An early look at possible destinations for LeBron, Wade and the other top free agents

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Dwyane Wade

"Most signs point to Wade staying and the Heat attracting either Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire," writes Sam Smith. "But if he moves, he’s supposedly telling people it’s to return to be around his kids, which means Chicago or even Milwaukee, where he also went to college. No one sees Wade making a move out of Miami for anywhere but to be closer to his kids."

Posted by Sam Smith | | 03.29.10 | 10:10 a.m. CT

So where are they going?

It’s been the big question all this NBA season, much more so than even who’s the best or what’s with Gilbert now.

To digress, I’m glad Gilbert Arenas escaped jail time. Sure, he was stupid, though if that’s a crime, well…

He violated the gun law and I’m very anti-gun, but he’s certainly been remorseful and seems hardly a danger to society, which is why you lock up people. His antics could potentially hurt the Bulls, though, as the Wizards now have possibly the top draft pick from the lottery if it falls their way and more room under the salary can than the Bulls. Though we assume free agents still won’t be flocking to join Arenas.

That takes me back to my point about this summer’s free agents and where they are going. I believe, as I saw Carmelo Anthony say the other day, the players themselves don’t know. NBA players tend to be emotional and shortsighted—yes, I know, hard to believe—and a playoff loss can change everything.

So Washington joins the top pursuers, including the Bulls, Heat, Knicks, Nets, Clippers, Kings, Timberwolves and perhaps Thunder or Rockets.

And here’s a look at some informed speculation about how the players may be thinking, at least at this early point:

LeBron James. 1. Cleveland. 2. Cleveland. 3. Lakers.

He’s not going to the Knicks. Yes, even with the chance to bring along someone. That is because the only other true impact player is Dwyane Wade, and he is said to have no interest in New York. The Knicks don’t have a big man and hardly a roster that would satisfy James. He’s already rich and famous. What he needs is titles, and the Knicks would be a huge step back. Plus, the arena always smells from elephant crap. Who wants to play there? The speculation is the Knicks will do this in stages with their primary aim at Carmelo Anthony in 2011 after Eddy Curry’s contract comes off the books next season. They’ll try to add someone like Joe Johnson or Carlos Boozer and then chase Anthony, who pines for a return to the East Coast as he feels—probably accurately—he never gets the recognition even having an MVP type season as he is while playing in Denver. And with Chauncey Billups aging and Kenyon Martin breaking down, their window is closing. So LeBron stays where he is most welcome unless something happens. Then he tries to persuade the Cavs to take Andrew Bynum in a sign-and-trade so he can play on a super team with Kobe and Pau. If LeBron wants to challenge the great ones, he better start counting titles.

Dwyane Wade: 1. Miami. 2. Chicago. 3. Milwaukee.

I know Milwaukee has no cap room, but maybe the Heat take Andrew Bogut in a sign-and-trade. Most signs point to Wade staying and the Heat attracting either Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire. But it was telling last week in Chicago when Wade was excused from shootaround so he could take his kids to school. You hear Wade wants to stay in Miami with the weather and being the sports hero of South Florida and Pat Riley and did I mention the weather. But if he moves, he’s supposedly telling people it’s to return to be around his kids, which means Chicago or even Milwaukee, where he also went to college. No one sees Wade making a move out of Miami for anywhere but to be closer to his kids.

Chris Bosh. 1. Miami. 2. Chicago. 3. Toronto.

Bosh figures to be the top choice of Riley, who tried to draft him when he got Wade. The Raptors have been in decline and Bosh seems to have tuned out, playing passively for weeks and regularly blaming his teammates. Still, there’s that extra season and the $30 million difference. It is the big matzo ball hanging out there for all the free agents. Without injury and assuming not a horrible new labor deal, they’ll make it up on their next deals. But it is actual money. It is said to remain appealing to Bosh. It will be the big test for anyone who wants to leave as teams seem to be saying they’ll call the player’s bluff rather than accept leftovers from the team he wants to join. Bosh remains one of the Bulls priorities, though there are questions about defense, commitment or age with all the main free agents but LeBron and Wade. No one expects Dirk Nowitzki to leave Dallas. Also, with improvement in stages it’s highly unlikely the quiet Bosh would want the responsibility of being a New York savior.

