It is finally here. NBA and general sports fans alike have looked forward to this year’s free agency because of all of the big-name players that will be available. In 2006 some players intentionally signed contract extensions that would end at the same time to leave open the possibility of playing with one another on a new team. Knowing the likes of who would be available, some teams – including the New York Knicks – sacrificed their team and made sure to make moves that would free space under the salary cap for this summer. The justification: “We may suck now, but just wait until we get LeBron or (insert prominent name here).” LeBron James is the prize everyone wants, and his decision will dictate where other players end up. With free agency beginning July 1 at midnight and players being able to sign contracts on July 8, rumors are flying. And the latest speculation is very intriguing.

Due to the Miami Heat’s recent moves, they have the most money to spend this summer (approximately $43 million), and can afford to re-sign Dwyane Wade while adding both LeBron and Chris Bosh. The three 2003 draftees would have to take less than a maximum contract to play together, but they are all friends and reportedly would be willing to forfeit money to compete as teammates. There is no guarantee that this scenario will happen, but it would be unlike anything the NBA has seen.

Some people may say that this already happened three years ago in Boston, but these people would be wrong. When Paul Pierce was united with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett via separate trades, all three were closer to the twilight of their respective careers. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all in their prime – and who knows what exactly they could do playing together. It would certainly be entertaining to see three true individual center-of-the-franchise stars play together for 82 regular season games and the playoffs. Even the best defensive opponents probably could not afford to double anyone on the floor out of fear of leaving someone open. Time will only tell how the NBA landscape will change, but here are my thoughts on a few players:

LeBron: He is very loyal, but I think he is leaving Cleveland. The surrounding parts aren’t good enough for him there. The best existing fit for him – despite being in the more competitive Western Conference – is with the Los Angeles Clippers; because of the talent of the other four starters that would be paired with him, however, I can’t see him going there, due to the franchise’s owner and corresponding history. Dallas is out, because he would have to do a sign-and-trade to get there, and I do not think that he is dying to play with Dirk Nowitzki, who has yet to win anything, and Jason Kidd is getting old fast. New York would be a huge stage that he would relish but the roster is weak compared to other possibilities. At this point, I would not be surprised to see him land with the New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat, or Chicago Bulls. All three have positives and negatives that could determine LeBron’s decision. I believe that his final choice will be the Bulls, with their young core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng vs. the Heat and Dwyane Wade. Ultimately, I do not think that LeBron wants to play in a city where he will never escape Michael Jordan’s shadow, and since he is leaving Cleveland, he is going to want to maximize the opportunity of starting over. What better way to do that than to play with a close friend and one of the league’s best in Wade?

Wade: He’s staying in Miami. He is comfortable there, likes Pat Riley, and the franchise can offer him the money he wants, along with one or two big-name teammates. Chicago is home for Wade, but the Heat have more money to spend than the Bulls, and if he can get LeBron and Bosh to want to play with him, they will be teammates in Miami.

Bosh: He has been the focal point of the Toronto Raptors since he was drafted. LeBron completely dictates where he will end up. I think he prefers to play with LeBron over any other player and could make more money doing so in Chicago than in Miami playing with only Wade (which is a possible scenario). However, if LeBron goes to the Heat, Bosh will surely take what he can get and follow.

Amare Stoudemire: He has played his entire career with the Phoenix Suns and now he wants a maximum deal. But given his lack of defense and

Stoudemire

inconsistent rebounding, management in Phoenix has not tried to extend him under a max contract. If Stoudemire really does put an emphasis on comfort, familiarity, and winning now, he will take less money and stay with the Suns. If he just wants to be “the man” down low with a max deal, I think he will go play for his previous coach, Mike D’Antoni, and the New York Knicks. I could also see him in Miami if Bosh or Carlos Boozer do not sign there.

Dirk Nowitzki: Traded to the Dallas Mavericks on the night of the 1998 draft and has played his entire career with the team. His loyalty to owner Marc Cuban is strong and I can not see him leaving unless he believes he can’t win the big one in Dallas, and thus leaves to play with another superstar perhaps in Chicago.

Joe Johnson: I think he leaves the Atlanta Hawks and ends up with his former coach Mike D’Antoni in New York, but I would not rule out the New Jersey Nets. And if LeBron does not go to Chicago, I could see Johnson going there.

Carlos Boozer: He started in Cleveland and ended up with the Utah Jazz. He could fit well with Wade, LeBron or Joe Johnson, but if Bosh doesn’t go to Chicago, I think that is where Boozer will go. If Bosh does go to the Bulls, I think Boozer will go play with Wade in Miami.

– Gaither Jones