"The mostpopular off-court topic in the NBA these days: [LeBron James's] future when hiscontract expires in 2010.... Currently there are 18 teams in position to offerJames... a maximum contract in July 2010."
—The Plain Dealer, Nov. 17, 2008
JULY 1, 2010,MIDNIGHT
HELLO, AND welcometo a special edition of The LeBron Watch: Free-Agent Apocalypse, nowbroadcasting for the 456th consecutive day. I'm Chuck Hightower, and I'm comingto you live at the stroke of 12 from this specially constructed set in theliving room of Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh. Hi, Donnie!
"Hello, Chuck.Mind the armoire."
"Sure. Now, asyou can see by the giant flashing clock I'm sitting on, LeBron's contract hasbeen up for 27 seconds. Let's go to our NBA insider, Jimmy Jensen. JJ, what areyou hearing?"
"Well, Chuck,as you know there are now 29 teams in the running for King James after theLakers renounced their rights to Kobe Bryant yesterday. Most have more than $50million in salary-cap space available for LeBron and any other new teammates herequests. The Nets, for example, have four players on their active roster, andone of those is player-coach Lawrence Frank, who drew only a ceremonial $1salary last season, when he had a record 98.6% of his shots blocked. And...hold on a second."
"What is it,JJ?"
"Chuck, I'mgetting word from my sources that Pistons general manager Joe Dumars has notonly offered the maximum five-year, $102 million to the Cavaliers' star but hisown job as well. The first player-G.M.!"
"My goodness.That is remarkable. For reaction, let's go to Wizards general manager ErnieGrunfeld, who's on line two. Ernie, how can you possibly match that?"
"Actually, wecan do one better, Chuck. Moments ago we offered LeBron max money and a newpost in Obama's cabinet ... Secretary of Defense, Help-Side."
"Wow. We knowthe president has trouble taking away the baseline, but that was unexpected.O.K., now let's go via hologram to Rick (Bluetooth) Davis, who is embedded withthe brass in Oklahoma City's war room. What's happening there,Bluetooth?"
"You're notgoing to believe this, Chuck, but the Thunder has just tendered a max offerplus a promise to move the entire franchise to an enormous floating city andplay all its home games off various Caribbean islands. As owner Clay Bennettjust told me, 'We can't offer Manhattan, but we can offerMargaritaville.'"
"That'sastonishing, Rick. We all figured the bidding would escalate, but not likethis. To recap, for more than two years speculation about LeBron's possibledestination has overshadowed all other NBA news, like wins and losses. In 2008,when Detroit traded for Allen Iverson, the talk was not about an EasternConference finalist acquiring a league MVP but rather the cap space the Pistonshad cleared for oh-10. One G.M. even said then, 'I am afraid Joe [Dumars] hasthis whole thing wired.' With two years still to go! Of course, the same wassaid of Nets part-owner Jay-Z and, of course, you in New York, Donnie. In 2008,when you dealt starters Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph and began taking onshort-term contracts, critics said you were playing cap-room roulette, gamblingany chance at current success on a prize that might never materialize."
"Not true,Chuck. When we signed all those players to back-to-back 10-day contracts it'sbecause we believed in them."
"Suuuuuure. Ofcourse, things really ratcheted up last winter, when Cavaliers owner DanGilbert challenged Mark Cuban to a duel after the LeBron-to-Dallas rumors gottoo hot—and let me say that we hope to see you on your feet soon, Mark! Afterthat, of course, Pat Riley was caught disguising a hypnotist as a Heat ballboy. And ... wait, we have another update. JJ?"
"Chuck, wordis that Olympiakos, the Greek club that's been pursuing LeBron and is not tiedto NBA salary cap regulations, has offered a staggering three-year, $750million deal."
"Holymackerel. That'll be tough to beat. We've got G.M. Kevin McHale via satellite.Kevin, what have the Timberwolves cooked up to get LeBron?"
"LeBron's afree agent? This year?"
"Um, O.K.,we'll talk to Kevin later. For now we need to break for a commercial. Staytuned, though, as there are at least 20 more teams to go, including livecoverage of Donnie making the Knicks' offer in front of a Rockettes kick line!And once James does sign, don't forget to tune in tomorrow for Stay Away fromThat Ledge!, our new reality series that follows 10 of the G.M.'s who didn'tland LeBron."
Do you have a better offer to make for LeBron James? Send it toSI.com/pointafter.
"Things really ratcheted up in '09, when Cavs ownerDan Gilbert dueled Mark Cuban over LeBron-to-Dallas rumors and Pat Rileydisguised a hypnotist as a ball boy."
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER