If you haven’t heard, everybody in the NBA is in a contract year. With my job, it’s been reflected in the large percentage of interviews I’ve done lately that include a question or two about free agency and that particular player’s mindset approaching this season’s open audition. In fact, I just got off the phone a couple minutes ago with a small forward who will be one of 2010’s most sought-after players, and he told me this:
“A lot of guys try to pick their game up in a contract year, but that’s not me. This is where I want to be. I want to be known as one of the best players in the League. A contract year or anything like that has nothing to do with it. I play the game because I want to be respected.”
With so much anticipated roster turnover, the League should look a lot different by this time next year. Lottery teams could become playoff teams overnight, up-and-coming playoff teams could become contenders, one-player-away contenders could get over the hump. Or things could go the opposite way altogether, with teams that are strong now getting weaker.
In the meantime, we’re all putting together likely scenarios and pipe dreams of how certain teams will look come 2010. Earlier this week, I talked about Dwyane Wade teaming up with Rudy Gay in Miami. Today’s pet project:
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Tracy McGrady on the New York Knicks.
First off, don’t take this to mean that I’m a Knicks fan. I’m not. (And just to clear up a common misconception, most of us at Dime aren’t Knicks fans, either. We might be based in NYC, but we’re a diverse crew.) But looking at the handful of teams that have a lot of money to spend on multiple superstars, New York makes the most sense for these three superstars.
LeBron, Bosh and T-Mac would be the new “Big Three,” an immediate challenge to Boston’s current version. You can see the similarities: LeBron is an upgraded Paul Pierce, the go-to guy in crunch time and the team’s heart and soul who has everything run through him. Bosh is a younger Kevin Garnett, the power forward who can go inside or outside and will shine in a setting where he doesn’t have to be “The Man” every night. And T-Mac is Ray Allen with more versatility, who can have the occasional 25-point night and regularly hit clutch daggers as a third option who’s skilled enough to be a #1 on other teams.
Money won’t be an issue. LeBron is going to get whatever he wants from whichever team he wants, but a smart negotiator already has enough evidence to talk Bosh’s camp into taking a less-than-max deal if necessary, especially if the Raptors’ struggles keep raising questions about their leader’s ability. But allegedly the Knicks can afford to pay two max players, so if that’s true, it shouldn’t be a hold-up. (Disclaimer: I need to stay just a little ignorant of the numbers-crunching dollars and sense with stuff like this to keep my sanity.) And having watched T-Mac make his comeback this week from another slew of injuries, he’s obviously in store for a big pay cut. (Did you know McGrady is the highest-paid player in the NBA this season?)
LeBron is at a stage in his career similar to Jordan in ’91. He’s won all the individual awards, gotten all the hype he can handle, and now the next step in establishing his legacy is to win championships. Conventional wisdom used to be that his best chance of doing that was to stay in Cleveland, but after the events of the ’09 playoffs, dents were made in that armor. Aligning himself with in-his-prime Bosh and not-quite-done McGrady in New York — throw in a decent point guard, some quality bench guys who will flock to play on this team, and a coach ‘Bron has grown to like from his Team USA tenure — could look more appealing to LBJ than more years of Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao and possibly no Shaq.
Bosh and McGrady are at the point in their careers where status and stats don’t matter; they just want to win. Bosh has had a taste of the playoffs, and now it appears his team in Toronto is going backwards. McGrady’s postseason frustration is famous, and you know it burned him up to watch the Rockets finally get past the first round in ’09 while he was sidelined. If taking #2 and #3 spots in New York translate to having a chance at a title — plus all the extra benefits that go with playing in the nation’s other capital — they’ll sign up with the quickness.
What are some other scenarios you see playing out in next summer’s free agency?