We're a few hours away from the biggest free agent extravaganza in NBA--heck, sports--history, Twitter is exploding, and David Aldridge is taking calls on the NBA TV set, which means it's time to get on the record with some fearless predictions.
LeBron James - Chicago Bulls
As I wrote here, Chicago makes the most sense in terms of legacy, marketing and winning. The only argument you hear made against it is that LeBron won't want to live in Jordan's shadow, which is complete nonsense. Jordan's legacy only improves the Chicago brand and will serve LeBron as he seeks to expand his presence across the globe. To reiterate what I wrote in my previous post: Russell and Bird's shadows don't hurt Pierce and Garnett, and Magic's shadow doesn't hurt Kobe. Following in the footsteps of legendary players only elevates one's accomplishments. Plus, this team has far and away the best supporting cast of any other team in the running for LeBron's services.
2nd Option: New Jersey. Don't write off Mikhail Prokhorov (who I will refer to as Drago from here on out). Lawrence Frank just laid it out very persuasively on NBA TV. You'll have Drago and Jay-Z in the room. Drago is a billionaire who knows how to win, how to market and how to make money. And Jay-Z is Jay-Z. I still think Chicago's the favorite because LeBron says he values winning over everything else, but crazier things have happened. I seriously feel this is a very real possibility. But then again, I may still just be under Drago's spell after his stirring introductory press conference performance.
Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat
By all accounts, Wade is comfortable ruling South Beach and working for Pat Riley. He wants help, though, and the Heat will give it to him in the form of Miami-based Carlos Boozer. He'll probably never win another title, but he'll get a max contract, and the Heat should be perennial contenders to go deep in the playoffs. And maybe they could sneak into a Finals or two if LeBron retires to play minor league baseball.
2nd option: New Jersey. Drago will make a ferocious push for every single person on this list. Seriously. He'll make them all feel like they're the only thing standing between New Jersey and international glory, so, if LeBron doesn't work out, look for him to go all out for Wade. Again, though, Wade will only change if he absolutely has to, meaning, if the Heat strike out on everyone else. I don't think they will, which is why he stays.
Joe Johnson - New York Knicks
Atlanta just panicked and said they'll extend a max offer to Johnson, which ostensibly puts them in the driver's seat. He gets an extra year with the Hawks that he wouldn't get anywhere else, and he's got to know that he's not quite worth a max deal. So, he should take what he can get, right? Well, the Knicks, who will strike out on the other big name stars, will be equally panicky and will offer him a max deal as well. Something tells me that Joe might prefer to play in Madison Square Garden over a half-full Phillips Arena every night.2nd option: Atlanta Hawks.
Chris Bosh - Chicago Bulls
It looks like he's savvily established himself as the Scottie Pippen to LeBron's Michael Jordan, so he'll likely go where LeBron goes.
2nd option: Houston Rockets for two reasons. 1) They can put together the best package of assets in a sign-and-trade with Toronto. 2) They are a piece or two away from being a championship contender. With a (healthy) Yao and Bosh in the frontcourt, they could immediately match up with the Lakers' size, which is the test for any wannabe contender in the West. I've heard whispers that he doesn't want to go back to his home state, however, and, again, the opportunity to sign with LeBron will be close to impossible to pass up.
Amare Stoudemire - Houston Rockets
You know Daryl Morey will make a splash
during this free agency period. There were reports that the Rockets made
a last-second attempt to snag Amare at the trade deadline, so I think that after Bosh passes, they'll turn to the Suns' star. As I noted above, Houston needs another inside presence to compete with the Western Conference elite, and, though Bosh is option #1, Amare will fill the void quite well.
2nd option: New Jersey Nets. Do I need to praise Drago again?
Carlos Boozer - Miami Heat
He has a home in Miami, and Wade needs help. The dream team (LeBron, Bosh, Wade) scenario will fall through when Pat Riley realizes you can't win with three players and volunteers, so the next best option is Wade and a big man. Bosh will go with LeBron, Amare is a possibility, but I think Boozer is the guy who ends up being Wade's number two.
2nd option: Chicago Bulls. Boozer will be the back-up plan for Chicago if Bosh splits from LeBron.
Rudy Gay - New Jersey Nets
The greatest owner in the NBA
has to do something, and that something will be overpaying for Rudy
2nd option: Memphis Grizzlies
David Lee - New York Knicks
The Knicks will salvage the fan favorite after
a poor showing with the superstars.
Paul Pierce - Boston Celtics
Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas Mavericks
Their opt outs are simply attempts to maximize earnings.
And then there's Carmelo Anthony. The Denver Post is reporting that instead of dealing with the circus that would be a 'Melo contract year next year, they're offering the superstar a three-year, $65 million contract extension. If he passes, they're prepared to trade him. Things are just heating up...