Joe Johnson: 1. Chicago. 2. New York. 3. Atlanta.

There’s a lot of talk Johnson would be comfortable with the Bulls, given they have a solid starting team without a shooting guard and it puts him in a major market in a lively arena, which he seeks. He’s not said to desire the pressure of New York, but is not averse, though the belief is the Bulls rank first on his list. The Hawks have a chance to make a playoff run, so there’s always the chance they come up with the money, though now that is not said to be certain.

Amar’e Stoudemire: 1. Miami. 2. New Jersey. 3. New York/Phoenix.

I suppose there’s a chance the Suns could have a run and he stays and they pay. But you get the sense he’s making his case to leave and would most want a return to home state Florida with Wade. Otherwise, you can see Stoudemire heading for the New York money and bright lights. Stoudemire’s always seemed just as happy to put up numbers as win, probably more so. He’s played as well as anyone the last two months, but has had several major surgeries. The Nets have a center and a chance to get a point guard or another high level rookie to go with Devin Harris. They, actually, could make the bigger jump compared with the Knicks on talent and you can see Stoudemire putting up the points.

Carlos Boozer: 1. Miami/Chicago. 2. New York/New Jersey. 3. Utah.

He’s the toughest to read because his history suggests he’ll take the money and run. The Jazz has a chance to make a playoff run, so they could come back to him and try to deal Paul Millsap even with all the hard feelings. During the season, Boozer supposedly has told teammates he prefers the Heat or Bulls, as he said in radio interviews last summer. He also likes the spotlight, and you could see him in New York or New Jersey. But he needs a high level point guard, so perhaps the Nets fit best along with the Jazz.

David Lee: 1. Bulls. 2.Knicks. 3. Nets/Clippers.

The Knicks have to renounce him to have money for two free agents, though they could bring him back and sign one free agent. It’s possible the Knicks go for someone like Marcus Camby along with Lee and then their second half of free agent next year. Though Lee is a Chicago kind of player, blue collar, hard worker and with a jumper now and not a great defender who could play well off Joakim Noah. Plus, he doesn’t require the full, big money max deal. Also, he could find it appealing to play off Lopez. I put the Clippers in there because they have the room, but I never hear anyone talking about them and can see them more involved in trades, though, as hard as it seems to believe, they have few open spots assuming Blake Griffin returns in good health.

Meanwhile, you can be sure we’ll hear of plenty of destinations into July, and all can change any time.

A slice of free agency in the Big Apple

-- On the rare occasions I return to my native New York City, there are just two things I still enjoy doing before I lock myself in my room and hide in a closet until it’s time to leave. I go for pizza and get the tabloid newspapers, both a bit cheesy. The tabloids are a fun read, in part, because of their imagination and creativity. And I thought last week was an great example when it was pointed out what a good chance the Knicks had to attract Joe Johnson and David Lee because their agents, Arn Tellem and Mark Bartelstein, respectively, are such good friends of Knicks GM Donnie Walsh. I’m sure Walsh has a good relationship with both, though I also know neither will—or can—promise their clients to a team. And if you are going down that road, no one probably is closer with that pair than the Bulls as Bulls managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf has been close with the Bartelstein family. Plus, the Bulls have long been a nice home for tough to place Bartelstein clients like Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Randy Brown and now Jannero Pargo. Tellem and Reinsdorf have had basketball and baseball business for years, and if anyone owed the Bulls it would be Tellem for, among others, Ben Wallace’s $60 million deal that made Tellem look like a genius when Wallace had no other real offer. And top Tellem executive B.J. Armstrong has long ties to the Bulls and works extensively with Derrick Rose. Still, the Bulls understand top agents like Tellem and Bartelstein work for their clients and will advise their clients the best possible destinations for the clients’ best interest. It’s why the Bulls are relying more on having higher level supporting talent to make the transition easier and more successful for a potential free agent. And Walsh when he was GM of the Pacers never did get a top free agent, though Indiana is a tough destination to sell. It’s a nice New York story line and a fun conspiracy to follow, though like most, it’s little more than fiction. A good read, though, and that’s worth something.

