The 2010 NBA draft is over, and free agency is just around the corner. Teams may contact free agents starting July 1. This is the most hyped free agent class in the league's history, and the potential exsists that the league will look vastly different in a period of a few weeks.
The King's New Castle
LeBron James is the crown jewel of the 2010 free agent class. Everyone with cap room has to pitch him an offer. Recently, I wrote that I believed LeBron will either stay in Cleveland or end up in New York. I still stand by that; however, Chicago is seeming more and more likely. A lot of people have said that Chicago is now the front runner in the chase for James. Until James himself says where he wants to go, his future destination will be a topic of debate and speculation.
So much has been written about where LeBron will land. While it is an interesting topic, the real story will be how his new (or current) team builds around him. Unless he goes to Chicago with Chris Bosh or Miami with Bosh to join Dwayne Wade, James will not immediately be on a favorite to win it all. New York, New Jersey, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Cleveland are all multiple players away from winning a championship.
Fans of whatever team that gets LeBron will understandably be ecstatic, but just because a team has him does not guarantee a ring (ask Cleveland). This isn't a knock on James. Championships are won by teams. The question is, how good of a team will LeBron play for?
Has there ever been a better "second best free agent" than Dwayne Wade? His Finals performance in 2006 was brilliant. He proved that he can be the best player on a title team. Of the top three free agents, it looks as if Wade is the most likely to stay put.
LeBron James can have the biggest impact on a team's regular season record. If Cleveland replaced him with any other guy in the league, they would not win 60 games. Miami's mediocrity since winning a championship shows that Wade cannot instantly make a team a contender. He is more like Kobe Bryant in that he can take over in crunch time and excel as the primary scoring option.
If Wade stays put, I really hope Miami can build a great team around him because the post season is more fun when Wade and the Heat are legitimate contenders. Miami has so much cap room that they should be able to have a significantly improved team.
The Russian Billionaire
The New Jersey Nets' new majority owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, is one of the most intriguing men in the NBA. He's a billionaire who made his fortune in post-communist Russia and does not use a computer. He is also a charismatic playboy who enjoys parties but claims to have never tasted vodka. Oh yeah, he also promised a championship in New Jersey in a maximum of five years.
The Nets are in running for LeBron James, and while I doubt they will sign him, I also would not rule it out. Prokhorov strikes me as someone who shouldn't be bet against. However, if the Nets fail to land LeBron, I would be surprised to see them overpay for second tier guys. Prokhorov has succeeded in business, loves basketball, and is extremely intelligent. I think he will be able to mange the salary cap and build a competitive team in the next few years.
Will the Nets hoist a championship banner within five years? It seems far-fetched, but who am I to doubt the man that ESPN.com's Bill Simmons dubbed "the Russian Mutant Mark Cuban"?
The Knicks Plan B
Unlike the Nets, if the Knicks fail to lure LeBron, they will be the most likely candidate to overpay players in this free agent class' second tier. The Summer of 2010 is most important for the Knicks. For years, they have sold their fans the hope that they may get LeBron. They have cap space and need to deliver a team capable of contending to their fans.
If James, Wade, and Bosh all sign elsewhere, I see New York as the destination for Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire. It's not hard to imagine the Knicks giving them max contracts in a heartbeat if they fail to get their primary targets. The Knicks need to come away with big name players this summer.
The Chicago Bulls made the playoffs last year and have a good nucleus in place. Derrick Rose has a promising career ahead of him and the chance to be an elite point guard. In short, if the Bulls strike out in free agency, they can continue to build in a more traditional manner. Because they mortgaged so much of their future to free up cap space for this summer, the Knicks do not have that luxury.
Thoughts on the Draft, Picks 1-5
Everyone knew John Wall would go number one. He was thrilling to watch in college, and should bring excitement to Washington. It will be interesting to see if he can coexist with Gilbert Arenas. After all the trouble Arenas caused last season, I'm sure Washington would love to move him. It remains to be seen if there is a market for him and his huge contract.
Evan Turner was a solid pick at number two for Philadelphia. His ability to play three positions will make him valuable, but he lacks the potential that other players have. Turner is NBA ready and was one of the safest picks in this draft.
New Jersey was in an awkward position with the third pick in the draft. Wall and Turner were the top prizes. I think they made the right decision by taking Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors. He is more of an upside player who is quite raw. I don't know how that meshes with Prokhorov's win-now mandate.
It's hard to criticize the Nets for picking Favors because there was not really a viable alternative. DeMarcus Cousins is more polished and could end up having a better career than Favors (even if Favors reaches his potential). However, with his maturity issues, going to a young New Jersey team could have prevented Cousins from reaching his ceiling.
The same explanation could be used to explain Minnesota passing on Cousins. They selected Wesley Johnson, who can be an effective role player. I don't know if he has star potential, but he should be more stable than Cousins.
Cousins finally went to the Sacramento Kings, who picked him fifth. The Kings have a way to go before being a serious contender, but Tyreke Evans and now DeMarcus Cousins will make for an entertaining duo. I have never been to Sacramento, but I imagine there are less distractions in Northern California than there would be in a bigger market which should help Cousins stay out of trouble.
The coming weeks promise to be filled with excitement. The NBA could look very different next year depending on how this summer plays out. Once some of the questions are answered, we can turn our attention to analyzing how the 2010-2011 will go. Personally, I can't wait.