NBA could be left waiting a while on LeBron
| June 29, 2010 9:00 PM
NEW YORK - Hey LeBron, make up your mind!
That's what everyone from the people drafting the schedules to the ones designing the video games might be thinking once free agency opens at 9:01 a.m. PDT Thursday. Because even though deals can be signed as early as July 8, few expect much action until LeBron James decides what he is going to do.
"We don't know how long the process is going to be, but the dominoes sort of have to fall," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. "The top of the heap is LeBron, and depending on what he does I think will dictate the rest of free agency."
James is the biggest prize among what's considered the deepest free agency class ever. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh join the two-time MVP at the top of the list, with perennial All-Stars Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki among the names likely to hit the market.
James is expected to begin welcoming his suitors to Ohio on Thursday, and perhaps he'd even decide that day - if he hasn't already - whether he's staying with Cleveland or moving on to chase a title elsewhere.
And the Cavaliers aren't the only ones waiting on his answer.
"I think on behalf of our teams, that they'd like to sell tickets wherever he is, whether it's in Cleveland or someplace else," NBA commissioner David Stern said recently.
Besides the Cavaliers, the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets are considered leading candidates for James and the other top free agents.
New York can afford to sign two players from James' class to maximum-salary contracts, which will start around $16.5 million next season. Mired in a franchise-worst stretch of nine straight losing seasons, the Knicks could land any combination of big names and it would be an upgrade over what they've had lately.
But even if they find multiple players who want to come to New York, the Knicks may be hesitant to commit until they know they're out of the running for James. Same with the Heat, who need to come away with someone so they don't risk losing Wade.
So the Knicks even have to put off their own All-Star free agent, forward David Lee, while waiting on James.
"I think every deal is going to have its own little time. Some hung up on LeBron, some not," said Mark Bartelstein, Lee's agent.
There is a moratorium early in free agency while the league and the players' association meet to determine next season's salary cap. Deals can't become official until that period is completed, which this year is on July 8.
However, they are often agreed to long before the waiting period ends. Last year, the Detroit Pistons had agreements from Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva on July 1.
But that was a weak class. Teams like the Knicks and Heat have been waiting two years to pitch James, so why should they move on now until they know his intentions?
"The league is frozen in many ways," Minnesota president David Kahn said the day after last week's draft. "LeBron James, this week, was hovering over the league. Seriously. Look at what teams did last night and over this previous week. It's remarkable."
For some, James' decision is more than just interesting chatter. It's business.
The NBA traditionally releases its schedule in late July or early August, but will almost certainly hold it this year until all the free agents are in place. Television partners ESPN and TNT will surely want plenty of Cavs games if James stays home, and probably as few as possible should James leave them in a rebuilding situation.