Believe it or not, the NBA’s free agency period is actually going to start later this week.
After months—nay, years of speculation and amateur prognostication, the biggest of the big names in basketball will finally start inking their John Hancock's to new deals, and the landscape of the NBA will be altered for the foreseeable future.
At this point, the list of potential signees is mesmerizing.
LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh, Boozer, Amar’e, and Joe Johnson, to name the cream of the crop.
The imminent frenzy—as well as the preceding financial preparation—is unprecedented.
As we speak, Miami has only three players under contract!
The Knicks have spent three years wheeling and dealing in an effort to maximize their available cap space.
But let’s not kid ourselves—all but two teams will emerge from The Great NBA Talent Realignment disappointed and wondering where their sales pitches went awry.
This is about two players, and two players only: LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
Every other big name on the market is only so appealing when placed next to one of these two generational stars.
So, the question is begged—who will be the two lucky teams?
Obviously, the only people that know the answer are James and Wade themselves (along with their inner-circles, and, most likely, World Wide Wes).
But here’s my best guess.
Unless LeBron and Wade actually do follow through on their hinted conspiracy to combine forces for NBA domination—which I’m betting will not happen—the scenario that makes the most sense is Wade remaining in Miami and LeBron heading to the Big Apple.
Earlier in this free agency period, Wade made it pretty clear that the ugly end to the Jordan/Jackson/Pippen-era in Chicago convinced him that returning to his home city was not going to happen.
He has also emphasized, again and again, that staying in South Beach would be his ideal situation.
The only bargaining chip necessary is for the Heat to put some real talent around him.
And by clearing enough cap space to lock up three max-contract players, the Heat will almost undoubtedly be able to fulfill Wade’s wishes.
As for LeBron, I’m thinking it boils down to either NY or Chicago.
We know that LeBron has always been very legacy conscious, and what better franchises to build a legacy with than the Knicks and Bulls.
While it would be great in my mind for James to stay in Cleveland to deliver a long-awaited title to the poor city, he has had enough of his hometown.
Sure, it will weigh on him that the only place he has ever lived or worked is going to hate him, but he has had enough of that pressure.
He has also had enough of his supporting cast.
Yes, adding a Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire would help, but unfortunately, he’s still working with Mo Williams (a mediocre shooting guard in a point guard’s body), Anthony Parker (the only NBA player who can say he’s worse than his sister), and Anderson Varejao (no comment necessary).
Do you think that sounds as enticing as signing in the Mecca of basketball, playing at a historic arena, and putting up a nightly triple-double under Mike D’Antoni alongside Carlos Boozer or Joe Johnson?
Plus, he’s got the likes of C.C. Sabathia, a former Cleveland star himself, telling him that winning in New York is unlike anything else.
Chicago may offer a better existing supporting cast, but unfortunately for the Windy City, it’s simply not the NBA’s biggest stage.
I concede that New Jersey may offer James the same viewing public—with an intriguing set of talent in place—but it won’t be leaving Newark for two years, and who wants to go to Newark?
Ultimately, though, it comes down to a domino effect: who will sign first out of the elite free agents?
If Boozer or Amar’e sign early with either Chicago or New York or New Jersey, it dramatically impacts the equation because the big two can then see tangible championship pieces set.
But, like I said, with all other things being equal, LeBron wants to be in New York and Wade wants to be in Miami.
It’s my contention that both of those franchises will do what they have to in order to make it happen.
Personally, I could see D-Wade, Boozer, and Amar’e joining forces in Miami, while James will team up with Joe Johnson and David Lee in Madison Square Garden.
That leaves Chris Bosh to unite with Derrick Rose in Chi-town, along with Rudy Gay.
Despite the riches of Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets will be left with the free agency scraps.
As for the Clippers? Ha!