Bracing for the 2010 sweepstakes (cont.)
Toronto is itself one of the largest markets in North America, and Colangelo has a long track record of making bold moves to build contending teams (see: last summer's trade for Jermaine O'Neal).
"The corporate base and economic climate is a lot better in Canada than it is south of the border,'' Colangelo said. "Not only is he getting accolades and attention, but he's also got an entire country to market to in addition to the U.S. He is the cornerstone of this franchise, and not many players have the opportunity to say they are the cornerstone.''
The Knicks are expected to make a run at Bosh, depending on the decision of LeBron (or maybe in addition to him, if they were somehow to amass enough cap space); so could the Pistons, Nets and -- provocatively -- Miami, Houston and Phoenix, who represent three markets that NBA players traditionally covet. But the truth is every franchise with room under the cap will be interested in Bosh, a team-first, 24-year-old power forward whose early season numbers (25.5 points, 11.0 rebounds) denote continual improvement.
Let's look first at other All-Stars who may be on the 2010 list:
Dwyane Wade, Heat: Unlikely to leave Miami, a destination market with ambitious management (though if he were to enter the market, he would join James and Bosh at the elite level).
Amaré Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal, Suns: It would make sense for the Suns to attempt to rebuild around the explosive Stoudemire, who will be 27; Nash will be 36 and Shaq will be 38.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: He will be 32 with 12 years of NBA mileage.
Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, Rockets: Yao has shown no inclination to leave; McGrady will be 31 with a history of injuries.
Michael Redd, Bucks: See McGrady.
Manu Ginobili, Spurs: He will be 33.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, Celtics: Allen will be 35; Pierce is unlikely to opt out of a contract that will pay him $21.5 million in 2010-11.
So, for teams hoping to invest their cap space in a pair of young All-Star legs, the options are LeBron, Bosh and maybe (though less likely) Wade or Stoudemire.
And the Hawks' Joe Johnson: Don't forget him. Not only will he be just 29, but Johnson also is emerging as a big-shot star with three-point range and playmaking skills that would enable him to fit into any contending lineup. He looks more and more like he's a Piston in the making (which is not to say that the whims of the market will marry them together).
Now let's look at the leading teams in contention to make a play for these stars:
Knicks: It isn't complicated. The trick here is for them to clear away high-salaried players while building a team that can win once LeBron is plugged in. As spelled out by LeBron himself -- he wants to win multiple championships -- the Knicks can't expect to land him by merely unloading bad contracts; team president Donnie Walsh must also bring in good players in order to make LeBron an offer he can't refuse. Walsh had shown his understanding for this dynamic last summer by refusing to merely give away Randolph to the Clippers and other suitors; he knows he must retrieve assets in return.
Friday's trade of Jamal Crawford to the Warriors is a good first step for the Knicks because they received Al Harrington, who is expected to opt out this summer. At worst, his deal will expire in 2009-10, clearing close to $10 million off the cap. In the meantime, he's a perimeter-shooting big man who should thrive in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense while trying to earn himself a new contract elsewhere.
That trade was linked to the deal sending Zach Randolph to the Clippers for Cuttino Mobley (a backcourt replacement for Crawford) and Tim Thomas, which will save the Knicks an additional $17.3 million in 2010. The next likely phase for New York will be to move center Eddy Curry into the rotation, with the goal of rehabbing his value so that he can be traded as well.
The ultimate goal for the Knicks will be to create enough cap space to recruit two free agents, much as the Magic did in their 2000 bonanza signings of McGrady and Grant Hill. Imagine a package deal of LeBron and Bosh ...
Cavs: Keep in mind that they will have cap space in 2010 to retain LeBron and sign a max star to accompany him. If they can earn an early long-term commitment from James toward the end of next season, then maybe they can make a run at Bosh, Johnson or Stoudemire -- or make a trade for an expensive star from a team looking to create cap space.
In the meantime, expect the Cavs to dangle one of their expiring contracts at the trade deadline. As much as they like the chemistry of their current rotation, they're probably one very good player away from winning it all this year. The Cavs remain a one-star show, and going back to the arrival of Bird and Magic 30 seasons ago, the only teams to win a championship with fewer than two stars have been the 1993-94 Rockets (around Hakeem Olajuwon) and the 2003-04 Pistons (who, in fact, did not have a traditional scoring star on their roster).
Pistons: Their priority is to land a big-time player this summer with the cap space derived from the expiring deals of Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. The Pistons will be players in 2010 as a secondary option.
Nets: Their franchise uncertainty makes their role in 2010 impossible to predict. Will they move to Brooklyn? Will they be sold and moved to another market?
Bulls, Rockets, Heat, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors: These are among the many teams that could develop enough space to make a run at a major free agent. As noted above, however, the demand for young talent will far exceed the supply.
We close with one crucial lesson: Can you guess how many max free agents have led their new teams to a championship?
The answer is one and only one: Shaq, with the Lakers.
"That is an amazing stat,'' Pistons president Joe Dumars said. "The only thing I will say is that I think it's imperative that you continue to make your team better. Whether you can guarantee a championship or not, you can't pass on adding a great player to your team.''
But keep in mind over the next two years, as we all get carried away talking about the myriad possibilities, that free agency is the NBA's biggest boondoggle. There is only one player in this market likely to step in Shaq's sneakers and lead his new team to a championship, and only then if all of the complementary pieces are placed around him. That player is LeBron James.