We've finally made it. Years of dreaming, fretting, planning and salary cap dumping have come to a close and now there's nothing left to do but watch the fireworks as the most anticipated free agency season in sports history gets underway at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday morning.
We've been over many of the names and issues in the past, especially as they relate to the Knicks and Nets, but it's helpful to brush up on all the salient details one more time before the whole shebang kicks off.
Who is on the market?
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the Knicks' own David Lee lead a longer list of unrestricted free agents who will score massive paydays from somebody this month. There are also restricted free agents like Rudy Gay, Ronnie Brewer and Luis Scola, although it is much more difficult for these players to switch teams because their current clubs have the right to match any offer. Here's a list of every unrestricted and restricted free agent on the market, although you should note that it doesn't include Stephon Marbury.
Will the Knicks get LeBron?
You like to get right to the point, huh? The answer, which sounds like a cop-out but really isn't, is that it is anybody's guess. Plenty of people have ticketed him to Chicago, which seems like the front-runner based on their moves to clear enough cap room to sign James and someone else to join their already strong roster. There are issues -- no three-point shooters and potential ball-sharing problems for James and Derrick Rose -- but they seem to be coming from the strongest place of any contender.
The Heat are also in the mix, but it seems like a tough sell even if they are, depending on who you believe, on the verge of landing Bosh to play with Wade. Would James really ditch the Cavs to become second banana to Wade? Doubtful and even more doubtful that he'd go to play in Kobe's shadow for the perennially awful Clippers.
The Knicks' biggest chip seems to be a combination of playing in New York and the chance to resurrect a franchise to his own desires. The cap space, available roster spots and desperation all mean that the Knicks would be willing to give LeBron tons of say about who he wants to play with in the Garden. Is that enough to overcome a better shot at a title in Chicago and more money from Cleveland?
We can't answer that and no one else can either. You need only look at the various projections of where James is headed to see that no one really knows what James is looking for, although it felt pretty good to read that he's been checking out cribs in the area.
Aren't the Nets in the mix as well?
Indeed they are, although most have them as a serious dark horse thanks to their arena situation. If only Mikhail Prokhorov had come to town a little bit sooner. The new owner is making it very clear that he's serious about going after the top spot in our fair city. His latest salvo is a billboard directly across from the Knicks' offices featuring his face and Jay-Z's visage under the slogan "Blueprint for Success." If LeBron only signs a three-year deal, it might signal an interest in keeping the Nets as an option once they've actually made it to the big city. They'll be in Akron along with all of the other contenders to make their pitch on Thursday.
Is this the biggest day in Akron history?
Have you ever thought about Akron before this?
If not LeBron for the Knicks, then who?
The Knicks will start their free agency tour by visiting with Joe Johnson, the Hawks guard with a sweet stroke and a habit of disappearing in the playoffs. He's no one's idea of a lead man but the reasoning is that if they can convince him to come on board it might be easier to get LeBron to sign up as well. Johnson has also played for Mike D'Antoni in the past, a resume line he shares with Stoudemire. That kind of pair would be a possible backup plan if James signs elsewhere, although losing James makes it hard to figure exactly where the Knicks would go. It would make Lee's return to the team a lot more likely, however, and that would probably please some people.
That's what we've been waiting all these years for?
No and it will be an awfully tough sell for Donnie Walsh and D'Antoni if they wind up with anything other than LeBron when the music stops. Strong arguments can and will be made about how much healthier the Knicks are right now even without James wearing their jersey but it will still be perceived as a massive flop.
What about the Rangers?
Wrong free agency primer, buddy, although you're right about NHL free agency also getting underway on Thursday. Good luck finding any news about the comings and goings of the icemen, though.
So, this all ends sometime on Thursday or Friday at the latest?
Nope. July 8th is the first day when free agents can sign with new teams, a rule that seems to be in place so that the NBA can grab the maximum number of headlines and cultivate relationships with the media outlets that cover them.