2010: An NBA Odyssey

Last season the trade deadline was a chance to improve a team’s position to try and spoil the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers chances to win an NBA Championship. This season the trade deadline was a chance to collect expiring contracts to put themselves in position to sign an NBA Star in 2010.

The summer of 2010 promises to be one of the best free agent classes in NBA history with a plethora of top tier players becoming unrestricted free agents or having a player option to terminate their contracts and cash in for bigger deals.

There is already a lot of speculation over the player movement, but all that talk can get confusing. Is it well-wishing fans from a desperate team or real words coming out of the players camp? What follows is a list of the top ten unrestricted free agents and an unbiased look at what they will probably do.

The list is divided into groups and each player has their age in 2010.

The Superstars

The only way teams are going to pry these guys away from other teams is by signing them on the free agent market. There is no realistic sign-and-trade deal that could bring back even half the talent the players’ current team will lose if they move the superstar.

LeBron James, super forward (26 years old)

Rumors at the beginning of the year had James going to the New York Knicks in a 2010 summer that would have him coupled with another big name from this list. However, as the salary cap picture for the league (it will go down!) and the Knicks has become clearer, the Knicks spec roster is looking more hypothetical than real.

Now everyone else is throwing out scenarios that pair him with every other star in the league, but he has no reason to leave the Cleveland Cavs. The front office realized last season that needed to do everything they could do to keep him and have made an honest effort to do so. He could win his first championship this year if Big Z can stay healthy and he wants to be in a position to win more than anything else (he is getting paid wherever he ends up).

People who talk about promotional markets must realize that he has made millions with endorsements playing out of Cleveland. He is such a force he does not need to go to the media capital of the world to become a billionaire, so why leave a good situation.

People also forget that the only contracts on the books for the Cavs in 2010 will be Mo Williams and a very affordable Daniel Gibson. The Cavs can make his perfect team with his input, so the real question is who will the Cavs go after to couple with King James?

Dwayne Wade, super guard (28 years old)

Wade has reemerged as the second best player in the league after two years befuddled by injuries. He has won an NBA Finals MVP with the Miami Heat and is currently leading the league in scoring despite being the only player worth guarding on the Heat’s roster for much of the season. Once the James scenarios cool down fans will begging their GM to go after this guy.

Will he move though? The Heat are actively trying to recreate the Wade-Shaq chemistry of 2005-06. The Heat also only have a utility player and an option on promising rookie Michael Beasley to worry about, thus they are another team threatening to add a super star to the roster.

The only thing is that while James has been able to remain a high profile endorser in Cleveland Wade has not been able to do much more than get some face time on commercials with T-Mobile. He already has a championship so I could see him leaving for a bigger media market. That means his options are probably Chicago and New York.

The Bulls have a young pass-first guard who would look great next to him in Derrick Rose (he is scoring because nobody else will this season). Chicago also has a few contract issues to work out first and still do not have a post presence, which could be a requirement because of Dwayne’s experience with Shaq.

The Knicks have a coach and a fun offensive system that could be fun for Wade. The D’Antoni system is shooter happy though, and Wade is much effective with improbable drives to the basket than setting up on the three point line.

I think the Heat will keep find a way to keep him as advertisers start calling his agent after his play this season.

Chris Bosh, forward/center (26 years old)

He plays in a basketball in Canada. That means that every freezing winter his great numbers (22 points and about 10 rebounds) are forgotten by everyone but diehard NBA fans. He gets no promotion deals because few people would even recognize him on the street. Also, the Raptors are simply unable to put together a contender so there is no career justification for him to work on a visa.

He is going to leave, so the only real question is who will sign him? Well about ten teams in the league will have cap space to give a serious offer, but only a few of those will have the media market to massage away the bitterness that has hardened like winter snow in the Arctic ring.

That means that Chicago and New York are the most likely destinations. Still he could become part of a great one-two if Miami and can resign Wade and get or Cleveland can keep James and entice him. I am going to predict that he enters into strong talks with the Bulls, but their inability to act quickly gives the Knicks the opportunity they need to steal him away.

