Today ESPN.com did a series of articles on the big free-agent bonanza expected for next summer, asking their panel of 52 experts specifically where top players LeBron, Wade, Bosh, & Stoudamire each will end up. The majority said LeBron & Wade will probably stay where they are, with NY & Chicago as their secondary possibilities. Bosh however only got 3 voters who thought he’d stay in Toronto, with the largest chunk of voters thinking he’d go to either NY or Miami. Lastly, Amare’s largest vote total was for NY (13 votes) followed by remaining in Phoenix (10).
Now everyone’s been talking about will LeBron stay or go for the last 2 years, and honestly, I find it mildly intriguing now and then, but there’s been serious overkill. Besides, there are so many questions that hang over everything that even at this point it still seems premature to make serious guesses about where these guys will end up. For me, these are the questions that need to be answered this season before we can make truly educated suppositions as to where these four will go:
The dude’s been so non-committal about remaining in Cleveland that frankly, it’s appalling. I don’t mind when Dwayne Wade says he only wants to stay in Miami if they truly chase after the ring (like Kobe said a few years ago), but what is LeBron’s reason for potentially leaving not just the only team he’s ever played for, but his friggin’ home state too? The Cavs have shown that they’ll do whatever it takes to get him the support he needs. LeBron should’ve long ago manned up and said what it is he specifically wants. If he wants to go to NY to be in the center of the world, then say it. Personally, I think he’s just keeping the drama up so that when he “decides” to stay in Cleveland he’ll be the hometown hero more than ever. I mean the Trailblazers and Brandon Roy just spent a month haggling over specifics of his contract even though it was pretty much a sure thing, and yet that was enough to make Blazer fans ecstatic when the deal was finally completed. Imagine if Roy had toyed with going elsewhere before resigning? Then his signature on the dotted line would’ve resulted in a whole generation of Oregonians named Brandon.
With that off my chest, here’s what I personally think LeBron should be contemplating this season when making his decision:
1. And I think he will contemplate this: Can NY get rid of Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries and thus enable them to sign both him and one of his best buds (Wade or Bosh)? Sure Cleveland can compete for a championship now, but if you have a choice between winning a championship where you are or winning a championship with one of your best friends — it ain’t that tough a choice. And honestly, I’d kinda respect that decision.
2. If I was LeBron whether I stayed in Cleveland would be less about if we win the championship, but more who else do we have on the team that will continue to significantly improve? Shaq & Big Z are clearly on the downside of their careers, and even young guys like Anderson Varejao and Delonte West sorta seem like they’ve hit their peaks (they won’t diminish any time soon, but I don’t picture and marked improvements by them). It basically comes down again to Mo Williams. Let’s be honest, Mo was a marginal All-Star who got there more because of how good the team was than him specifically. And truthfully, I don’t see him taking that step. I really liked the Anthony Parker signing, but he’s another guy who’s plateaued (although still has several good years at that level unlike them 2 centers). The only other potential players to take the next step are maybe Leon Powe, Boobie Gibson, Jamario Moon, & JJ Hickson. However if I’m LeBron I need at least one or two of them to take the next step forward. A big momma step.
People have speculated Wade could return to his hometown of Chicago (particularly since he just bought a new house there), but unless da Bulls take the next leap this season, I don’t think they’ll even be in the conversation. This is what Wade needs to ask (& answer):
1. Do I believe Riley will improve the team? Wade, as mentioned, has been straightforward and said he loves Miami, he just wants to make sure that they’ll be competing for the championship again. Riley in return said, uh, sure, but we’re not gonna make any moves until after you commit to us. That doesn’t inspire faith in me. Even if Wade does believe Riley, it’s not always that easy to just get good players (see The Knicks over the last decade). Next summer I’d need Riley to first convince someone else to join the Heat before I re-sign. Or at least…
2. See Michael Beasley take the next jump.
3. How does the team do this year? If Beasley and Mario Chalmers both improve individually but the Heat still end up at .500, then I’d not only need to see Beasley improve, but I’d need to feel he can improve a bunch more.
4. At the end of the season, what Eastern Conference teams end up doing better than us? Wade can live with Boston being better this year ‘cuz their top guys are old and getting older. However, if Orlando doesn’t lose a step with all its new acquisitions around Dwight Howard and if the Cavs likewise remain dominant, well them’s two teams built around young studs and thus not likely to diminish any time soon. So how much tinkering would need to be done in order for my team to get into their ballpark? Plus I think other relatively young teams like the Hawks & Wiz could also take the next jump up above from the rest of the East’s mediocrity. If you’re seriously looking up at 5 teams with only 1 of ‘em likely to go downhill, well then I better really, really, really, really have faith in Riley.
