Suitors lined up for LeBron flair
Posted: Thursday, July 1, 2010 6:08 am
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The date has been circled on calendars around the NBA for years.
July 1, 2010: The day LeBron James becomes a free agent.
The day the league might begin to change forever.
“I think the landscape could really shift,” former Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr said.
Shopping season starts at 12:01 a.m. EDT Thursday with James as the biggest prize, a two-time MVP just reaching his prime and one of the most sought-after players ever to hit the free agent market in any sport.
There’s so much more.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James’ classmates from the 2003 draft — and future teammates in Miami if they choose. Perennial All-Stars such as Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.
NBA champions and Olympic gold medalists, now in search of something else for their collections: a maximum-salary contract. And teams are positioned at the starting line, just waiting for the race to start.
“We’ve never had anything like this in my time that I can remember,” New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn said. “There have been big-time free agents before, but never this many teams that are trying to woo them. So it’s unprecedented.”
Thorn is headed to Ohio, where James will welcome suitors to his home state Thursday. He’ll be joined by new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, coach Avery Johnson and hip-hop superstar Jay-Z, a part-owner and James’ longtime friend.
Then it’s back home to make pitches the next day in New York to Wade and Bosh — though minus Jay-Z. (Sorry guys, the day job calls. He’s touring in Europe).
The Knicks plan to drop in on LeBron, too. They can afford James and another max player, which might be what they need to finally get going again after a franchise-worst nine straight losing seasons.
“We’ve had to live through some tough times in order to get where you think you start rebuilding the franchise,” team president Donnie Walsh said. “We have that opportunity now. How well, how fast we can rebuild the team can be shortcut by getting great players.”
They’ll have plenty of competition. The Heat, Nets, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers can offer max deals to James’ class, which would pay about $16.6 million next season. Chicago and New Jersey made trades in recent days to push them closer to joining the Knicks with enough to offer two max deals, and the Heat can keep Wade, give an additional max contract and have enough left over for another quality player.
So much for the theory that free agency isn’t the route to building a winner in the NBA, where top players rarely leave because their teams can offer them more money. (James would give up about $30 million if he bolts Cleveland).
The Knicks traded away Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph — the NBA’s top sixth man and a first-time All-Star, respectively — to get their $34 million in room. New Jersey shipped out Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter in recent years, resulting in a 12-70 record but hope for a quick turnaround.
Published in The Messenger 6.30.10