Amar’e calls out ‘Me-Mac’

-- Interesting to see someone call out Tracy McGrady, as Amar’e Stoudemire did to the Arizona Republic last week. McGrady always has been popular with the media because he’s been so quotable and available. That is to his credit, but he’s long been anathema to teammates for his indifference to rehab and getting back from injury. He was generally known as ‘Me-Mac’ in Orlando for his selfish ways. Talking about coming back from serious surgery and obviously referring to McGrady, Stoudemire said, “It takes a lot of self discipline. I’m not sure everyone has that.” “I’m not a huge Tracy McGrady fan,” Stoudemire added. He told a story of being a high school player in Orlando and McGrady blowing him off. McGrady said Stoudemire made up the story, which should further endear Stoudemire to McGrady. But it’s a good lesson for all pro athletes and ignoring and being rude to fans. It’s wrong, in the first place. But it also can come back and bite you. We all hope, anyway. What if the Knicks go for Stoudemire? He says there’s no issue, but how much would or should the Knicks want McGrady back? How sweet would that be? You always hope that comes back to haunt a player when you see them to that to the fans. … Pretty remarkable column in the Toronto Sun Sunday, basically suggesting Hedo Turkoglu’s poor season could be in large part about after hours partying and raising questions about whether missing practices lately was perhaps due more to, well, let’s say not feeling well the morning after. Raptors coach Jay Triano was specifically asked if Turkoglu’s illness was real. Triano said, “Absolutely,” though the team declined details. Then Turkoglu was benched Sunday. Toronto reporters often write about 2009 big money free agent Turkoglu’s “early retirement.” Really, can Chris Bosh want to be part of this? If he does, then maybe you didn’t want him to be part of what you have.

NBA news and notes

-- It’s kind of surreal to go into the Cavs locker room, as I did recently when the Cavs were in the United Center, and see Delonte West sitting around like all the other guys. No one much talks to him, which is something of a rule. He’s the only player I’ve ever heard of the team has declared off limits and the NBA doesn’t object. Neither do media members as no one approaches West. West has played his best this season in March, averaging 12.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting in 27.8 minutes per game. West has a pending gun case against him from last summer. He has a much chronicled mood disorder, which he has described as bi-polar. Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Brian Windhorst, who travels with the team, said he hasn’t talked with West, even after a 27-point game this month, since last October. He quoted coach Mike Brown as saying: "He's got a nice support staff around him. Including some other people behind the scenes. There's a lot of support there for him and there will continue to be. He's a part of our family and we take a lot of pride in trying to take care of everybody." It’s an unprecedented situation and who’s to say West would be better off not playing. Maybe it’s the therapy he needs. Yet, the Cavs are playing for huge stakes this season. And there’s that gun possession case. … James is barely ahead of Kevin Durant for the scoring championship, and last week James told reporters he could win every season if he chose to. We know. But do you have to say it that way? I guess you can if you can back it up, and he has. Or is LeBron just setting himself up for Durant winning as the Cavs should clinch early and probably shut down LeBron while the Thunder will be playing meaningful games for positioning late and likely need big games from Durant. … With fellow former Bull Tyson Chandler returning, Tyrus Thoams has played 20 minutes or fewer the last five games averaging 6.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. But also with Theo Ratliff, the Bobcats have an impressive shot blocking presence with all averaging at least a block. The Bulls see them in the UC Saturday for the first time since the trade. … That’s the second of a back-to-back after the Bulls are in Washington Friday. The Wizards suddenly have almost $20 million in salary cap room after all the post-Arenas trades. Arenas, as we know, didn’t get jail time for his gun incident and the team declared him welcome for next season. But there figures to be more to come with an ownership change agreed to and lately Andray Blatche, their version of Tyrus Thomas, suspended in January for the old “conduct unbecoming” and then blasted by coach Flip Saunders for blowing off the staff and trainer during a game. Blatche then basically said Saunders was a liar and asked for an apology. Yes, they’re definitely not done.

