LeBron James will meet teams on his own turf -- in Ohio -- as the National Basketball Association’s free agency period begins today.
As of 12:01 a.m. New York time, the NBA’s 30 teams are permitted to contact members of the free-agent class that features James, a two-time Most Valuable Player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and All-Stars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.
“It’s a special time in NBA history with the amount of great free agents who are out there,” Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof said in an interview. “It’s really going to be fun for the fans to try to figure out where these different players are going to end up.”
James, 25, is the marquee free agent in this year’s class, having won the NBA’s MVP award the past two years while leading the Cavaliers to a 127-37 record. James’s business manager Maverick Carter told ESPN last week that James would visit with team representatives in Ohio instead of going on a recruiting tour. Carter didn’t return telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment.
The New Jersey Nets, with new owner Mikhail Prokhorov and with rapper and minority owner Jay-Z, a 10-time Grammy winner who is friends with James, will be among the teams to make their presentations today, Yahoo! Sports reported, citing people in the NBA it didn’t identify. The Nets are scheduled to move to a new arena in Brooklyn, New York, for the 2012-13 season.
In the Running
The New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are among the other teams that have cleared salary-cap space and will make pitches to James. The Cavaliers, for whom the Akron, Ohio, native played for his seven NBA seasons, will as well.
NBA teams can’t sign free agents to contracts until July 8. The league’s union contract includes a maximum salary, so teams have to use other methods to lure players.
Some clubs try to convince free agents that their style of play offers the best chance of success, said Chris Webber, a five-time All-Star who played in the NBA from 1993-2008. The Cavaliers have had the NBA’s best record the past two seasons, yet James hasn’t won a championship.
“I would expect teams to be critical of his game in a positive way,” Webber, 37, an analyst for NBA TV, said in a telephone interview. “It’s to let him know that they’ve been watching him and that they can make it better for him and easier for him than it was in the past.”
NBA rules allow free agents to make three trips to their city of up to three days each. Clubs can cover the travel, lodging and meal expenses for a player, his agent and up to three guests.
While free agents such as James could be wined and dined by the Knicks in New York City’s most exclusive restaurants, or taken by the Heat to the trendiest spots in Miami’s South Beach, owners and former players say what matters most are the opportunities on the court, not off it.
“All these big-time free agents, they want to win,” Maloof, 54, said during an interview last month in New York. “You can go to the best place in the world, but what good is it if you’re not going to win? What good is it if you don’t have the right coaching staff or ownership? That’s why I think they’re looking, because they want to position themselves in the best place to win.”