We're fully aware that Houston ownership has said as recent as today that they're very confident that they will have Yao Ming back on the roster.
But Dallas was pretty sure it was re-signing Steve Nash once upon a time. That free-agent summer was nowhere near 2010 in terms of the amount of money potentially available.
So you have a 30-year-old superstar with a history of injuries who thinks he's going to do better by himself by opting out. Ming might still opt to stay put and ride out the year with $17.7 million coming his way.
Ming's camp has been negotiating hard with the Rockets looking for a max contract extension. The Rockets are reportedly holding firm at a deal in the neighborhood of four years and $60 million.
So let's also go on the theory that teams see solid value left in Ming. When he plays, he is indeed a game changer. He's still averaging 19.1 points and 9.3 rebounds for his career.
The fear is that once a 7-foot-6 person breaks down, there's no bringing him back.
But what if he could return to excellence? Which teams would be a logical fit?
Some of these will never even be discussed. These are four teams that may have the want and the need and the means to chase him.
The Celtics are already reportedly shopping Kendrick Perkins.
On paper, this definitely gets them younger. Ming is seen as an old 30. Then again, he's going to have fresh legs coming back.
There's obviously some big ifs here, but if the Celtics do move Perkins for future draft picks and Pierce doesn't re-sign, they would have the funds to offer Ming and the need for both a big and a superstar.
The Lakers are reportedly looking to ship Lamar Odom. They want Andrew Bynum gone as well.
So let's say that the Rockets are so frustrated with the contract negotiations that they agree to a sign-and-trade to get Ming out of town.
If the Rockets don't pick up the option on Chuck Hayes, such a deal could fit under the salary cap. The best case would be a Bynum-for-Ming straight-up deal in cap terms.
Yao with Kobe? Scary.
As much as Knicks fans don't want to hear it, there are plenty of scenarios where New York strikes out on many of these free agents.
You cleared out all this cap space and you want to deliver a superstar to justify the silly prices at Madison Square Garden.
Ming might be the Plan C booby prize.
There's only one Chris Bosh.
So as much as Pat Riley is trying to clear out cap space to sign D-Wade, Bosh and LeBron James, it's a highly unlikely scenario.
Let's say he gets D-Wade and LBJ. The third piece to a dynasty could be a three-letter word.
If the Hornets do indeed deal Chris Paul and shed Emeka Okafur in the deal, they're going to be close to affording and needing Ming.
If they were ever able to shed the Peja Stojakovic contract, they would have plenty of room.
Ming might be just the kind of superstar new ownership would need to start a post-Paul era.
The 76ers just shipped Samuel Dalembert out of town. Spencer Hawes is all upside, but he's not Yao.
This is also assuming that the 76ers find a taker for Elton Brand to free up the cap money.
It would be a great swap for both teams.
The Wizards have the cap room and JaVale McGee currently atop their depth chart at center.
Wall, Arenas and Ming?
The Rockets definitely want Ming back, but how much are they willing to pay?
That's going to be the sticking point. There are some in the organization that know an opt out would be strictly business, but would take it personal since the Rockets have put up with a lot of injuries.
The fear of future injury is why Houston isn't going to go more than four years, if they even go that far.
The Thunder are in a spot where their center, Nenad Krstic, could opt out himself.
That would create a big ol' need.
The Thunder have the cap space and might just feel that pairing Ming with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could get them to the next level of the playoffs—if not the Finals.
Shaq's likely not coming back. Ilgauskas wants back but might find better money elsewhere.
If LeBron doesn't return and Mo Williams is dealt, the Cavs would have barely enough cap money to chase a Yao type signing.
Again, it's not The King. But Yao Mania would be a decent substitute.