You may have heard, or read, that the summer of 2010 is going to be wild. It's been in all the papers and on all the web sites. It seems as if half a dozen or so teams have pretty much conceded the rest of this season and all of next season in hopes of being the big winner in July 2010, when several VIPs will be eligible.
Yes, we're talking 19 months or so of waiting – and there's been a ton of talk already with promises of more to come. The phrase "with an eye on the bumper free agent crop expected to be available in 2010" is now almost obligatory in every trade story.
In a way, this whole thing is beginning to look a lot like the just-concluded presidential campaign, sort of in reverse. In this case, we already know the winner. We just don't know where the winner will choose to play. The process, meanwhile, will continue to play itself out over this next year and a half with teams posturing, posing and reconfiguring, much like the candidates do, to make themselves more attractive and appealing.
So here, without further adieu, is a list of the candidates along with the battleground states who will be vying for their services. Bear in mind, however, that most of the big-name free agents never go anywhere, so this all might be moot by – yes – the summer of 2010.
Barack Obama: LeBron James. Is there any doubt about this? You have maybe the most sought-after player in the league, who, by the way, will still be only 25 in the summer of 2010. There are a bunch of teams hoping that Cleveland stalls or even tanks in the next two years to convince James that there is no chance of winning there. Right now, however, the Cavs are, at worst, the third-best team in the East. And no one gave the Celtics a harder time in the playoffs last season.
Hillary Clinton: Chris Bosh. He's traveled to 82 countries around the world, 81 of them with USA Basketball in the last year. Or so it seems. He's going to be in big demand regardless of what the Raptors do this year and next, but whether he can keep the coveted No. 2 spot might hinge on Toronto's play. He'll be 26 in July 2010 and, as we all know, size does matter.
John McCain: Dwyane Wade. He has what none of the other big guys have: a championship ring. And it wasn't that long ago, 2006 to be precise, that many thought D-Wade to be the best up-and-comer in the league. But the guy is always hurt; he missed 31 games in each of the last two seasons. LeBron missed 19 in his first five years.
Moderator Interjection: In what remains one of the singular baffling moves in NBA draft history, the otherwise astute Joe Dumars briefly morphed into Rob Babcock and passed on Bosh and Wade – and everyone else in 2003 save for LeBron – to take Darko Milicic. Most guys would be sampling hemlock for that.
Mitt Romney: Amare Stoudemire. He seems to have allayed fears about his knee; after playing only three games in the 2005-06 season, he missed only three in the next two seasons combined. He'll be a lusty 27 in the summer of 2010, by which time Shaq will be working for Arizona Highway Patrol and Steve Nash will be a member of the Canadian Parliament. So he may be up for a relocation.
Mike Huckabee: Tracy McGrady. You never see his name mentioned in the list of potentials in the summer of 2010. Hard to believe, but he'll be only 31 when his contract expires and, lest we forget, that is hardly senescence in the NBA. Look at what happened in Boston last season with three thirtysomethings leading the way. T-Mac remains one of the most puzzling talents in the game. But if somehow he can get Houston out of the first round this season, he may stay where he is. Otherwise, he is a ripe candidate for going to a contender at a cut rate. Or he should be.
Dennis Kucinich: Brian Scalabrine. Looking for that moral compass for your team? The guy who goes along and gets along? Scal is your man. He doesn't have July 1, 2010, circled on his calendar, more like Labor Day weekend. He may get shut out of the debate early, but there's always a spot for a guy like him on your team.
Moderator Interjection: And with the candidates now established, it's time to investigate those battleground states that will be the most watched as the countdown to – yes – the summer of 2010 continues.
New York/New Jersey: Normally the bluest of the blue states, this one is now up for grabs. The Knicks transparently have reshaped their roster to be in contention to possibly land two of the above fellows, who then would have to play with the likes of Wilson Chandler and Eddy Curry. LeBron has made it clear he loves New York and the feeling is mutual. New Jersey also has overhauled its roster and has LeBron pal Jay-Z in its ownership group. They at least have Vince Carter as a recruiter – although one can't be sure if that's good or bad, and it looks increasingly likely they'll be stuck in East Rutherford instead of moving to Brooklyn.
Michigan: This might be a most attractive landing spot for LeBron, given that, with a little roster tweaking, the Pistons would have the money and some talent (Rip Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince) to entice the King. This is a state to watch in the next 19 months. If LeBron decides to take over and rescue the Hummer line, we'll have a good idea where he'll end up.
Ohio: The battlegroundiest of all the battleground states, for this is Ground Zero. GM Danny Ferry's life expectancy is pretty much tied to keeping LeBron in Cavalier wine and gold. You lose him, you have Orlando, post-Shaq, without the weather, tax rates or golf. Most keen NBA observers feel that Cleveland has no chance. (I just wrote that to tweak owner Dan Gilbert.)
Florida: Another state to watch, for it needs to retain Wade and possibly be in a position to add one of the above. (Although there are a slew of more keen NBA observers who expect Carlos Boozer to end up here. With his wife's blessing, Boozer can opt out of his deal after this season.)
Oregon: This state comes into play for two reasons. First, the Blazers have as appealing an array of young talent as anyone in the NBA. Second, the Blazers play in Portland, a suburb of Nike, to which LeBron is allied for years to come. Much depends on what the Blazers do when some of their youngins (Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge) are eligible to sign extensions, for that may cut into what they can offer. Paul Allen might have to throw in his yacht to make the deal work.
California and Massachusetts: These are two more blue states who appeal to any of the candidates for one simple reason: winning. Yet how many top-echelon guys, or even medium-echelon guys, will pass up the money for a chance to win? Both the Celtics and Lakers will have mid-level money to offer, along with Hall of Famers in wait, and mid-level money in 2010 is going to be around $6 million per season? You'd think LeBron and the rest, all of them on max deals and in the primes of their careers, would not be concerned at that point about a few million per year and would gladly make the sacrifice – if making $6 mil can be deemed to be a sacrifice – for a legitimate chance to win a ring. You would think that and you would be wrong. The next one to do it will be the first.
- LeBron James