Anecdotal evidence keeps building

Not content to sit idly by and have their off-season plans destroyed by the departing Chris Bosh, general manager Bryan Colangelo and the Toronto Raptors opted instead to kick off free agency by agreeing to re-sign Amir Johnson to a five-year, $34 million contract.

The Johnson signing represents a commitment to rebuilding with the right long-term pieces for the start of the non-Bosh era. The 23-year old figures to be a key part of the frontcourt rotation for years to come and will have a chance to expand beyond his current role as a shot blocker and rebounder.

But to brush aside this ridiculous contract as a quality investment would be to assume that other teams were prepared to pay an average of $6.8 million per season over five years for a back-up big man who has had an exceedingly difficult time remaining on the floor due to his severe propensity for committing fouls. It is a perplexing expenditure for a franchise currently dealing with the consequences of another exorbitant contract that blew up in its face, and one dealing with several others (Calderon, 3 years and $29 million; Bargnani, 5 years and $50 million).

The consensus opinion after the first day of the most anticipated free agency period in league history is that rampant overspending is to be the norm, so the Raptors are certainly not alone in their dread. If Darko Milicic, who has averaged five points and four rebounds in 17 minutes per game for his career and was seriously contemplating moving back to Europe (always something of a buyer beware situation), can get a four-year, $20 million contract to play in sunny Minnesota, Johnson’s contract would seem right in line. The problem with that logic, however, is that such rampant league-wide spending is never an excuse for fiscal irresponsibility which can cripple an organization for the better part of a decade, particularly one that is already at the decided disadvantage of being located in another country and desperately trying to recruit citizens of the United States.

The 6’9″ 210-pound 23-year old, perhaps one of the best-kept secrets at power forward in the league, does have a tremendous amount of upside. But it’s hard to project a huge ceiling for a player who has averaged just 4.7 points and 4.2 rebounds and has never averaged more than 15 minutes per game over his five-year career.

But put aside the head-scratching, overcooked contracts that have been handed out like charity to marginal NBA talent thus far, from a league that claims to have suffered financial losses nearing $400 million this past season, and focus instead on the implications of the Amir contract.

The Raptors entered the off-season, assuming Chris Bosh is lost to free agency, with $7,838,964 of spending money under the cap. But Johnson’s contract, which figures to start at around $5.75 million next season, seems eerily close to the projected value of the mid-level exception to come.

The decision makes what was always simply assumed more readily apparent. Toronto has no intentions of being a cap space player this off-season. Rather, it appears as if Colaneglo wants to (over)spend his way back into the Eastern Conference picture.

This could be telling for the Miami Heat.

If Chris Bosh chooses to walk away in free agency, the Raptors are now basically out of ammunition. They simply have no more cash to spend, or rather just one $2.1 million and a host of minimum contracts. What better way to refuel the tank than to stick Amir onto its mid-level exception and acquire a $16.6 million trade exception with which to work?

Well, Miami is offering one.

Again, this is purely the type of unfounded speculation that has driven us all crazy over the past several months.

But then there’s this. Bosh and Dwyane Wade tweeting away about their dinner together – on Thursday night after they spent a no doubt exhausting day listening to sales pitches from their many NBA suitors, most of which were undoubtedly fruitless efforts from teams they already know have no shot at signing them. Bosh took it a step further by posting a picture (captured above) of himself and Wade, with an empty chair between the two, and then commenting “It feels like someone is missing…” Interesting.

Perhaps the two are just fanning the flames. But the convergence of recent events certainly needs to be considered.

Toronto has already used up all of its dry powder. It needs, and has declared it wants, $16.6 million of extra spending money (and its first round draft pick back to boot). It’s highly coveted and star power forward, Chris Bosh, spent a cozy evening breaking bread with Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile, the Wolves have just used up all but an oddly telling amount of its excess cash.

Could something already be in works? Could Stephen A. Smith be correct? Could the Wade, James and Bosh interview schedules simply be one big charade?

Perhaps I sound like a staff writer for the National Enquirer. But I’m excited!

The Heat brass is currently meeting with LeBron James.

While none of the steps required to bring a Wade, James and Bosh trio to South Florida have yet to be officially announced, it is conceivable that Pat Riley has no intention to do so whatsoever. After all, the whole concept is dependent upon on a willingness of one ball club (the Wolves?) to take on the contract of Michael Beasley as well as, to a smaller degree, Toronto’s willingness to complete a sign-and-trade. Any overt action, no matter how small, poses a risk for either team to pull the plug on a what could be an already verbally agreed-to transaction.

So plan for another six agonizing days. And hope for fewer.

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