NBA Free Agency: What Teams Can Pair LeBron James with Another Big Name?
We're still two days away from the most significant free-agent class in NBA history, and the LeBron James rumor mill is spinning faster and faster by the second.
If you believe Stephen A. Smith, it's a guarantee that LeBron will be teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami next year. Of course, this is the same guy that last week said the Knicks were going to ink No. 23, er, No. 6.
Or maybe you believe an unnamed executive who was quoted in the New York Times as saying LeBron and Bosh to Chicago is a "done deal."
And if that doesn't convince you, surely this sterling analysis on where LeBron ends up next year will.
Regardless, if (I know I'm in the minority, but I still consider it a big "if") LeBron James is to leave Cleveland, it's not because he's no longer attached to the city.
It won't be for the chance to play in the bright lights of New York and to further globalize the LeBron brand.
Nor will it be simply for a "fresh start" away from Ohio. No, if LeBron James bolts, it'll be the opportunity to team up with another elite player that most likely is the primary reason for his departure.
If we've learned anything from the last 60 NBA champions, it's that even the best superstar needs a viable supporting cast—specifically, a go-to No. 2 option.
Kobe Bryant needed Pau Gasol. Tim Duncan needed Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen. Larry Bird needed Kevin McHale. Magic Johnson needed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bill Russell needed Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn.
The list goes on and on.
So who are the teams (excluding the Cavs) that are best situated to pair LeBron with someone like Bosh, Wade, Joe Johnson, or Amar'e Stoudemire? Let's take a look and, in honor of Bodog removing their lines on where James will play next season, make up our own odds of their chances to sign the King.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Could it be? Could this actually be plausible?
Are we actually having a discussion on this topic? Are we really giving this thought any candor whatsoever?
Yes we are!
The Clippers and LeBron James don't sound like they go hand-in-hand, but here are a few reasons why it could go down.
The first (as is the case with every other team on this list) is cap space. The Clips currently have five players under contract through next season (Baron Davis, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and DeAndre Jordan) for just $33.5 million, meaning they'll have about $20 million to spend in the summer (minus the contracts promised for first-round picks Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe).
A few other reasons they could sign James? They have promising young talent in Gordon, Griffin, and Kaman. They can also offer the Hollywood scene that can be tempting for a guy who loves the spotlight as much as James does.
But unfortunately for Clips fans, it's not happening.
First off, with only about $20 million in cap space, they'd have to convince James' sidekick (whoever that may be) or the King himself to take a pay cut. And it's highly unlikely that will occur, since this year's free agents will want to take advantage of the final year of the collective bargaining agreement before the length and amount of contracts are presumably cut short in 2011.
Second, while a coach, supporting cast, and front office stability is important to James, one of the more integral parts of his decision will be his relationship with the owner.
And let's just say he probably wouldn't get along with Donald Sterling too well.
Finally, while the glitz and glam of Hollywood is nice on the surface, the fact remains that L.A. is Kobe's town. It always has been and it always will be.
And this is different from LeBron playing in Jordan's shadow in Chicago. Bryant is still in the league, and no matter what he does to make the Clippers relevant, he'll still be playing little brother to Kobe.
So don't listen to Jalen Rose—L.A. won't be one of 'Bron's top three choices this summer.
Odds of Signing James and Another Star Player: 15:1
4. New Jersey Nets
They have a plethora of cap space (much like you can link almost every pick in the NBA Draft with the word "potential", you can link most free agency hot spots with the words "cap space"). They've got room for potentially two max contracts.
They've got a great big man (Brook Lopez) who is already one of the top three centers in the East (behind Dwight Howard and on par with Andrew Bogut).
They just drafted Derrick Favors, a power forward with tremendous upside potential. A Favors-Lopez combination could, in two or three years, be one of the most dominating inside presences in the league.
Even though this is now a point guard-driven league, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom demonstrated size is instrumental for success in the NBA.
And they can either keep Devin Harris or use him as trade bait to bring in another premier point guard or wing scorer.
James is frequently linked with his long-time friend Jay-Z, who is a minority owner of the Nets. New owner Mikhail Prokhorov won't be shy about spending money and getting New Jersey back to prominence in the league as well.
Maybe it's just me, but seeing LeBron leave Cleveland for a 12-win team just doesn't seem probable. And even if he is offered the opportunity to play with another superstar, it's difficult to see him turning down the same chance in New York, Chicago, or Miami to go to New Jersey.
So while it's certainly possible, it doesn't seem likely that a LeBron/(fill in the blank) duo would bring their talents to the Eastern shore.