Bosh is in a different boat than the other two, partly because well, as a player he’s not in the same class as them. Plus he’s never had anywhere near the success in the NBA that they have. Thus I think what he wants is a competitive team rather than needing a team that will be top four. He also seems pretty loyal to Toronto and I think he’d like to stay. However, if this team is gonna struggle every year just to make the playoffs, then he’s outta there. Thus…
1. How does the team mesh this season? More than any of the top 4, I think that’s critically important for him. If Shaq creates odd cohesion with the Cavs, well Lebron knows The Big Ego will be gone. If the Heat suck but Riles can convince Boozer to join, then Wade’ll stay. After big contracts to Calderon, Hedo & Bargnani, there’s no room for another stud savior to walk in the door to convince Bosh to stay. So it’s all about this group.
2. The Jarret Jack gambit. Jack’s a solid back-up player who got a richer contract than his talent likely warranted, and yet this may very well have been GM Bryan Coangelo’s best signing. Jack and Bosh went to college together & are supposedly darn good friends. Bosh likes to have fun (as you can tell from the above picture) and is probably just as well known to NBA fans for his funny videos as for his play. If Jack makes Bosh happy and the team is solidly at the .500 level (& thus never really concerned about missing the playoffs), I think there’s only one way he’d leave…
3. Is there a team that will be able to afford both him and Lebron/Wade? NY ain’t it at this point unless they shred a big contract. Miami, however, will be. As a Texas boy, I bet he’d also like the return to constant warm weather. Plus Florida has them tax breaks. Thus if the Raps have a solid season, the only way I think they lose Bosh is to Miami, where he’d get to play with his boy Wade.
He’s the one player who needs to prove himself on the list. ESPN cites concern about his knee, but he seemed to be past that last year and there’s no reason to assume it should start to bother him again. The real issue is not just Amare’s eye, but also his desire. C’mon, as serious as Amare’s eye surgeries (& recovery processes) have sounded, how many NBA players have had their career fall apart due to sight issues? Since it’s happened twice to him, he’ll now definitely wear the rec specs all the time, and besides the fact it’ll make him look dorky, that should take care of that. So I feel pretty confident that he’ll come back and be a force.
1. But how much of a force? How driven? And how good a teammate will he be? He’s already started distancing himself from the team a bit in interviews which isn’t good, but really it’s all about his performance on the floor. If he plays unselfishly and doesn’t try to “showcase” himself or assert himself as the Alpha Male instead of Nash, he will be one hot commodity. With a return to Suns run’n'gun ways that emphasizes offense and uh, lacks emphasis on defense, Amare should look like a top player again. Shaq stagnated him a bit last year, however once they fired coach Terry Porter and returned to their ol’ running ways, Amare exploded in his first few games. And then he had his eye injury. So I expect him to be a force and for him to get plenty of offers. Assuming that…
2. Does Phoenix want to keep him? They’ve cut salary left and right the last few years. It’s not inconceivable that even if STAT is great, the Suns don’t do more than a half-hearted show of trying to sign him. Alas, the answer to this one question won’t be known until it happens, unless…
3.Do the Suns trade him? If they decide they do wanna let him go, they probably will wanna get some value in return even if they only get 60 cents to the dollar. Since whoever trades for him would only do it if they get reasonable assurances from him that he’ll sign an extension with him, obviously that would take him out of the free agent picture. I assume. But he could always do a Boozer & turn his back on them.
4. During the season, does it seem more like he wants to win or does he want to be “The Man?” This was the issue with Shawn Marion, who despite being a perfect fit for the Suns’ system, felt like he disrespected & could do more. Time has since shown that perhaps he was over-respected. Back to Amare, I ask this not because it might scare buyers off, but rather because then we, the fans, will have more of a sense of what he’ll be looking for in a new team. My hunch is that at this point being “The Man” is more important, so I doubt he’ll hook up with Lebron or Wade or some other superstar where he wouldn’t clearly be the focal point. It also might even scare him away from players on the level below if they are point guards (like Derek Rose) since he’s specifically been overshadowed by Steve Nash his whole time here (well, the first year it was Marbury, but let’s not get into that…). So if NY doesn’t end up getting enough cap space to sign two stars, he’s the only one of these four who I think would still jump at the chance. Actually, now that I think about it, this shouldn’t really have been a question ‘cuz it seems pretty apparent to me that Amare wants to be “The Man” more than to compete for a championship at this point. I guess if during the season he seems to show a change of heart then yes, that’d change things, but I don’t picture it happening.