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Shaun Powell

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Could LeBron James and Joakim Noah be teammates next season in Chicago?
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Now the moment we've all been waiting for


Posted Jun 25 2010 7:01PM

And now, on to the next Draft, the one with established talent, the one we've been waiting for.

Face it. With the exception of the Wizards and maybe another team or two, nobody invested heavily in the regular Draft, emotionally or otherwise. After five or six picks, folks were tuning out, and that included teams still holding first-round picks. Not only did the draft hold little intrigue after a half-dozen selections, it held little value. Teams, especially those looking for salary cap relief, didn't want the burden of paying guaranteed money to first rounders. And others simply wanted to save money here in the economic crunch era. That's why there was a rush to the exits well before David Stern left the podium.

But this next draft? The Free-Agent Draft of 2010? It's big, real big.

Here are the teams in the hunt, and their available money to spend: Knicks ($34 million), Bulls ($30 million), Heat ($29 million), Nets ($27 million), Clippers ($23 million).

And the coveted crew: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire (if he walks away from the final year of his deal in Phoenix) and Dirk Nowitzki (ditto in Dallas).

Teams used the regular Draft to set themselves up for this one, and after all the maneuverings and sleight of hands, here's how the field looks:

Knicks

They have the most to offer, but only in terms of money and intangibles. As Mike D'Antoni said, "as long as we keep the Empire State Building where it is, we'll be OK." Yes, there's nothing like being a winner in New York, and if you disagree, then maybe you should take it up with Derek Jeter. The city is basketball starved and just waiting for a savior. Would you like to be the player who restored the basketball luster in Chicago, or Miami ... or New York?

The downside, obviously, is the current makeup of the Knicks. The cupboard is almost bare. There's only Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas. Oh, forgot: Eddy Curry, too. In other words, good luck to the free agent(s) who buy into that. Unless the Knicks get both LeBron and Wade, it's tough to imagine the franchise turning itself completely around.

Bulls

Dumping Kirk Hinrich and his remaining $17 million in salary, plus the 17th pick (whom they didn't want to pay) to the Wizards for nothing in return was borderline brilliant. Had they substituted Luol Deng (owed $54 million) instead of Hinrich, now that would've been brilliant. Nonetheless, the Bulls can now add a pair of A-list free agents to a team with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Deng and Taj Gibson. All things considered, the Bulls are in better position than any team to sell themselves to free agents.

Really, now. They can offer money, a solid nucleus and a vibrant city. They can tell LeBron to pick his free agent teammate. Or convince Wade it's time to return to his hometown, and bring a friend. Bottom line: If winning a championship is the priority, then Chicago is the place. If the desire to build a legacy in a place other than where Michael Jordan set the bar high, then Chicago ain't it.

Heat

Like the Bulls, the Heat dumped salary without getting anything in return when they unloaded Daequan Cook and the No. 18 on Oklahoma City. And like the Bulls, they would've been better off ridding themselves of a bigger salary, Michael Beasley and his $9 million-plus.

Miami has three advantages. One: the lack of a state tax, which translates into big savings for free agents. Two: Pat Riley will likely step down from the front office and coach, if he collects enough talent. Three: Wade wants to stay. The Heat really only need to recruit one free agent, besides Wade, and that shouldn't be a problem. The issue is, can they get LeBron, or must they "settle" for Bosh or Stoudemire?

Nets

In a perfect world, the Nets would have the upper hand this summer. But no such world exists, even if you're a Russian billionaire. Mikhail Prokhorov is the best thing the Nets have going for them, if only because of the cash he seems willing to pump into the organization. Until July 1, we'll know if he plans to act like a major player by laughing at the luxury tax, or simply ease onto the scene and behave a bit more conservatively.

Obviously, with the Nets, there are issues. We can begin with their lame-duck status in Newark the next two years. And when they do move to Brooklyn, there's the rather large shadow of the Knicks. And there's also the stigma of being the Nets. This wouldn't be a problem for 98 percent of NBA players, but the Nets are grasping for the talented two percent. Can you see D-Wade leaving South Beach for Newark? Or LeBron moving to New York and not playing for the Knicks?

Clippers

They're second only to the Bulls in terms of on-hand talent, and it's a very close second. They offer Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin. They only have enough money to sign an A-list free agent and someone off the B-list. But if that money is spent wisely, the Clippers would instantly become one of the better teams in the NBA, although not even the best team in L.A.

And that's one of the problems. Is an A-lister willing to place his ego aside, knowing he can't and won't supplant Kobe Bryant as Mr. Basketball in Los Angeles? And are free agents willing to ignore the long-standing images problems and sheer bad luck attached to the franchise? A nightmare for the Clippers is discovering that nobody wants to take their money.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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