What's future hold for free-agent PFs?
In our last overview of the NBA's Big Free Agent Riot of 2010, basketball watchdogs were wondering how adding Antawn Jamison as a playmate might affect the employment future of Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.
And while LeBron has been nice enough to inform us that he can win the league's scoring title any ol' season he feels compelled to do so, the Jamison Factor still requires more study. So, with LBJ and his buddy Dwyane Wade refusing to ease our free-agent-conjecture misery by officially blabbing about what they might do, let's turn our attention to the what could happen to their taller pals with similar contractual situations.
Enter the power forwards. More specifically, we're going to take a look at what's been happening with a quartet of fab fours. The list begins with Olympian Chris Bosh, includes red-hot Amar'e Stoudemire, refuses to overlook seemingly resurrected Utah star Carlos Boozer and ends with slightly out-of-position David Lee, a guy who's playing his way into some serious loot.
Between now and July, we'll be hearing and reading myriad reports concerning these valuable commodities; the goal of this examination is to review what they've been up to on the court and how finances of their current teams might influence what occurs this summer. It should be noted that each member of this foursome was pushed into the rumor limelight back in February, when trading-deadline worrywarts were generating player-movement hysteria.
Anyway, Bosh did not leave the Toronto Raptors for work in Los Angeles, where the Lakers were rumored to be waving bye-bye to center Andrew Bynum. Stoudemire was not sent to Cleveland and the Miami Heat lacked the resources to pry Amar'e out of Phoenix. Boozer, after falling back into the semi-loving embrace of Jazz fans, was not shipped off, either. A deal involving Lee didn't seem that likely, but quite a few were lobbed against the wall.
Their lack of movement back then has enabled us to keep the free-agent train rollin' now.
CHRIS BOSH, TORONTO RAPTORS
Even though they have a lot of money already committed on a team with mediocre success, the Raptors would love to re-sign Bosh, who can opt out or opt back in for a final year at more than $17 million. By rule, they can pay Bosh more than the league's other suitors, of course, but seem a bit challenged when it comes to putting a contending team around him. They probably thought they've solved that issue by making a rich man of Hedo Turkoglu last summer.
Although Bosh put up a couple of relative stinker performances soon after returning from injury a few weeks ago, Chris still is considered an elite post player who will command a max deal.
Although he's playing it close to the vest like most of his free-agent classmates, league sharpies doubt that Toronto provides enough competitive juice for him to stay. While imaginative types have attempted to link LeBron's future with that of several top-tier FA's, one of the first had these two pairing up as New York Knicks.
Bosh also is on the radar in Miami, where Wade has been beating the drum for frontcourt assistance. The Chicago Bulls desperately need low-post offense and could afford Bosh, but hometown hero D-Wade reportedly is the first option in any Windy City dream sequence.
Teams without the salary-cap means to woo the talented lefty could make such a move through a sign-and-trade event that would prevent the Raptors from being completely abandoned.
We'll see if Bosh ends up in a package deal with a superstar buddy looking to greatly increase those O'Brien odds, stays put, or looks to be the main man on a team that already has better pieces to put around him.
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE, PHOENIX SUNS
This one's a lot more complicated.
OK, the Suns are 9-2 in March and Stoudemire has been giving them 29 points and 10 rebounds per game. He's even working noticeably harder on defense (he'll have to really keep that up now that center Robin Lopez is out with back spasms) and performing well in the clutch. After a history of being a bit-less-than-exemplary teammate, Stoudemire reportedly has grown tremendously in that area and managed to seem professionally unaffected when his name was screamed in pre-deadline trade rumors.
Amar'e has an ETO attached to the final year (at $17.6 million) of his contract and -- even with inside-scoring-starved teams lining up with checkbooks in hand -- says he'd like to have a lengthy (translation: five years, not three) max extension to stay in Phoenix.
Pretty easy to figure, right?
Not even close. Sure, Amar'e has been stellar, the team is winning and the chances of the Suns bringing him back presumably are higher. But skeptics wonder if the new Stoudemire is performing and behaving for the obvious benefit of a new contract. Franchise owner Robert Sarver and general manager Steve Kerr also must decide if the knee will hold up under the stress of a multi-year contract. And if it does, will the Suns be good enough to challenge for a conference title?
Even if we concede that Amar'e and point-guard classic Steve Nash can't take the Suns higher than the fifth seed in the next couple of seasons, who would Phoenix-area fans buy tickets to watch without either one of them? With the salary-cap number diminishing, the team may have only $6 million or so with which to purchase a replacement if Stoudemire opts out and they don't join the bidding.
CARLOS BOOZER, UTAH JAZZ
The season began with Boozer trying on the villain pants in Salt Lake City.
And it wasn't difficult to understand why. Carlos spent part of last summer claiming (hoping?) he was promised to be traded to the Bulls or Heat. He even had the nerve to not opt out of the final year (at $12.6 million) of his contract and ease the books of a Utah franchise that had hopped way past the luxury-tax threshold. The team already had committed a great deal of loot to keep understudy Paul Millsap, so having another four making big money was considered unseemly.
With his history of injury and inconsistency, Boozer was an easy target for Jazz loyalists.
But upon his return to Utah, Carlos was smart enough to keep quiet and stay focused on basketball. With the Jazz now fighting for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Boozer is giving them 19.4 points and 11 rebounds per game while making 56 percent of his shots from the field.
Checking in as an unrestricted free agent for this summer, Carlos has said he certainly wouldn't mind coming back to work in Utah and might even consider signing an extension by June 30. The extension isn't likely to be offered by then, but the team seems willing to at least examine ways of making a Boozer return work without causing itself financial catastrophe.
With the ball in the team's court, Jazz officials must weigh the lingering luxury-tax burden that keeping Boozer would create along with the on-court issue of having two pricey power forwards. It should be noted that against teams lacking dinosaur-sized centers, both players can line up along the Utah baseline at the same time without any guarantee of scoreboard doom.
By the way, to help make those numbers seem a bit less harsh down the road, the Jazz shipped out rookie Eric Maynor, veteran Matt Harpring and starting two guard Ronnie Brewer.
Management, while quick to give Carlos praise for not being a distraction, won't say how much (if any) additional payroll needs to be trimmed to keep Boozer.
DAVID LEE, NEW YORK KNICKS
As a restricted free agent last summer, Lee -- who works as an under-sized center for Coach Mike D'Antoni -- mustered light interest from one Western Conference team before signing a one-year deal (at $7 million) to remains with the Knicks. This one-year renewal enabled the Knicks to remain sort of competitive while looking cap capable ($32 million available) of making a big July 2010 push for LeBron and a buddy with another high price tag.
Although alleged pragmatists consider statistics accrued in D'Antoni's system to be somewhat counterfeit, Lee's 20 points and 11.9 points per game should earn him a strong payday once July arrives. If Bosh decides he'd like to play in New York, a sign-and-trade involving the unrestricted Lee could be the ticket that makes it happen
Lee recently sort of declared that the New Jersey Nets -- who have $23 million to spend -- aren't nearly terrible enough for him to refuse considering as a destination. In Brook Lopez they have an outstanding young center, a need for a edgy rebounder, a very high draft pick and new billionaire owner on the way.
Stoudemire pointed out these variables several weeks ago. But we all know that, when it comes to teams with loads of cap space, free agents will say the darndest things.