The countdown clock is winding its way to zero as the 2010 NBA free agency period officially begins on July 1. For residents of Cleveland, this has meant a constant barrage of rumors and speculation about where the most famous Cavalier to ever don the uniform will be playing next year. But for those who think this LeBron James madness will be finished soon after the calendar turns over to July, think again.
July 1 represents the beginning of the free agency period, the moment when teams can officially begin talking publicly about signing players and not risk being slapped with a mega-fine by NBA Commissioner David Stern. While a domino effect could trigger a rapid succession of signings, there is little incentive for LeBron or any of the other free agents to sign immediately. Expect all the superstars like James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to carefully consider their options. Cleveland residents hoping to see an end to the drama will have to wait at least another week, likely much more.
In the meantime, expect news outlets from any contending city to continue publishing their own diatribes, in no uncertain terms, why LeBron will be signing with their team. Reports from the New York Times enlightened us with tales of an unnamed Chicago Bulls executive who stated that LeBron’s signing with Chicago was a “done deal”. But that was before we learned of a recent meeting that took place in Miami between the big three. This of course means that all three will be signing with the Heat. Never mind how the team would be able to afford three max contracts at the same time without going over the cap and still put together a full roster consisting of actual NBA players.
And what does that mean exactly? Salary caps? Max contracts? In the NBA, there is an established salary cap. Unlike baseball where owners can spend until they’ve mortgaged every last yacht, NBA owners must adhere to salary limits set by the league or pay a penalty for going over. For the 2010-2011 season, the cap is projected to be $56.1 million. The exception is when teams seek to retain free agents, similar to what the Cavs are attempting with LeBron. The league allows teams to go over the salary cap to keep their best players, a move patented by the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird, thus sprouting the “Bird Rights” nickname to the rule.
The NBA also establishes max salaries for individual players. Typically this is 25 percent of the salary cap for players in the league six seasons or less and 30 percent of the cap for players in the league seven to nine years.
In essence, the Cavs can pay James more than any other team over the life of a multi-year contract. But it does little to help them add talent that James craves in order to win a championship. The Cavs have very little space to add other players to help LeBron if he stays, meaning talent could only be added through trades.
For a young man who claims to only care about winning a championship, pairing up with a player like Bosh or Wade is a tantalizing possibility. LeBron would be foolish not to consider it. Either way, Clevelanders should buckle up; it’s going to a pothole-filled ride these next few weeks.