will enter the second tier of free agency with no elite signings, while the Knicks -- who for two years have been viewed as the main contender for James -- enter the next round of free agency hoping to build around the five-year, $100 million deal they gave to Amar'e Stoudemire.

Boozer fills the Bulls' long-sought need for a low-post scorer. Will his presence be enough to lure James to Chicago? Bosh was viewed as the more attractive teammate for LeBron.

Should James not join Wade and Bosh in Miami, the Heat will have more than $10 million in cap space to fill out their roster (and even more space if they unload Beasley in a sign-and-trade with Toronto). The quality of those moves will decide whether Wade and Bosh are surrounded with enough talent to challenge the Celtics, Magic and Cavaliers or Bulls (depending on James' choice) at the top of the East next season.

Bosh's veiled signal that he will be willing to accept a five-year deal that leaves Toronto without compensation is the equivalent of holding a gun to the head of the Raptors. They can either take on Beasley in a sign-and-trade or accept a draft pick along with a $16 million trade exception that can be used over the year ahead -- an asset that could have enormous value at next year's February trade deadline, when teams are seeking to dump salary. The option that could help Toronto while providing Miami with the least cap space would be to acquire the trade exception and leave the Heat with the burden of Beasley's contract.

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