NBA: Free agent in ’10, or extension now for stars?
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
LeBron James was more Don King than King James as he faced the cameras to promote the huge event planned for next summer.
“I think July 1, 2010, is a very big day,” he said last November. “It’s probably going to be one of the biggest days in free-agent history in the NBA.”
Unless James and his pals call the whole thing off.
The Cleveland Cavaliers can offer the NBA’s MVP a contract extension Saturday, shortly after fellow potential 2010 free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became eligible to receive theirs on the three-year anniversary of the signing of their last deals.
If all three accepted, it would halt the talk of next year boasting the deepest free-agent class in league history.
Miami presented Wade with his offer immediately. Toronto president Bryan Colangelo intends to offer Bosh the extension but has indicated he will wait until after he has filled out the Raptors’ roster for next season.
None are expected to sign — they can re-up for longer and make millions more by waiting a year — but the agent for Bosh and Wade will study them.
“I will just say that I will evaluate everything about any extension offers they receive,” Henry Thomas wrote in an e-mail. “It is simply an option that will be evaluated and considered.”
James’ agent, Leon Rose, didn’t return a request for comment.
James didn’t give the impression he was thinking about an extension when he made his prediction last fall. That was back when the 2010 free agency frenzy was at its peak, with James playing in New York only days after the Knicks had boldly positioned themselves for a run at him with a pair of trades that opened up loads of salary cap room.
The enthusiasm has dampened now, though. The economic downturn and the resulting drop in revenues have sent forecasts for the 2010-11 salary cap tumbling, with the NBA warning teams it could come in some $10 million lower than the $62-63 million that was previously expected.
The decreasing cap means little personally to James, Wade and Bosh, especially if they re-sign with their teams. What it can do is crush any hopes they might have of playing somewhere together, because a cap in the low $50-million range would make it difficult to afford two maximum salary players and fill out a professional roster around them.
But if that’s going to convince them to stay put, would they decide to do it now?
The All-Star trio can receive three-year extensions, tacked on to the two years left on their current deals, for a total value of about $95.2 million through the 2013-14 season.
If they opt out of their deals next summer and re-sign with their current teams, they would be allowed to sign six-year contracts. That would earn them $125.7 million through 2015-16. Signing with another team limits deals to five years with smaller annual raises each season, giving them a top value of $96.2 million.
So the answer seems obvious: Sign again with the current teams, but don’t do it this summer.
That would keep the expected 2010 bonanza in play, which was the plan all along when the trio opted against maximum length deals three years ago, when they signed extensions of their rookie contracts. They were eligible for six-year contracts, but instead chose three years plus an option.
That positioned them for free agency and a chance to cash in under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires in 2011. Rules could be put in place in the next one that could limit how much they’d make in another deal.
Players can agree to the extensions anytime next season, so there’s no need to rush. Waiting gives the players more time to evaluate the direction of their franchises, something Wade in particular has said will influence his decision.
Some of the options available next summer may have dwindled for financial reasons, but Bosh maintains that the contractual decisions he made in 2006 were the right ones.
“I never live with regret,” he said near the end of last season. “I made the decision I made. There’s nothing to do with anything with the economy, it’s all about being in position, putting myself in position to make the best choice for myself down the road.”
Now it’s time for the next decision.