Posted Jun 21 2010 1:47AM
Now that a champion has been crowned, we make a natural transition to the very next season, a more important season, and reveal the team best equipped to navigate through this season.
We go from the Lakers to ... the Nets?
Yes. The Nets. A team with both a high pick in the Draft and money to spend on the most coveted free-agent class in history. In what's shaping up as potentially the craziest two weeks (or three or four or even longer) in recent offseason memory, the Nets are No. 1. And yes, we already checked: The last time "Nets" and "No. 1" appeared together was when Julius Erving and "Super John" Williamson suited up.
This doesn't mean the Nets will be declared the winner of NBA Summer 2010. Just that they, more than any team, are what the summer will be all about: drafting, signing and trading on the fly. Remaking your team, basically, if you have the tools, the guts, the smarts and, of course, the money to spend.
We could see anything happen in the next month. It could be thrilling, or it could be mild. The balance of power in the league could shift or just tilt slightly. Superstars could change addresses or stay put. Some teams will be flushed with funds and cut checks, others will cite the economy and hold tight.
The Draft and the start of the free-agent signing period will be separated by only 10 days. Expect another 10 days of recruiting, where in some cases teams and the cities they represent will conspire to make something happen. And then the signing will start in earnest.
You need a guidebook to make it through. Or maybe just an examination of the key principals involved:
He will temporarily replace Will Smith as the king of summer blockbusters. Along with Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan, he's the best free-agent catch of the last decade-and-a-half. Only difference is neither Shaq nor Duncan appeared on Larry King to talk about it. Nor did they have the back of their hand kissed by the Knicks, which will happen at 12:01 a.m. come July 1 for LeBron. If he re-signs in Cleveland, then it's officially a boring summer. If he leaves, drama. Everyone will see what he does, then react. In the free-agent game. His domino will cause all others to fall.
They did the right thing by clearing cap room for two years and putting themselves in position to buy somebody. Even if they get nobody. The big mistake was passing on Brandon Jennings in last summer's Draft and blowing a chance to strengthen their case with LeBron and other free agents. Having celebrities beg on their behalf will only go so far. The Knicks better not overpay for Carlos Boozer if all the A-listers turn them down. There is a chance they might be forced to wait for Carmelo Anthony in 2011.
The 19-year-old will be asked to save the Wizards. The last man who arrived in Washington with a bigger burden was Obama. Wall is a flashy player with NCAA cred who will be an instant gate attraction initially. He will either push Gilbert Arenas out the door or convince the Wizards that both can co-exist together in the backcourt. Finally, he's fully expected to be a better No. 1 overall pick than the Wizards' last, Kwame Brown.
It's the best destination for a franchise free agent, based on talent and available money. The team has much to sell: big city, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah. The only drawback: Michael Jordan played here. They might swing a sign-and-trade involving Kirk Hinrich and/or Luol Deng. They would become an instant championship contender with an A-list free agent. If they come up dry, they'd be just another team. The Bulls must either sign a free agent or add a solid starter before it's time to pay Rose and Noah.
The Heat must convince Wade to stay in Miami and either Chris Bosh or LeBron or Joe Johnson or Amar'e Stoudemire to join. Miami must decide what to do with Michael "Super Cool" Beasley; is he a keeper or better off somewhere else? They deliver big this summer -- like in 2004, when Shaq was heisted from the Lakers -- and another championship might not be far behind.
He's widely assumed to be the FAMLTG: Free Agent Most Likely To Go. It is no secret that he loves Toronto, but hates his team. He might be better off as the No. 2 player on a team, rather than the hoss. He never took the Raptors anywhere special during his time, but at least one suitor will ignore that. Bosh will probably get max money although there's no consensus that he's worth it. Not sure if he was yanking chain or not, but did ask fans their opinion on what he should do.
It's the Elephant in the room. It has everybody but the Knicks scared to death about what the next labor agreement might bring, or might not bring. Teams are wisely expecting the worst and therefore staying financially flexible. The uneasy dance between players and owners might be the primary reason why some free agents will not see anything more lucrative than the mid-level paycheck.
The next superb big man, or team headache? Lottery teams are still trying to decide which is the truth. Nobody wants to be the one who passes on him and nobody wants to be forced to take him. He has wonderful hands and touch around the basket. His maturity is in question, yet his upside is so enticing. Sounds like he's destined to be a Clipper.
Does the half-court shot at the buzzer fall in his next lifetime, here in the NBA? He became famous for carrying Butler to the title game against Duke, in a real-life Hoosiers moment, and nearly making the heroic game-winner. However, was hardly a bold-faced name on the scouting and Draft charts before the Tourney. He could turn into a one-hit wonder, or keep the Cinderella sneakers on for 10 more years.
He's probably not cut out for the Hawks, considering he insulted the fans during an uninspired playoff run. He's a very good scorer who's respected around the league, but not a game-changer. Johnson wants max money, but lacks max charisma or max credentials. He's the best player on the second-tier free-agent level, and could be a considerable help in Chicago or Miami or New York should he become teammates with a first-tier free agent.
The point man in the LeBron Sweepstakes. He could see his franchise's value drop as much as $100 million should LeBron pack and flee Cleveland. The Cavs' owner took it upon himself to dump Mike Brown and part ways with Danny Ferry, two key figures in the Cavs front office. Has he turned the keys to the club over to LeBron? He says no, but July 1 will tell.
The billionaire Nets owner wants to make a big splash. He must first do it in Newark. He came up with the cash to hire Avery Johnson. If free agents shun New Jersey, then Rutgers might draw more fans next season than Nets. With a savvy hand, could make the franchise a winner in time for the move to Brooklyn. Or Nets will simply get lost in a sea of Knick fans.
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