A Look at the Competition
Note: From 8:00 am on 6/28 to 8:00 pm on 6/28, the Vegas lines in regards to landing LeBron James have changed dramatically. The Heat’s odds have increased to 2/1 from 5/1. At the same time, the Bulls’ odds have reversed to 1/3 from 1/5. This is the first time the Heat has been in the second place in the race for the King!
Three days until free agency begins.
Nine days until the salary cap, luxury tax and mid-level exception numbers are released.
Ten days until players can be signed.
The Miami Heat is poised to make a big free agent splash, but several cap space teams have equally high hopes. Here’s a look at the key competition:
Projected Cap Space: $33,249,024
Players Under Contract: 5
Key Possible Additions: LeBron James, Chris Bosh
The Bulls head into the off-season with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, James Johnson and Taj Gibson under contract.
When the Kirk Hinrich trade is finalized on July 8, Chicago will have enough cap room for one max contract free agent and $13,838,492 left over for a complementary piece. That number is below the second max threshold by $2,730,417 – an amount which can not be bridged without saving money by moving Luol Deng. James Johnson and Taj Gibson combine to make $2,831,280, but they’d have a $947,208 roster charge coming back if they’re traded, so the Bulls would still be shy by $846,345.
Betting lines currently offer just a 20% return for bets placed on LeBron signing with Chicago. The next smallest payout is 400% (to bets placed on the Cavs, Knicks and Nets). Vegas seems fairly convinced LeBron will end up with the Bulls.
Chris Bosh has indicated that wherever he goes, he wants to play exclusively at his more natural power forward position. In Chicago, that’s a given. If the Bulls can clear an extra $2.26 million in a trade of Deng, we could be looking at a core of Rose, Noah, James and Bosh.
It stands to be seen whether either LeBron James or Chris Bosh would be willing to accept even a penny below a maximum contract. Their egos may simply not allow it. If the Bulls cannot clear the required cap space, look for the Bulls to pursue Carlos Boozer as a lower-cost alternative.
Projected Cap Space: $20,052,440
Players Under Contract: 6
Key Possible Additions: Rudy Gay
The Clippers have Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman under contract. They also hold the draft rights to two first round picks: Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe.
The Clippers are weakest at one primary spot – small forward. I don’t think there’s a chance in the world they are able to land LeBron James. L.A.’s best bet could be Rudy Gay.
The Clippers figure to be the team most likely to offer up a maximum contract offer sheet to Gay, which will put the onus on Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to match. The Clips would benefit from doing so quickly. Why? Once an offer sheet is accepted, the Grizzlies would not be able, by league rule, to match it for the purposes of pursuing a sign-and-trade. In fact, if the Grizzlies decide to match it, Gay could not be subsequently traded at all until December 15. In short, if the Clips put forth an offer sheet for Gay at the first possible minute and he accepts it (after all, it is L.A.), no off-season trades involving Rudy would be possible (unless Gay, the Clips and the Griz mutually agree to terminate the offer sheet).
If Gay is uninterested, look for the Clips to consider second tier options (Howard, Miller, Salmons, etc.).
New Jersey Nets.
Projected Cap Space: $28,980,061
Players Under Contract: 8
Key Possible Additions: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver
New Jersey is the wildcard of the cap-space teams.
Of all the teams near the epicenter of free agency, the Nets have perhaps the best roster already in place. Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Terrence Williams, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee and rookies Derrick Favors and Damion Jones make New Jersey a fairly deep team.
The Nets are planning to meet face-to-face with several big name talents, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Both mega-star rapping part owner Jay-Z and majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov will be part of the contingent that will make the presentations.
The Russian billionaire says he wants to make the team great and spend lots of money. And when his Nets fail to land any of the above names, he will have plenty left under the salary cap to overpay Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver.
The Nets are known to have had interest in both for quite some time. Adding them would certainly make for a quality Eastern Conference team, but certainly not enough to produce the championship title Prokhorov has ordered by 2015.
Comrade Prokhorov, your five-year plan is kaput.
New York Knicks.
Projected Cap Space: $37,462,706
Players Under Contract: 5
Key Possible Additions: Joe Johnson, David Lee
The Knicks have one fat center (Eddie Curry), three wings (Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Bill Walker), and a backup guard (Tony Douglas), and they think they’ll rule the week. Instead, they figure to be one of free agency’s biggest losers.
Everything’s bigger in the Big Apple – including the ridiculous contracts. In the seven years the luxury tax system has been activated, the Knicks have paid a combined 204 million in tax dollars, 55% higher than the Mavericks, who come in second on the dubious list.
Figure the trend to continue. For years, dreams of LeBron James in Madison Square Garden have permeated the atmosphere. The reality is that it’s not going to happen. But while trying to improve their pitch to get him, the Knicks will hastily offer Joe Johnson a maximum value contract. Sources have indicated New York appears to be Johnson’s first choice as well, so the match appears to be made in heaven.
The team will also pursue Amare Stoudemire, but the fruits of that labor will only serve to drive up the price for the Heat, which will leave a gaping hole down low. Surely Boozer, who played for D’Antoni at the Olympics, is also on the Knick list. But David Lee knows the run-and-gun system well, he’s younger, more energetic and less prone to injury.
Look for the Knicks to take a strong interest in athletic names at every position of need, including Darren Collison or Chris Paul at the point and Tyson Chandler (if he opts out of his $12.6 million contract) at center.
Since Patrick Ewing’s glory days, the Knicks have traveled a bumpy road from mediocre to scorned to irrelevant. That trend may well continue on.