So much attention was paid to New York’s recruiting pitch to LeBron James at MSG last month — like bringing in the newly-crowned champion Yankees to sit courtside and chat up The King — that it mostly buried the fact that Miami probably outdid NYC one week later when LeBron visited their gym. The Heat brought in Penny Hardaway (LBJ’s favorite player growing up), plus Jordan and Pippen (the Bulls were his favorite team), and gave ‘Bron a first-hand reminder of what it would be like to play with Dwyane Wade.
The whole thing was a microcosm of how the free-agent summer of 2010 has been covered: New York gets all the hype and intrigue, while everybody forgets that Miami, among other advantages, has just as much cap room and at least a competitive level of marketing appeal to offer big-name targets. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t get the impression D-Wade and Shaq were hurting for endorsement opportunities in Miami.)
In Pat Riley‘s perfect world, the Heat will re-sign Wade and team him with LeBron in 2010, and Riley will retire with more rings than Phil Jackson, Larry King and Bilbo Baggins combined.
But every pipe dream needs a backup plan. And in the unlikelihood that Miami lands two A-List superstars, I’m making a prediction: Rudy Gay will sign with the Heat.
As much money as NBA teams spend on collecting game film and sending scouts on the road, you can’t overestimate what it means for the front office decision-makers to see a player perform in-person. As I watched Gay drop 41 points on Miami’s home court yesterday, channeling Harold Miner and James White with some of his dunks, I could just picture team owner Micky Arison shooting Riley glances like, “Can we get this kid?”
Showing off all of the skills that earned him Reggie Lewis comparisons growing up in Baltimore and Pippen comparisons coming out of UConn, Rudy at once exposed Miami’s biggest weakness (small forward) and showed exactly how he’d fill the void in a second-star role next to Wade or whoever the Heat spends its max dollars on.
This much I do know: When the time comes, Gay’s people will laugh at Memphis’ $4.4 million qualifying offer, and the cash-strapped Grizzlies won’t match any big-money offer he gets as a restricted free agent. I also know Gay has been losing 70% of his games playing in half-empty arenas for a team with zero mainstream appeal his entire pro career. Looking at the teams that have big money to spend (Nets, Knicks, Heat, Bulls, Wolves, Thunder, Clippers), Miami offers Rudy the best combination of potentially playing for a winner, getting some attention, and getting major paid.
A lot has been made recently about Wade’s future plans, primarily because the Heat have been losing (like last night’s 28-point defeat to the Grizzlies). At least initially, however, Wade will lean toward staying with the Heat. One, they can pay him the most money. Two, Miami is one of the few “destination” spots in the League, a place where free agents want to sign and guys hope to get traded to no matter how good or bad the team is, simply because of all the city has to offer.
But the best way for Riley and Arison to keep Wade on their side is to put a title-contending team around him. They’ll roll out the red carpet and rally girls for Bosh and Amar’e and LeBron and the usual suspects, but my gut tells me they’ll ultimately get Rudy Gay’s name on the dotted line. Not that it’s anything to be disappointed about.
In your gut, which teams do you feel will land 2010′s big-name free agents? (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Johnson, Amar’e, Boozer, Ginobili, Gay, Ray Allen, Shaq, T-Mac, Iverson, etc.)