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The Hats in the Ring

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There will be lots more time for this in the summer, but here's a very quick overview of the competitors in the 2010 Free Agency Derby.  The usual disclaimers apply: I may be missing someone, things could change, math is hard, your mileage may vary, consult your doctor if you have an erection lasting more than four hours....  but my back of the envelope calculations give me something like this:

  • Miami - $40M+
  • New York - $33M
  • New Jersey - $28M
  • Washington - $25M
  • Chicago - $22M
  • Sacramento - $20M
  • Minnesota - $19M
  • Clippers - $17M
  • OKC - $14M

I've spent more time on that Clippers number than any of the others, so I feel pretty confident about that one.  The others are more likely to overestimate cap room than underestimate it, but the values should be in the ball park.

The mega superstar threshold is $16.6M.  That is, a 5% raise over LeBron James / Dwyane Wade / Chris Bosh's current $15.8M salary.  Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce could be paid more (or rather they are allowed more under the CBA) - but they won't get it.  Bosh may or may not get $16.6M - I wouldn't pay him that, but with so many teams having so much money, I won't be surprised if he does get it.  These guys are obviously allowed to sign for less - but I fully expect LBJ and DWade to get the full maximum.

So there are eight teams who can offer a super mega star contract this summer.  I've included Oklahoma City on the list above because (a) their name has been bandied about and (b) they could make a move to get into max range.

Let's look at several broad considerations, using a fairly tenuous vacation analogy.

  • Package deal destinations - aka Couples resorts: New York and Miami can both afford to offer maximum deals to two marquee players.  It could involve any number of permutations of course, but the most likely would be Wade / James or Wade / Bosh in Miami, or James / Wade or James / Bosh in New York. 
  • Media Markets, aka I want to see a show: New York, LA and Chicago are the three largest cities in the US, and the three largest cities represented above by quite a margin.  That means four teams - Knicks, Nets, Clippers and Bulls.
  • Nightlife, aka I want to go dancing: Add Miami to the list of big cities above.
  • Weather, aka I want to lie on the beach: Miami and LA.
  • Taxes, aka where can I find the best deals?: Miami.
  • Team strength, aka who else will be there when I get there? Matter of opinion.
  • Intangibles, aka where are all the cool kids going? Matter of opinion.

Remember that the player's current team is always a strong possibility to re-sign him, and that there are certain built-in advantages for them to do so.  So even though neither Cleveland nor Toronto are on the list, LeBron and Bosh could of course end up staying put, and in fact are probably more likely to do that than any single other option.

I'm going to take Sacramento, Washington and Minnesota off the table straightaway.  I can't think of a single compelling reason that any significant player would leave their current team for one of them (apologies to those teams/cities).  Likewise I'm taking Oklahoma City out of the discussion.  Although they have the best young core of the teams listed, they also play in the least attractive market in the league - if LeBron feels Cleveland is too confining of his outsize personality, Oklahoma is not the answer.

I realize that many will dismiss the Clippers in a similarly off-handed manner.  That's fine, and they may be right.  The intangibles are terrible for the Clippers, and maybe it precludes them as a desitination.  But intangibles are hard to measure because you can't tange them. 

We don't know how important taxes, weather, and the market actually are to these guys, but we can reasonably conclude that the combination of weather, glitz and media makes the LA market a desirable destination.

We can look at the rosters of the remaining contenders. 

New York has stripped their team to the floor boards - in terms of players of interest, they've got Danilo Gallinari and... and...  OK, they've got Danilo Gallinari.  So they are offering a two player package, a big market, and no help at all.  To compound matters, they've also traded away a whole bunch of draft picks - I honestly have forgotten how many, but I think it's two gone, and one that can be swapped with Houston.  So the idea of starting with LeBron and Bosh and then building through the draft is a non-starter.  They have to hope that LeBron and Bosh and Gallinari and a bunch of minimum guys is enough.  By the way, it's not clear that the Knicks will have enough cap space for two full maximum offers.  My head is spinning from all the trades, and I'm not certain whose actually on their team next season, not to mention that the final cap number is an unknown.  But Donny Walsh's goal was to get down to a level where he'd have the money to make two max offers, and he certainly got close.

The Nets have the worst record in the NBA and are on pace to set the all time record for fewest wins in a season.  They have enough space to sign a star and another nice player, and they do have a former all star at the point guard and a potential all star at center.  But one has to suspect that their terrible performance this year has spooked the big boys.  Someone will no doubt take the Nets' money - but I don't see New Jersey being anyone's first choice, and LeBron gets first choice.

Miami is a lot like New York, except that Wade is there already.  Wade will only stay if another mega-star joins him in south beach - and even that might not be enough.  Beyond the cap space, the Heat have Michael Beasley signed.  No one else is of any interest at all.  But at least the Heat have their draft picks, unlike the Knicks.

Chicago will target favorite son DWade.  They could put him on the court with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah.  That's a pretty attractive choice, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Bulls end up with Wade.  Chicago is a good destination, but seems like a better fit for Wade than the others.

Of the teams on the list, you can argue that the Clippers have the best in tact core.  They have a former All Star at the point guard, a current All Star at center, a rising 21 year old talent at shooting guard, and last year's consensus number one overall pick at power forward, also 21.  A star small forward joining that team would slot right into arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA.  If LeBron wants out of Cleveland, and wants to win right away, the Clippers may be his best choice.

As I said, there's a lot more time to think about all of this.  But this is my first impression of the field.