Talk about your fireworks. This July 4th weekend may be about to produce some huge sparks—and duds—around the NBA as the free agent beauty pageant is about to conclude with LeBron James Saturday closing his series of free agency meetings in Akron with the hometown Cavs and finally the Bulls.
He’s expected to be wearing his best sweatpants.
The big question is whether James is about to issue his own declaration of independence from Cleveland or remain a loyalist. Because, after all, he is the king, or so he says.
The drama ratcheted up Friday as Dwyane Wade had a second meeting with the Bulls, setting off a frenzy of speculation that Wade was perhaps concocting an elaborate power play to seal off James by beating him to Chicago along with Chris Bosh and arranging the super team for Chicago with Bosh and LeBron to join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Wade’s second session with the Bulls kicked off all kinds of wild theories and anonymous source spread certainty that was perhaps appropriate for this basketball madness that is building to a dramatic conclusion.
That should come shortly after this weekend, as James and Wade likely make their decisions. Though it seems several of the major free agents already have made theirs.
Joe Johnson is virtually certain to return to Atlanta for a six-year maximum salary contract.
Rudy Gay has agreed to return to Memphis for an extension larger than anything he could have garnered on the open market.
Amar’e Stoudemire seems headed to New York for the largest deal he could get as his home town Suns declined to fully guarantee the final years of a five-year deal.
What all the apparent agreements had in common is each player took every last penny he could get, which suggests a return to Cleveland for James and a return to Miami for Wade.
So what, exactly, is going on?
From everything I have heard, Wade does not want to play with James. He wants to beat James. He’s had enough of being the other guy despite the one with the championship. So you ask, what was Pat Riley doing almost all day Friday in Akron meeting with James?
It may be what Wade was asking and his own subtle message to Riley, that if you are pursuing James, I can go other places.
As I outlined in my NBA column last Monday on Bulls.com, it would be a brilliant strategic move for Wade to box in James by going to the Bulls with Chris Bosh, with whom Wade seems closest.
Wade, really, fits better with Rose and the Bulls, who lack a shooting guard after giving up Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, while James duplicates Luol Deng’s position. Then you add Bosh with Taj Gibson a backup, and Noah and the Bulls have a loaded top of the rotation.
That also would eliminate Miami for James and he either returns to Cleveland without a supporting cast to match, or goes to New Jersey with maybe Carlos Boozer and tries to dig out from 12 wins.
That, obviously, would be the Bulls’ dream scenario and the one I’ve felt fits best among the grand plans.
A lot of it requires players giving up money to go for wins, which doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere. Could Stoudemire seriously think he’s going to win more with that Knicks’ roster?
I don’t believe that’s what Wade is up to. I believe he was sending a message to Riley to get to work on Bosh. Others believe Wade was more in a stalling tactic to delay and obfuscate the Bulls’ free agency plans.
The latest word is the Raptors don’t want any big sign-and-trade for Bosh, but might take back draft picks only. The big issue for Bosh is he wants the sixth year maximum along with Wade, and the Bulls cannot deliver that to both. They might be able to put together three firsts for a sign-and-trade for Bosh, though Miami might have a slight edge as they own a Toronto first the Raptors would like back from the Jermaine O’Neal deal.
Would Bosh go elsewhere, like Houston, for that sign-and-trade? Most doubt it.
So comes the Bulls, who met with Wade, Bosh, Boozer and David Lee over the last day or so and head into Cleveland to make their pitch to LeBron.
It’s a tenuous one for salary reasons, though no one seems to think James wants or needs the six year maximum salary deal because of who he is and what he can make.
The Bulls’ appeal to James probably rests on persuading him who else they have gotten an assurance from who could team with James to join Rose and Noah.
Frankly, there’s no way James and Wade are going to play with or mesh with Rose, so the presumption is the Bulls have to lock up a commitment from a power forward and show James that would enable him to win and stay ahead of the team Miami has assembled with Wade.
Lurking in the background is the Nets, who have this unusual appeal of the Russian billionaire owner and what vistas that could open for James. They seem like a third option after the Cavs, who officially introduced new coach Byron Scott, and the Bulls.
While the Bulls have their eyes on the big ball heading into Saturday’s final face off, they have to also be considering the alternative and what if James stays. There’s been talk of late Boozer has had interest in the Nets and could go there, which would leave the Bulls grasping for someone like David Lee and an aggressive trading approach that has had them linked to a deal with Portland for Luol Deng and the likes of free agent guards like Mike Miller, whom the Knicks are said to be pursuing to add to Stoudemire, and J.J. Redick.
This is the kind of high stakes poker fit more for Amarillo Slim.
It looks like boom or bust and we’re approaching the final hand.
Hey, it didn’t look good for those rag tag American militia, either. We know the players are going to have a happy 4th. There are no losers with those pay days. We’ll soon find out which teams have reason to celebrate.