We are less than two days away from the most exciting off-season in NBA history. With five teams chasing LeBron James to leave Cleveland, there has been no shortage of attempts to change the calculations for LeBron on where he should go, if he even chooses to leave Ohio.
A max contract for next year is expected to be about $16.6 million, which means that a team needs at least $33.2 million to sign two such players.
The biggest changes were the trades made by Miami and Chicago to clear even more cap space with the idea of signing at least two max free agents.
So, let's evaluate who has the best chance for signing LeBron among the 6 teams, including Cleveland, that are chasing him.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have some nice young talent, but the worst owner in the NBA. They have the cap space to sign just LeBron to their core group of players.
Donald Sterling is notoriously cheap and LeBron has given every indication that he wants to play for a team willing to spend money.
Cleveland is closest to LeBron's heart, but furthest from his goal of winning multiple championships. In LeBron's lifetime, only the 1994 Houston Rockets have won a title without at least two all-star caliber or better players on the team.
As of now, the only player who fits that description on the Cavaliers is LeBron.
Cleveland's remaining players are all average to above average, but none are true 2nd star players. Without cap space or expiring contracts, the Cavaliers are unlikely to be able to find that player within the next two years.
So, even though they are willing to spend the money, their ability to provide LeBron with championship talent is too limited. The best (and only) reason for LeBron to stay is that Ohio is his home.
The Heat traded Daequan Cook and their 1st round pick to clear more cap space. That means the Heat have $41.1 million in cap space to sign free agents, but that amount does not include Dwyane Wade.
If they are successful in buying out James Jones, then the Heat would clear up about another $1.2 million. If they can trade Michael Beasley without taking back a contract, then the Heat would have no team left.
However, it would enable them to sign three max contract free agents-presumably LeBron, Wade, and Chris Bosh.
If not, then each player would have to take less than the max. That diminishes the Miami scenario since it is extremely rare for players in their prime to take that much less.
The Heat probably have the worst fan base among the contenders and an owner who has been reluctant to pay the luxury tax. Their dream team scenario also leaves the team without five starters.
The most likely scenario is Wade re-signs and a free agent big man like Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer joins him.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have spent the last two years trying to clear up cap space and acquire good jump shooters to create a LeBron friendly team.
Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas, and Bill Walker are better shooters than the best shooter on any of the other teams. So, the roster is ready made for LeBron's play making talents.
New York has $36.7 million in cap space, which enables them to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh and have $3.5 million left to sign a decent role player.
New York also has the best extras to offer in terms of marketing, fan base, and arena of these six teams. The Knicks have proven repeatedly that they do not care about the luxury tax.
They even have a coach who is one of the best offensive minds in basketball, but the two teams above them have superior size and size is usually what wins championships.
Their most likely scenario is that they sign Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire and try to create Phoenix East.
New Jersey Nets
The Nets have a new owner looking to spend money and a proven coach in Avery Johnson.
They have the best center under the age of 25 not named Dwight Howard in Brook Lopez.
They drafted a supremely athletic power forward in Derrick Favors who is one year removed from being the high school player of the year.
They even have a former all-star point guard in Devin Harris.
However, they are coming off a historically bad season and do not have any pure shooters on their roster. If this chance were two years later, the Nets would probably be a favorite.
Now, they just traded Yi Jianlian and have $33.9 million in cap space to sign two max free agents. The Nets are in position to sign LeBron and maybe Joe Johnson, which would be the most balanced team possible. However, Rod Thorn is retiring, and that leaves the front office in a state of flux.
So, the Nets are not the most likely choice.
If LeBron does not sign, then expect them to go after Rudy Gay and maybe David Lee.
The Bulls have the most pure talent on their existing roster. The trade of Kirk Hinrich eliminates their worst contract.
However, the Bulls have two major problems.
First, they are now missing a good long range shooter. As such, it limits the ability of LeBron to create, as teams can pack the middle and force low percentage jump shots.
The second is ownership. Jerry Reinsdorf might be willing to exceed the cap, but he has never paid the luxury tax.
Can LeBron trust the Bulls to keep Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah when their contracts expire?
The front office for the Bulls has a poor reputation as a result of its past. However, if LeBron believes that Rose can develop into a reliable jump shooter and prefers Noah's defense, then the Bulls are a favorite.
The other complication is getting Bosh. To get both him and LeBron, the Bulls would need to work out a sign-and-trade. Toronto is willing to do that, but they have already indicated that they would want Noah in return. If Noah has to go to get Bosh, then the Bulls are worse off than the Nets and maybe even the Knicks.
If Toronto is willing to take Luol Deng, then the Bulls are instant title contenders. Still, Rose is the player with the most upside of these teams and that makes them the favorite.
So, if I were LeBron, I would want to go where the team does not need a sign-and-trade to get a second elite player. I would go to a team that has at least one, preferably two, quality long range shooters for floor spacing.
LeBron should go to the Nets if they sign Joe Johnson too. If not, then the Knicks with LeBron and Bosh are a better fit offensively, and the Knicks would still have the flexibility to trade Eddy Curry's expiring contract for another top player.
No matter what, no one can call the LeBron chase boring.