LeBron James granted audiences to the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks; Dwyane Wade was wooed by the Chicago Bulls and Nets; and Chris Bosh heard out the Miami Heat and Nets as the NBA talent chase in what is being called The Summer of LeBron began in earnest. James was the focal point of a media mob scene on Thursday, the first day free agents could hear offers from clubs, at the Cleveland headquarters of the consulting firm IMG.
He gave the Nets, led by their owner, the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, and the hip-hop artist Jay-Z, 90 minutes of his time. As the Nets were pulling out of the driveway, the Knicks' four-vehicle motorcade was pulling in, and the New York club spent two hours trying to convince the 25-year-old, two-time MVP to relocate from Cleveland and play in Madison Square Garden. "I think it went well," said Mike D'Antoni, the Knicks' coach. "But obviously everyone that gets the chance to talk to him will probably say the same thing."
On James's calendar yesterday: sitdowns with Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers. Today he is scheduled to receive the Chicago Bulls and the hometown Cavaliers, the only team he has known in his seven-season career. The Summer of LeBron is not only about James; numerous top-flight NBA players are unrestricted free agents able to sign with any team they choose, and one of the second-tier stars did.
Rudy Gay, a forward who averaged 19.6 points per game last season, committed to stay with the Memphis Grizzlies for more than US$80 million (Dh294m) over five seasons. NBA analysts suggested that the big contract for a player who might be only the third-best player on the Memphis roster indicates that NBA clubs will overspend this summer. That analysis certainly was not disproved on Thursday. The Toronto Raptors committed $34m over five years to the forward Amir Johnson, a career second-teamer; the Utah Jazz gave $32m for five years to Drew Gooden, a forward of declining abilities; and the Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to commit $16m over four years to Darko Milicic, an underachieving centre from Serbia.
Wade and Bosh are considered the other premier free agents; each was scheduled to meet yesterday with the Knicks, who are trying to spend their way back into relevance. Wade and Bosh huddled with James last weekend in what was thought to be a discussion about playing for the same team, perhaps Miami. Other top players in what is considered the deepest free-agent pool in NBA history, include the forwards Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Carlos Boozer; and the guard Joe Johnson.
Deals cannot be signed until July 8. James had suggested he will need at least a week to make a decision about his next team. * Agencies