Free agency Day 1: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Yes, I believe that was first written when Charles Dickens was unable to lure the top free agent chimney sweep at the time as he instead moved into a high-rise condo near the Bastille.
This big LeBron free agency is actually becoming a tale of three cities, Chicago, Miami and Cleveland.
Though the big news Thursday, with nothing official until July 8 after the official salary cap figures come in July 7, was the apparent agreement by Joe Johnson to return to the Atlanta Hawks for some $120 million maximum salary and Rudy Gay to remain in Memphis for an extension of more than $80 million.
Unless you have the Hawks and Grizzlies playing in the 2011 Finals, this suggests the first wave of players did what most expected and what many teams with cap room feared—that the players would take the most money and run.
And no one even needed a gub in a holdup.
Sorry, I reference the 60s and 70s and the classics, like Dickens and Woody Allen, at least when he was funny. Dickens actually was quite the humorist himself, as readers know, though it’s still tough to get a good laugh out of the French revolution.
Meanwhile, there was some other free agent money promised, like Drew Gooden—now that’s what the word journeyman means—to the Bucks for apparently a full midlevel exception of about $34 million. Now, if Scott Skiles also wants Tim Thomas then I truly give up.
Johnson was the guy everyone was worrying their team would overspend on with a max five-year contract. And now he’s apparently off the market with a six-year monster deal with the Hawks, who barely got past the Bucks in the first round and were as uncompetitive as anyone ever in the next round against the Magic. The Bulls have long liked the idea of adding Johnson, but never really will get a shot. Johnson apparently will do some perfunctory interviews to say he experienced the process, but he’s back to play before 6,500 fans and hope again to get to the second round.
Heck, Gay hasn’t even been to the playoffs, but I heard he loves watching them. He cancelled his interviews to stay in supposedly cash strapped Memphis for more than he could have gotten on the open market.
Memphis fans have to credit owner Michael Heisley for being so willing to spend and not even for their top producer in a modest sized market with limited consumer support. This is hardly making a great owners’ case that the NBA is in financial trouble and franchises are about to fail. You’d think Memphis had to be among the worst off, and then they go spend like this.
But the worry for teams like the Bulls, Heat, Knicks and Nets has to be that, in the end, the players are going to take the money rather than take a chance on winning somewhere.
The test is soon to come as we’ll see where LeBron, Wade and Bosh, the elite of the market, choose to go and why.
The Bulls have talked with Bosh and have a meeting set. They’ve already met with Wade as well as Carlos Boozer as they’ll make their way through all the top free agents as they head for Akron Saturday and the final LeBron session with his main suitors. James then will talk to the Cavs, who in most eyes crept slightly ahead of the pack with the signing of Byron Scott as coach.
Scott was in line for the Lakers job if Phil Jackson left. But Phil returns for a shot at a third three-peat, and so Scott goes to Cleveland just as it seemed they were about to hire Brian Shaw.
Did LeBron send word? Did Scott get an assurance? No one is saying or seems to know for sure, but Scott fits a profile LeBron has talked about as a former player who will be tough on him and hold him accountable and who has had success. Scott has done well with stars like Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, and Paul is said to be perhaps James’ closest friend in the NBA and supposedly gave James a strong endorsement of Scott.
The speculation began immediately since Scott and Paul remain close that Paul, who has two years left on his contract though he has been the subject of trade rumors, will push for a trade to the Cavs now that he knows the Hornets looked to trade him. It wouldn’t seem the Cavs have enough, but they can add a player with a mid-level deal, give up J.J. Hickson and several first round picks and who knows. You never say never in the NBA.
But the Bulls may have gotten some unexpected good news with a good Thursday session with Dwyane Wade, who sought out the initially reluctant Bulls.
Was he just a spy? Heck, it may have been worth it just for the heart palpitations for Pat Riley.
I wrote about this last Monday, and Wade could make a heck of an end run boxing in James by going to the Bulls with Chris Bosh. Then Miami is out for James and he’d have to stay in Cleveland to have any chance to contend and clearly would be an also ran to Wade/Bosh/Rose/Noah.
New Jersey has suddenly revived with their presentation to James Thursday, and the biggest speculation around the NBA is the mysterious new owner with international billions will just stash away a fortune for James somewhere. Could James seriously talk contending going to a 12-win team moving to Newark? For less money? Really, what is going on!
Wade has to be giving the Chicago scenario some thought if he is serious about winning, and how sweet would it be to outdo James?
If Wade returns to Miami as expected, even with Bosh, if LeBron and, say, Boozer go to Chicago with Rose and Noah, Wade likely would never get back to the Finals and maybe the conference finals. Leaving with Bosh and walling in James would be the strategic move of the year to maybe bury James’s title hopes for the next year. The Bulls were said to be surprisingly upbeat after the Wade session.
But it would cost Wade a fortune since he would forfeit the six-year max and likely that $28 million sixth year pay day as he is 28 now, and even that extra three percent or so Florida doesn’t pay in state taxes.
So we’ll see where he is as well, but a door previously thought closed seems to have opened a bit.
One of my favorite parts of the day was the report when the Nets met first with James that a “Nets source” called the meeting “front runner tremendous.”
This reminds me when my group was the first off when a golf course in Miami had just opened. When we got in, someone asked what the course record was. They said we were the first to play the course so there was none. Yes, for about 15 minutes I had the course record at the Golf Club of Miami with a 94.
The Nets were first in. Of course they were the front runner.
Then came the Knicks with their grand tradition of having won a championship 40 years ago with a bunch of white guys and basically booing out of town the best player they had since, Patrick Ewing. Sure, they’re going to be on top of everyone’s list. The Knicks were said to be pursuing Ray Felton.
And then there was Darko getting $20 million for four years from Minnesota as Gay cancelled his scheduled meeting there. Yes, $20 million for Darko. Then $30 million for Channing Frye. Some $34 million for Amir Johnson. Who? Really, has anyone ever seen Amir play? How many could pick him out of a lineup? Do you think Luol Deng is overpaid now? I expect Deng to ask for renegotiations seeing the productivity of guys getting these contracts.
The Magic were said to be quietly exploring sign-and-trade scenarios for Vince Carter, and I can see why as if they weren’t quiet everyone would laugh out loud.
Day 2 should be even more fun.