LeBron James will be a free agent when he wakes up on Thursday. As dominating as he is on the court for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he hasn't been able to lift them to an NBA title. What he has lacked is a stellar wingman.
The stars are for sale, and the sky's the limit.
Actually, the NBA's salary cap is the limit. But that will still be sky high for the basketball stars who will become free agents at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
Chief among them is LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers supernova who, at just 25 years old, has already won two league Most Valuable Player awards and is coveted as the potential savior of several flailing franchises.
The New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, the Chicago Bulls, and the Miami Heat have long been said to be the teams most interested in signing James. All have enough room under the NBA's salary cap, which determines how much teams can pay players (this year's cap is projected to be in the neighborhood of $56 million), to offer James a maximum-salary contract.
The Cavaliers would like to keep James in his native Ohio, and the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks have also expressed interest, but those teams have less salary-cap space than the other suitors. Not only do those teams have enough salary cap space to sign James, but they also have enough spare cash to sign at least one other high-profile superstar. As dominating as he is on the court, James has not been able to lift the Cavaliers to an NBA title. What he has lacked is a stellar wingman.
This year, there's a whole crop of potential companion superstars that could help bring James that elusive championship: Dwyane Wade of the Heat, Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors, Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks, Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns and Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks are all free agents this year, and pairing one or two of them with James would instantly change the makeup of the league.
"We've never had anything like this in my time that I can remember,'' said New Jersey Nets President Rod Thorn. "There have been big-time free agents before, but never this many teams that are trying to woo them. So it's unprecedented.''
Chicago and New Jersey made trades and other personnel moves in recent days to push them closer to joining the Knicks with enough cap space to offer two players maximum-salary contracts of close to $17 million each. The Heat have enough room under the salary cap -- about $44 million, according to published reports -- to keep Wade, make an additional max contract offer and still have enough to sign another quality player.
New York has about $34 million in cap space, and Chicago and New Jersey have about $30 million each.
"You look at the teams that have an awful lot of cap space, there could be a lot of power shifting in this league,'' said Kurt Rambis, coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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