Moving Closer to Free Agency as Clock Ticks Toward Thursday
With a spectacular convergence of talent and salary-cap space finally set to take place Thursday at 12:00 a.m., the mood across the various NBA cities varies as widely as do the options of their star free agents.
In Cleveland, things have turned bitter.
It has widely been expected that if James were to decide to leave the Cavaliers, a sign-and-trade would be the likely avenue. Doing so provides obvious mutual benefits between team and player. It would allow James to sign a six-year, $125.5 million contract instead of a five-year, $96.1 million deal. It would allow the Cavaliers to get something of value in return for the game’s best player, rather than losing him for nothing.
However, owner Dan Gilbert apparently has no intention of assisting its star player in leaving the state of Ohio. If James decides to leave, Cleveland management will simply let him walk – leaving that extra cash on the table and putting further strain on a potential rebuilding plan.
The Cavs appear surprisingly dead-set on making an alternate life as difficult as possible for LeBron, even at the expense of the health of the franchise. The team figures to have as much as $10.9 million of cap room if LeBron decides to leave. If the team were to instead work with James to construct a sign-and-trade, it could gain a trade exception of up to $16.6 million, access to a $5.7 million Mid-Level Exception, as well as a bevy of potential draft picks.
Why would they turn away the extra cap flexibility and draft picks? Out of spite? Because they are pouting? Apparently, Gilbert is more committed to his so-called principles than he is to the assets a sign-and-trade would create. Expect him to change his mind.
Bryan Colangelo has long since known his star free agent was unlikely to return. And he seems more than accommodating.
Bosh has provided his club a list of desired locations, though he has reportedly narrowed that list to just the Miami Heat. The Raptors will certainly attempt to engage in a sign-and-trade transaction in order to bring the franchise at least some measure of compensation.
The Raptors will undoubtedly try to acquire some combination of draft picks and/or young players in return for Bosh. They could ask for Michael Beasley and/or Mario Chalmers in any deal with the Heat, though Colangelo is more likely to seek only a huge helping of first and second round draft picks. A massive trade exception would also be created in the deal.
Already faced with the prospect of losing its own star forward Dirk Nowitzki to free agency, Dallas held LeBron James as its primary, albeit unlikely, target. It’s not happening.
James was never a realistic target. But Mavs fans need not worry. Dirk’s decision to opt out of his contract is purely for his own peace of mind, nothing more. He’s not leaving Dallas. Dirk wants to lock in a long-term contract under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire after the upcoming season, because it is generally regarded to be significantly more favorable than any new agreement to come. So he needs to act now.
He has two choices. He can enter into a new four-year deal as a free agent, enabling him to make up to $96.2 million from Dallas. Or he can extend his existing contract for nearly equivalent money – up to $96.1 million over the next four years. The difference, however, is that – by rule – extensions do not actually take effect until the summer before the first extended season. Dirk still has one year left on his existing contract, which means his extension would take effect in the 2011 offseason. By then, the new collective bargaining agreement will (hopefully) already be in place, which would expose Nowitzki to potential after-the-fact reductions to his annual wage if league owners are successful in their attempts to lower the value of maximum salaries.
By opting out, he gets the peace of mind of having his entire contract fall under the terms of the current agreement. He gets the ability to include a no-trade clause in his contract, something he couldn’t include in an extension. And he gets an additional $178,978.95.
Dirk isn’t going anywhere. It’s all just minor contract stuff.
Paul Pierce’s decision to opt out of his contract comes as a bit of a shock. His name has scarcely been mentioned in the buildup to the summer of 2010 free agent bonanza because most rival executives believed that the Celtics would never allow its go-to scorer to walk.
Pierce’s decision to opt out of his contract could set of a nasty chain of events for the once mighty Celtics. If he walks, Ray Allen figures to follow, and the Celtics could go from an NBA Finalist to a largely irrelevant Eastern Conference bottom-dweller in a span of less than two months.
But that’s not happening. His opt-out is a simple matter of employing the very same logic as Dirk.
With every passing day, the likelihood of a Wade, James and Bosh trio seems more real. It now seems all but certain.
The Heat received a boost to that effort yesterday, when James Jones apparently agreed to a buyout that was $1 million below his $5.952 million partial guarantee, which would produce an additional $311,828 in cap savings. Beasley is all but certain to get moved, perhaps to Toronto as part of a Bosh sign-and-trade but more likely to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Assuming a taker can be identified for Chalmers, if it were to come to that, the Heat can now officially create the needed cap room to offer three full max contracts.
Hopes are high in South Florida. Expect unofficial agreements to be struck in the next few days and official announcements to be made by the end of next week.