-- It was curious to read Michael Beasley going into the Bulls/Miami game Thursday telling the Miami Herald he does think about what would have happened if he was the No. 1 pick over Derrick Rose. ``I think, `what if' on a lot of things. I'm a `what-if' thinker,'' Beasley said. ``I think things would have been different (for me) here. They don't have Dwyane Wade. No disrespect to D-Wade or anything. But it's a fact. A lot of things would happen different.'' So it’s even more certain the Bulls made the right pick as Beasley sounds like he regrets not being a 24 and 10 guy for a losing team. Beasley said he is still a bit surprised he wasn't the No. 1 pick based on the workout he had in Chicago and his talks with the Bulls front office. … A good moment for a good guy as Jamal Crawford, the front runner for the league’s Sixth Man award, is leaving in his locker his “Clinched” t-shirt the team handed out for the playoffs. It’s Crawford’s first ever playoff team and he’s upped his game, averaging 19.7 per game and 42 percent on threes in March. … 7-6 Shawn Bradley is running for the Utah House of Representatives, which would make him the tallest politician ever, I guess, after former NBA player Tom McMillen. Thought you should know. … When the Thunder beat the Lakers last week, former Bull Thabo Sefolosha, who did as well as anyone this season in thwarting Kobe Bryant, and former Bulls assistant Ron Adams, came in for big praise. "Thabo has changed the culture of our team,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks told the Oklahoman newspaper. "We have to play defense every night, and Thabo is an inspirational leader on our team on the defensive end.” Added Jeff Green: "Our defensive effort has been on key. Ron has been doing a great job of keeping our focus on that. He’s been pushing us each game to get better and better. We’ve been doing a great job of listening and sticking to our principles.” … I know teams don’t like to use zone defense much. But I watched the Suns beat the Trail Blazers last week throwing a zone on them the last three minutes. But it’s something every coach should throw out in spurts every game because almost no one in the NBA ever is ready for it. Speaking of the Suns, they throttled the Knicks and former coach Mike D’Antoni Friday with an improved defense with Robin Lopez at center (he’s out now with a back injury) and an energized Amar’e Stoudemire dominating at power forward. Coach Alvin Gentry is getting defense with the bigger lineup and going deep into his bench, and the talk is the team couldn’t succeed with D’Antoni, who doesn’t play his bench. Yes, things change quickly. The Bulls host the hot Suns Tuesday, and GM Steve Kerr, under siege the past few years with the D’Antoni departure and Shaq trade, is now said to be in line for an extension. … I wish he would show us that Tm Duncan more. When George Hill had 27 points and zero assists last week in a big Spurs win over the Thunder, Duncan quipped aloud in the locker room, “We already have one point guard who doesn't pass.” The reference was, of course, to head down Tony Parker, whom Hill has done a nice job of replacing while Parker is out. Hill, another nice Spurs draft steal, is averaging about 16 points the last two months. “He's doing pretty well,” Parker told the San Antonio Express. “It's pretty tough to run the team and run Pop's systems. I think he's doing a good job. He was playing two for about 30 games, and now he's playing point guard. Point guard and two are really different, especially in our system.”

