I am a crazy basketball fan. I think about basketball a lot more often than the average American and significantly less often than the bloggers whom I love to read on the subject. However, all this thinking oftentimes leaves me with conclusions that seem so obvious to me but which, for one reason or another, are left undiscussed by the afore-mentioned voices. Keeping in mind that I've been crazy wrong before, I'm going to go ahead and make some bold predictions about the start of next season, which I haven't seen made elsewhere but which seem rather obvious to me, even if they run counter to the accepted wisdom.
At the top of the list, the reason for this post, is my theory that Chris Bosh will be the biggest name free agent truly available. Chris Bosh is a monster. Casual observers of the game know his name, fans in Canada don't know what they have (and won't until he's gone, which he will be in less than a year) and SLAM just ranked him as the 13th best player in the game today. Bosh is KG-like in his utility but seems to have a better grasp on not letting his intensity make him act kind of crazy. (And that's not to knock on Garnett, by the way. That intensity is one of the biggest reasons we all fell in love with him.) Bosh has played well enough up in Canada and when I say the fans up there don't really know what they have, that's not to say that they haven't appreciated him. They're good fans, and if you tune into more than the one (two? three?) Raptors games that get national TV coverage, you can see there's a good little crowd there. However. The Raptors aren't winning. And we saw through KG's tears what losing can do to a beast. The Raptors aren't going to make that leap this year, despite some good off-season moves and Bosh seems like he's not going to be content playing much longer for a team that's not even making waves in the playoffs.
For true competitors, just making the playoffs in a league where more than half the teams do is simply not enough. You've got to make a deep run. We saw this problem with Dwyane Wade last year when he started talking about how he needed some more help in order to get back where he thinks the Heat belong. This brings us, of course, to the first wrinkle in the first proclamation...
Dwyane Wade is not really available. Wade has two options as far as I see them: he's either going to go deep in the playoffs this year, with a serviceable sidekick (and no, it's not going to be Jermaine. He'll either get someone else or a current teammate will step up) and will, therefore re-sign with the Heat or he's out of Miami. It's my opinion, though, that Wade loves Miami and would only leave for a real chance to win another ring, somewhere that he'd be comfortable and able to compete at an elite level. Let's be real: it's not gonna be LA. It's not gonna be Boston. It's not gonna be Orlando. Payroll and personality conspire to prevent those three, in what seems, to me, an obvious statement. However, that doesn't leave a lot of room if we're looking at the afore-mentioned qualifiers. Texas? All three of the teams seem like they're in win-now mode, which might look quite a bit different next summer. (I mean, only one team wins it all.) There's another possibility. Which brings me to the last point.
LeBron James ain't going nowhere. I've been calling it for more than a year, and with all this talk and thinking about it, I'm finally ready for the ridicule that this seemingly iron-clad statement will bring about my way if it turns out to be wrong. Let's just examine a few things: LeBron wants to win. He wants to be a billionaire. Those are really the only things that he's told us that we know for sure. Let's deal with first things first...the money. He's not going to make more money in New York than he does in Cleveland. That just doesn't make any sense. Not in the new, flat world we live in. He's touring China, he's selling jerseys worldwide (number three last year, number two this year?), he's got contracts with Nike and Vitamin Water, I mean, the list literally goes on and on! He doesn't need to be on the coast to have any more exposure and he doesn't need to be there to make any more money. Secondly, the winning. Simply put, there is no team in the Eastern Conference more designed to win than the Cavs right now. The Celtics will fight them. Hard. Who's the say who will win. It depends on health. But, the Cavs have been to the Finals an equal number of times in the last five years as have the Magic, the Celtics, the Heat, and the Pistons. I'm not ready to say that there's any place more well-equipped than Cleveland to win in the future as well as right now. So why would he leave? There's no more money to be had, there's no chance he'll be set up anywhere else to win more effectively.
Plus, here's where it all comes together: Shaq's contract comes off Cleveland's books next summer. They're gonna have some cash, they're gonna show LeBron a lot of it, and he's gonna be happy. But you know what? Wade's only going to be tempted to leave Miami for Cleveland. (It's not that crazy!) And Bosh is certainly going to be tempted. (And that's way less crazy.) Bosh is leaving Toronto. The only question is where he's going. If he heads to Cleveland, Wade stays put in Miami. But no matter what, LeBron James remains home.