Odds of Signing James and Another Star Player: 10:1
3. Miami Heat
Day by day, this seems to be the scenario that's gaining the most momentum.
Not taking anything away from the top two teams on this list, but not many people saw a LeBron/Wade combination as an actual occurrence. Sure, it was nice to think about a dream tandem like this, but there's no way it would really happen...right?
Well, with the Heat clearing up enough room to offer about three max contracts, it's becoming more and more likely.
And if you're an ardent supporter of Stephen A. Smith, then it's already a done deal. After all, it's not like Smith would make a bold statement just for the attention and shock value that would follow and ultimately lead to more recognition for him, which would be convenient since he's trying to cement a deal to host a program on Showtime.
In all seriousness, if 'Bron and Wade do team up, the likelihood that they could bring in one more player to join them is exponential. Like Bosh wouldn't kill for the opportunity to play with these two?
Or Joe Johnson?
Or Amar'e Stoudemire?
And don't discredit the allure of someone like Pat Riley. It's conceivable that he would do to Erik Spoelstra what he did to Stan Van Gundy a few years ago and force the coach out so he can take over.
Playing for a Hall-of-Fame coach like Riley would have to carry some weight among these guys.
But my biggest qualm with this dynamic duo is alpha dog issues. Both of these guys want to be the best player on their team.
They both want to take the winning shot in the final minutes. They both want to be "the man".
How could these two co-exist? If they were down by five with two minutes to go, who would get the ball? Would one willingly defer to the other? And say it's Wade with the ball in his hands down the stretch...if the Heat lose, will LeBron bite his tongue about not being the featured player?
It's fun to win championships, but it's also fun to beat your peers and have some bragging rights. That's the main snag I see in this match made in heaven.
Odds of Signing James and Another Star Player: 4:1
2. New York Knicks
It's been every New York fan's dream since LeBron inked his first extension with the Cavaliers a few years ago.
They've been planning this celebration for years. They even plan on LeBron being in New York on July 1 for an elaborate meal and meeting.
And honestly, I'm a lot more worried about this actually happening than I was a month ago.
While I don't think the Knicks did anything in the draft to help their cause, the truth is, there's not much they could do. They realized that and didn't want to commit to any first-round contracts by trading up.
Obviously, the Knicks have enough to offer long-term deals to LeBron and Bosh, LeBron and Wade, LeBron and Amar'e, or any other duo. But their best offer extends beyond anything monetary, any system, or any personnel combination.
They offer LeBron a chance to make basketball relevant in New York again. It's an opportunity to knock the Yankees off the front page in the early spring.
It's an opportunity to fill every seat in Madison Square Garden—"the Mecca of basketball", as LeBron once referred to it—and once again make it one of the more intimidating and deafening places to play in the league.
It's an opportunity to bring New York its first championship in 37 years (and counting). While an elusive title might be more meaningful to the city of Cleveland, it's still an incredibly unique chance for greatness.
And much like Miami, if the Knicks get two max players, you can bet a third will follow. Maybe it's just a mid-level exception like Ray Allen, but it's still a significant contributor.
Odds of Signing James and Another Star Player: 3:1
1. Chicago Bulls
When the Cavs knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs in the first round, everyone kind of realized how nice a destination Chicago would be this offseason.
Then came the Boston Massacre. Suddenly it wasn't so improbable that LeBron could join forces with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Then the Bulls scenario quietly gained more and more steam. They hired one of the league's top assistants, Tom Thibodeau, as their new head coach.
They moved Kirk Hinrich and his $9 million contract to Washington, giving them nearly $30 million in cap space for the summer.
And now, if they move James Johnson, they'll have enough for two max contracts, which makes it an even more enticing free agent spot.
I can't even comprehend a Rose-James-Luol Deng-Chris Bosh-Noah starting five. They could bring me in off the bench as a sixth guy and it wouldn't matter much.
They'd plug in the pieces here and there and dominate the league until Rose and Noah became free agents.
They have the unique combination of talent and cap space, which is something that most other teams cannot match. And that's what makes them the free agent front-runners.
It would be insult to injury if the Bulls snag James. Chicago's already done enough to Cleveland over the years. They knocked the Cavs out of the playoffs five times in seven years during the late '80s/early '90s.
If it weren't for a man named Michael Jordan, then maybe the Cavs have an NBA title of their own, and the entire future of a city wouldn't hinge on one man's decision this summer.
But the Bulls were always in the way. And now, once again, they're the biggest obstacle of all for Clevelanders.
Odds of Signing James and Another Star Player: 4:5 (-125)