-- You know nothing is really going on in the NBA with the hysterical dust up last week about the firing of a Portland assistant executive Tom Penn and lukewarm support for GM Kevin Pritchard. It’s too bad when anyone loses their job, and no question the Portland guys have done well. But there’s been a local media assault on owner Paul Allen. The guy’s fighting cancer. No, sports often doesn’t have a heart. Though the funniest part was the demand in the local media that all has to run smoothly with coaches, executives and ownership for a franchise to have success, and I can’t help thinking of the Bulls champions of the 90’s and everyone fighting with GM Jerry Krause, the Shaq and Kobe and Phil wars through three titles, Larry Brown actually trying to get another job while the Pistons were in the Finals, the Bad Boy Pistons fighting amongst one another with Chuck Daly looking away, and it gets me thinking if they fire someone else the Blazers could be dangerous. … Don Nelson is now three wins from passing Lenny Wilkens for winningest coach ever. … I like Monta Ellis, but maybe not as much as he does as he told Yahoo! Sports he’s the second best player in the NBA behind Kobe but ahead of LeBron.

-- The Lakers still are the big West favorite with Denver slumping without coach George Karl and Kenyon Martin, Dallas up and down and the Jazz coming, though still fighting for home court. But it’s not like the Lakers seem so unbeatable anymore with Ron Artest’s impact limited, Pau Gasol still having those “soft” moments, the point guard spot shaky and Lamar Odom inconsistent. Odom was the major talent of the 1999 draft when the Bulls had the No. 1 pick. They had interest in Odom, but he was having some emotional issues at the time and kept cancelling workouts and meetings until the Bulls pretty much gave up. But that was a long time ago, and most of the top picks in that draft are either done or going downhill. The top picks were Elton Brand, whom the Bulls took, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Odom and the likes of Wally Szczerbiak, Richard Hamilton, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Corey Maggette, Andre Miller and then among the best Artest, James Posey, Jeff Foster and Andrei Kirilenko. Chicago’s troubled Leon Smith was the last pick in the first round of a pretty good draft. … The Warriors also are expected to be sold, so there are changes coming. Another guy to look at perhaps falling through the cracks there is shooter Anthony Morrow, playing little these days with D-Leaguer Reggie Williams signed through next season and the team interested in resigning Raja Bell, also shooting guards. … Asked about the potential sale, Nelson shrugged: "I have a year left on my contract. I'm going to fulfill my contract. What happens, happens "

Pippen set for Hall call

-- He may be the most polarizing public figure until Hillary Clinton. OK, now Sarah Palin. The Orlando Magic often moans about the lack of respect media show for Dwight Howard, who never is a top MVP candidate. So someone approached Florida resident Scottie Pippen about it when Pippen was at a recent Magic game and Pippen offered this, according to the Orlando Sentinel: “He’s a very special player but I don’t think he’s going to win a championship until he gets another superstar to play alongside of him. A guy that’s very consistent and has that drive, that’s what it’s going to take. I don’t think that he can carry a team to a championship. He’s not that great of a scorer, he’s not a good shooter and he’s not a good foul shooter. So in the latter parts of the game, as big as he is and as much athleticism as he has, that becomes very small when the game gets into crunch time. He’s not the type of player that can dominate a game in the fourth quarter.”

I don’t fully disagree with Pippen, and he knows the game. But Scottie never quite knows the right thing to say and when. So imagine his Hall of Fame speech. Pippen next week will have to begin preparing. Pippen will be announced as part of the Hall of Fame class of 2010. I have no inside information; it’s just obvious as the 1992 Dream Team, in which Pippen played on and some insiders there said was perhaps as dominant as anyone, also will be included. Pippen is deserving, no doubt. But perhaps no Hall of Famer will produce such ambivalent reaction. Pippen was supposed to be traded to Seattle in 1994 for Shawn Kemp. But fans there were so upset when word leaked they so hounded the team about having someone like Pippen the Super Sonics backed out of the deal. Pippen also had a history of disputes with Bulls management to the point he threatened to quit the team during the 1997-98 season and modeled other uniforms at times to push to be traded. Yet, teammates raved about Pippen as the best and most unselfish teammate they ever played with, far more accommodating than Michael Jordan. Pippen made big plays in big games and could make a case for being the best defensive perimeter player in NBA history the way he, for instance, shut down Magic Johnson in the 1991 Finals. Congratulations, Scottie. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Follow Sam Smith on Twitter at SamSmithHoops.

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