The Young Stars

These young players would be welcomed by any team in the league and could be packaged in a sign-and-trade deal that would give the team giving up the player a decent return on their departing star.

Amare Stoudamire, forward/center (28 years old)

Yes, he gets injured. Yes, he still does not have a consistent jumper. Yes, he will be just about the only player the Suns will value in 2010. Still, with Phoenix’s willingness to trade him this season he could be sent away for an extravagant sign-and-trade deal that would give the Suns some building blocks after they let Steve Nash and Shaq go.

In fact, that is what I think will happen. It is there best move because a core of Leandro Barbosa, Jason Richardson, and Stoudamire is not a championship contender. Look for a bad team with a ton of up coming talent to make the best offer.

The best Amare could hope for the market would be for the Knicks to fail to sign Bosh and look at him as their second option. He is not suited for a half court team which means that a possible duo of him and a superstar like James or Wade is not in his future.

Joe Johnson, lights out shooting guard (29 years old)

The Atlanta Hawks stole him from the Phoenix Suns four years ago and they will have to work very hard to keep another team from stealing him from them. He is 6 foot 7, but has the weight to make himself a good post player too. He is a younger Paul Pierce.

The Hawks will have the money to offer him, but will they have the talent to make him happy. Bibby is gone after 2009 and then Johnson could be forced to play years for a team at the bottom of the league again. The only way he leaves is if a better team offers him the same amount of money.

Yao Ming, center (29 years old)

He has injuries every season. His feet of knees probably only have a few more years before they break for good and he is wheel chair bound. Still, he is seven-foot-six and his team wins when he is on the floor.

He is an early termination player, so he does not have to put his name on the market. Given his injury history I think he has to secure another three year contract.

Just about every team wants a center like him, so just about everyone (except New York) would be willing to offer him money. I do not see him leaving Houston without walking into a better situation.

The Over-30 Crowd

I thought about calling this the farewell tour, but a few of these players might be able to squeeze out another good contract. These players are over 30 and should really only be considered by teams looking to compete, since you cannot build around arthritis and knee surgeries.

Manu Ginobili, shooting guard (32 years old)

Manu came into the league late, so it may a bit of a surprise to see him in this section. He will be 32 in the summer of 2010, and his physical style of play is already starting to take a toll on his body.

He may be the odd man out in San Antonio since they will have to sign him to a lucrative contract in addition to the $20 million a year Duncan is getting and the money Parker will demand when he is resigned in the summer of 2011. Ginobili should probably be asking teammate Michael Finley for advice, since Finley was the odd man out in Dallas.

He would make a nice addition to a Boston Celtics squad that is likely to pass on Ray Allen in 2010. Other possible location include Detroit as Joe Dumars will not let his team rebuild for too long and could be making a play for competitive play again in the 2010-11 season.

Dirk Nowitzki, shooting forward (31 years old)

Dallas is done thanks to the Jason Kidd trade. The magic is gone and Mark Cuban is out of gimmicks. Will Dirk want to stay? Why would he?

He is an early termination option player, so it up to him if he wants to stay another year with the Mavericks. I think he has to weight the choices. Take the last season in Dallas with a $21.5 million salary and try and find a three year contract in a landscape with very few teams with any cap room or cut out early and secure a three year contract while teams still have the money to spend.

I think he would be better off leaving a bad situation in Dallas and getting a chance to start over. He needs it. The league and its fans are increasingly down him. He is still impossible to guard and could use a new home to prove it and perhaps compete for a championship.

Tracy McGrady, brittle scoring machine (31 years old)

His body has taken a lot of punishment since coming into the league out of high school. He and Yao were supposed to support each other and lead the Rockets to the championship, but that is apparently never going to happen.

He, like Dirk, could use a change of scenario. His legacy is at stake and he could get pretty good money and become the third player on a team like the Boston Celtics or thrive in the free flowing system in New York (for less money though).

I think the championship craze will get to him and he will take a hefty pay cut to pair with LeBron in Cleveland. Otherwise a sign and trade can be orchestrated that will probably take him to a team on the cusp of competing.

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