Posted: Wednesday July 12, 2006 1:44PM; Updated: Thursday July 13, 2006 10:54AM
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Miami has Shaquille O'Neal in town until '10, but he's bound for four inconsistent years as his career dwindles down. The Heat smartly have Antoine Walker on a team option for '09-10. Jason Williams' and James Posey's contracts will have expired by then, so this team has quite a bit of rebuilding to do around Wade. If Pat Riley relents, or if his successor drops the ball, NBA onlookers should be chuffed that Wade's prime won't be wasted on a championship team made mediocre due to hasty rebuilding.
The same can be said for Toronto, where new GM Bryan Colangelo has a few years to prove the Suns style of ball can work in Canada.
Cleveland is on the right track, but anything could happen between now and '10, especially with Zydrunas Ilgauskas' contract averaging around $12 million a year. While his moves played a role in the Cavs' 50-win season, GM Danny Ferry hasn't shown anything yet that wouldn't engender implicit trust from James at this point.
Just as important for fans of good basketball, these short deals will likely prevent what we've seen in Minnesota, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles over the last few years. Singular, transcendent talents can't lead teams alone to playoff wins -- even past the middling first round. Kobe Bryant couldn't do it last season or the season before that. Michael Jordan didn't get to the second round until his fourth try, and Allen Iverson didn't even make the playoffs in what was a career year last season.
Years down the line, few will remember that Kevin Garnett was probably the best player of his era because he had to spend his prime paired with some pitiful teammates, even having to bring the ball up court at times and defend the opposition's best scorer while filling up the stat sheet every night. Seriously, go look at some of his teammates. No player could have won with that backing.
So what would have happened had Garnett taken the three-year route? Would he have stayed in Minnesota past '01? Wouldn't he, three years into a contract extension, be the prize of the free agent market in '07? James, Wade and Bosh may be making these decisions based on pure economics alone, but should things go horribly awry, they know where their parachute is packed.
The only thing this new stitch doesn't prevent is the hoard of media types, both big and small, who will create a series of non-stories out of non-issues in order to fill up newspaper space, radio airtime and those little Brady Bunch squares that tend to fill up ESPN's screen around 5 p.m. ET each weekday. To the uninformed, this will serve as an excuse for another few years of mindless "where are they going" speculation regarding Wade, James and Bosh, though the trade-off should be worth it. In fact, maybe that's the answer -- shorter contracts (or, even, none at all!) for bad columnists. I'm telling you, these cats from Cleveland, Miami and Toronto are trend-setters. Here's hoping their impact reaches farther than initially imagined.