Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The NBA free agent class of 2010 may be just "The Big Tease"

I've been as guilty as the next person, drooling over the prospects this summer of the Mavericks landing one of the "Big Three" free agents: LaBron James, Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosch. But now this whole free agency business is becoming a little cloudy and it's all because of the likelihood that the 2010-2011 NBA season may be the last full season for a while. And, if it isn't, it will because none of these free agents received what they were hoping for.

The NBA salary system gives the team those free agents play for a built-in advantage over any other potential suitor. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be able to offer James $30 million more over six years than any other team can offer because of salary cap restrictions. That's not to say some free-spending owner may be willing to bust the cap to land James but the tax implications could be particularly onerous.

On the other hand, James has said money is not his major concern right now. He has already received the big bucks, now he wants an NBA championship. Right now, however, the Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA and seem poised to win a title, giving James another reason to stay put. (Of course, the Cavaliers had the best record last year, too, and failed to make it to the NBA finals.)

There has been all kinds of talk that James will sign with the New York Knicks after this season. Frankly, I can't see it. Yes, New York could probably offer him more in endorsement money, but there is no way the Knicks are going to compete for an NBA title even with James. In fact, I think there is only one team that could guarantee James a title and that would be the Lakers. (The thought of James and Kobe on the same team has to be more frightening for opponents than the current pairing of James and Shaq.) Are the Lakers willing to make that move? Is Kobe willing to share the spotlight with the only other player in the NBA with as bright a spotlight? I don't know the answers to those questions.

But here's the other stumbling block. The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement ends after next season and the owners are going to be demanding a hard salary cap be a part of the next CBA. The players will be fighting this cap and I'm betting will be willing to sit out a season rather than play under such an agreement. But the owners will have a lot less ammunition on their side, especially if the players union decides to file antitrust suits, if the owners show a willingness to shell out big bucks on free agents this summer. The owners, as always, could be their own worse enemies in this battle.

The bottom line is this: I think James stays with Cleveland; Bosch stays in Toronto; and Wade probably winds up with other team in East, perhaps the Knicks, but signs for a lot less than he is expecting right now. This from your expert who picked the Cowboys to beat the Vikings and the Colts to beat the Saints, each by a couple of touchdowns.

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