NBA teams shoot for the stars

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:51 AM ET

The countdown to the mother of all free agency continues, the drama building and the rumours getting more absurd and unrealistic than ever.

People have been pining for this day, teams clearing cap space and players working back channels and front channels in a push to remake an NBA landscape that may be shaken to its very foundation when all the many free-agent pieces fall into whatever place, when all is said and done.

Beginning on Thursday, all this talk and manoeuvering will begin to take shape, teams and players will finally be able to grab on to something more tangible that just wild speculation.

On Thursday, no one will be subject to any tampering rules because no rule exists once free agency begins, a time where the rule of thumb is to convince a free agent that he is king and not merely King James.

As much as teams can talk with a free agent, wine and dine him and explore more sign and trade scenarios, nothing can be made official until July 8 when a league-imposed moratorium expires, at which time the league’s salary cap for next season will be established.

Once the beancounters finish their work in the coming days, it’s expected the cap will fall in the $56.1-million US range, a slight decrease from last season’s total of $57.7 million.

By now, everyone should be aware of the unprecedented free-agent class that will hit the open market, by far the deepest in the history of basketball and arguably the most anticipated period of free agency in the history of sports.

LeBron James leads the list, followed by Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer.

In all, 150 free agents are available, including a handful of quality restricted free agents in David Lee and Rudy Gay.

Money, at the end of the day, is what motivates players, which is why a team with deep pockets such as the Knicks have basically spent the better part of two years gearing up for this moment.

No team has as much cap space as New York.

With $34.17 million cleared, the Knicks are shooting for the moon, which is to say they covet James and want the King to pick his running mate.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov will spend and the Nets have $29.99 million to dangle.

The Bulls are next, armed with $29.17 million in space and featuring a roster that includes a star in Derrick Rose and an emerging star Joakim Noah, solidified at two very important positions, point guard and centre, respectively.

They are followed by the Heat at $27.13 million.

The Cavs, a team that has led the NBA in wins the last two seasons, can offer James the most money if the King decides to re-up in Cleveland, $30 million more over the term of a six-year deal.

“I came here two years ago and laid out the idea the best way to rebuild the team was to bring the cap down,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh told reporters in the Big Apple. “We have done that.

“Now I feel we’re at that point, and that’s exciting to me. It doesn’t dictate what direction we will take. But it opens up a lot of options for us to start rebuilding the team. It doesn’t mean we’ll do it the way people think, but we’ll have a lot of options.”

Every option begins with money and the hope of luring James.

James is the domino, the one piece that must fall first before any other meaningful free agent gets to pick his spot.

In Miami, Heat president Pat Riley has visions of building a dynasty, which begins by keeping Wade and surrounding him with two stars.

If the stars do get aligned in South Beach, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Riley decides to coach again.

This is such an unprecedented time that players such as Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Tracy McGrady will get on their hands and knees and beg to play for the minimum for a shot at winning, assuming they check their egos at the door.

Each is a free agent, each earning in excess of $20 million last season.

This free-agent frenzy is so compelling that everyone in basketball is talking about it, speculating, connecting dots, real and imagined, opining on what may or may not happen.

“I want to see these big stars go to different teams and switch the league up,” Phoenix’s Jared Dudley said. “I want a couple of these stars to team up, and I want them to go to big markets because it’s better for the NBA. I want someone good going to New York, Chicago. It’s good for those teams to be good.”

In Dudley’s fantasy world, he wants James to team up with Bosh in New York, Wade moving to his native Chicago and Johnson setting up shop in New Jersey.

Who goes where, which team gets remade or completely destroyed, to what extent are sign and trades realistic, it will soon unfold.

And soon we will all know.


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