You can tell free agency is getting close now because everyone is "reporting" things. The Times is reporting that LeBron James is leaning toward Chicago, and Stephen A. Smith, who is apparently still out there doing things (who knew?), says LeBron and Bosh are definitely coming to Miami. (Definitely!) The truth is, nobody knows anything, and that everyone is suddenly presuming to just shows we're almost to July 1. It shows everyone's getting antsy: The show's about to begin.
So: You've got questions, we've got answers.
What's the Knicks' plan for Thursday?
General manager Donnie Walsh, coach Mike D'Antoni, Allan Houston, and Jim Dolan (who invited him?) will be heading to Akron to make their pitch. Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld won't be along for the ride. The meeting will take place at 1 p.m. They are expected to sell LeBron on the team's basketball plan, and less on the rather awesome city the Knicks play in. Though you can probably expect them to point out that the tallest building in Akron doesn't even make our top 84.
Will LeBron be the only free agent they meet with?
He won't even be the first. They'll head to Los Angeles just after midnight Wednesday to chat with Hawks guard Joe Johnson.
Who else is going to meet with LeBron?
Everybody. Nets bigwig Mikhail Prokhorov, with Jay-Z of course, is heading to Akron as well — we are extremely curious to hear what the Russian thinks of Akron — along with John Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf of the Bulls, and representatives of the Clippers, Cavaliers, and Heat. The first appointment: the Nets, actually.
Will any of these people ever go to Akron again after Thursday?
We're thinking no.
Why do people think the Bulls are the obvious pick?
We are not sure. Yes, the Bulls cleared out some salary cap space by trading Kirk Hinrich to the Wizards, but they still don't have quite enough to offer two max contracts. (As we detailed in our big LeBron mag story, no one — Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, anyone — wants to take less than max even if they do get to play with LeBron. It's a pride thing.) And even if they did figure out a way to get far enough under the cap, it is far from certain that James and point guard Derrick Rose would play well together; Rose notoriously needs the ball to create, and many wonder whether there would be enough shots to go around. Also: The Bulls now have no three-point shooters outside Rose. And we repeat: To surpass Michael Jordan in Chicago, LeBron will need to win seven titles. Seven. That said: If Worldwide Wes really is running the show the way everyone in the NBA likes to pretend he is, this is where LeBron will be.
What about Miami?
This seems to make a bit more sense — a LeBron-Wade-Bosh trio is terrifying, even if they'd be playing in front of a three-quarters-full American Airlines Arena by January — but the Heat haven't cleared out enough space, either. They'll have to trade Michael Beasley to get that far, and if that happens, they'll have even fewer players on their roster than the Knicks do: With their attempted buyout of James Jones, they, before free agency, would have only Wade and Mario Chalmers on the roster. Every other player would have to essentially be a D-League guy. And that's if they reach a buyout with Jones and trade Beasley. At least the Knicks have a bench. As it turns out, it's not easy to clear out all this cap space after all, as the Knicks can surely attest.
What about the Nets?
The Nets seem to have generally conceded the LeBron Sweepstakes, and they're full of management upheaval right now. (They have no coach, and no GM. Problem.) (Ed. Note: Sorry, we inexplicably forgot about Avery Johnson. They're still missing a GM, though.) That said, there are those who believe LeBron will be intrigued by Prokhorov, and Brooklyn. But playing two years in Newark? LeBron might be more likely to sign just a three-year contract and ask Prokhorov to call him in 2013.
What about the Clippers?
Well, it's cute that they're trying.
What about the Cavaliers?
Strange how the assumption went from "it'll be either Cleveland or New York" to "it'll be somewhere other than Cleveland, but probably not New York" in the span of one postseason series, isn't it? For their part, the Cavs haven't given up, but they seem to be using fear and guilt as their primary selling points. From the Akron Beacon-Journal this morning: "If James walks away now, after the way everything unraveled in the span of a week, he'll be viewed as a pariah and hated by many who have spent the past seven years embracing him. Can he live with that? Maybe, maybe not. This will be his home long after his NBA career has ended." LeBron has always been thought of as loyal, but that only goes so far: After all, he is the one hosting all his suitors this week.
So do the Knicks have a Plan B?
Sure, pretty much, yeah, obviously, of course? As Howard Beck pointed out this morning, the goal of all the Knicks' machinations over the last few years has been to clear up the Isiah Thomas cap disaster, not necessarily just to get James. He's right, but the Knicks clearly have not given up: There's still, oddly, a quiet confidence to the Knicks when it comes to James; they certainly have more confidence in their chances than the rest of the NBA does. If James doesn't come here, the Knicks will certainly consider Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire, though some believe that just prolongs the misery of the last decade. They could also hold on to some cap space and go after Carmelo Anthony next year, and, after all, there are tons of other free agents this year.
But everyone's gonna think this is a disaster if LeBron doesn't come here, won't they?
What does David Spade think about all this?
He thinks LeBron won't move because he won't want to wait for the cable guy.