The unique thing about this NBA season is that it seems a majority of teams weren’t or aren’t paying attention to this year but were/are more interested in this summer and recruiting a top free agent in the best available class in NBA history.
Teams like the Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers all have significant cap room and figure to be the most aggressive clubs in pursuing a big-ticket free agent. And obviously the cream of the free agent crop this summer is Cleveland’s LeBron James.
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LeBron’s free agency is even overshadowing these playoffs, to the point that NBA commissioner David Stern said this week that he hoped that James stayed with the Cavs while giving LeBron his MVP trophy this week. Stern admitted he was concerned that free agency – James’ in particular – might steal the spotlight away from the rest of the postseason or this summer's draft. Free agency doesn't begin until July 1.
"We do have this thing called the Finals," Stern said, "and we have some great playoff games left."
Bodog has listed some props on where LeBron will play his first game in 2010-11. Let’s take a look at each option:
Cavaliers (1/3): Most experts seem to think that James is much more likely to stay in Cleveland if the Cavs win this year’s NBA title. How could LeBron walk away from the team with a chance to repeat? And LeBron always has claimed that he’s all about winning, so leaving a team that just won the title would cast him as someone who just wants the bigger stage and doesn’t care all that much about winning. Not that LeBron needs the cash, but the Cavs can offer him about $30 million more than any other team. And James’ new Nike contract reportedly didn’t include a clause that would give him more money if he went to a bigger market – that could be important.
Knicks (3/1): I guarantee you that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh will be in LeBron’s driveway come midnight on July 1. The Knicks gave up a decent prospect in Jordan Hill and some No. 1 draft picks just to get far enough under the salary cap to be able to lure two top free agents, with their eyes squarely on James. LeBron has always said he loves New York City and he’s always seen wearing a Yankees cap. James also would make millions more in marketing in the Big Apple than he would in Cleveland. But the Knicks won’t be able to put much talent around James and whatever other free agent they might get.
Mavericks (25/1): You can’t rule out Mark Cuban from anything, but it’s hard to see James going to the Mavs – although Dallas could become a major player if Dirk Nowitzki opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent. Cuban is probably ready to reshape his team after another disappointing playoff exit, but I don’t believe the Mavs have any shot whatsoever at LeBron.
Heat (35/1): Is South Beach big enough for both LeBron and Dwyane Wade? Those two have made noise in the past about possibly playing together, but it’s hard to imagine these two stars would be willing to share the spotlight – unless maybe it’s in New York, which is big enough to handle these two.
Bulls (40/1): In my mind the Bulls should be the third-favorite behind the Cavs and Knicks. Think a team with LeBron, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng might be any good? And LeBron completely respects Michael Jordan – to the point of changing his number from 23 next season. Did he maybe do that so he could play in Chicago, where 23 is retired (it is in Miami too, by the way)? There have been reports that the Bulls might hire Kentucky coach John Calipari because he is tight with LeBron. Supposedly they are so close that Coach Cal would only jump to the NBA for the chance to coach James. This might be worth a long-shot bet, but I still doubt LeBron would play in Jordan’s shadow in the Windy City.
Clippers (40/1): Frugal Clips owner Donald Sterling apparently is tired of playing second-fiddle in L.A. and intends to make a big splash this offseason by getting a big name. But would James really play in the city that Kobe Bryant owns? No chance. Plus James is more of an East Coast guy.
Olympiakos S.F.P. (100/1): Yeah, James mentioned previously about maybe playing overseas to broaden his brand, but he was being facetious. Maybe near the end of his career if James already has a bunch of rings he would head to the Europe for a season but no chance it happens this summer.
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Any Other Team (18/1): Really the only other club with an outside chance is the Nets, as they will be moving to Brooklyn in a few years, have a new high-profile billionaire owner and because LeBron is tight with Jay Z, a minority owner. The Nets could be contenders next season with LeBron and if they get John Wall or Evan Turner in this year’s draft. But I can’t see LeBron going to Newark for a couple of years.
By the way, Bodog also lists odds on where Dwyane Wade will land next season. Look for that story next week at Doc’s.