We've spent a lot of time pumping up next summer's potential player movement. Have we been, to some extent, making fun of teams' fetishization of cap space? Yes. But there's also the distinct possibility that some big names could change teams. However, maybe even this guarded, satirical attitude has been too susceptible to hype. It's hard to ignore the kind of bleak argument made by my FreeDarko colleague Dr. LIC -- who believes that 2010 is total sham:
Beyond the top three 2010 FAs on this list (Bosh, LBJ, Wade--the former of which are not going anywhere anyway), is there ANY body that you would want your team to throw Rashard Lewis money at? Most of these guys have are gonna be old or have a history of injuries. And any now-monetarily satiated star who is slightly appealing (e.g. Dirk) isn't going to be looking to play in Milwaukee or Minnesota...they're gonna be looking to go somewhere to get a ring.
If you want to get really cynical about it, let the economic climate wash over you. Cap space matters now because it affects teams' bottom lines. It's a master stroke that the Nets have somehow convinced the world that they still have their eyes on LeBron, when in fact jettisoning Vince was a way to reckon with some harsh financial realties. I'll take it even further than Dr. LIC: Teams supposedly want a shot at LeBron or Wade (let's face it, Bosh
has fallen to second-fiddle status), but the truth is, you can count on one hand the organizations that figure at all in these two conversations. Mostly, it's about Cleveland and Miami proving they're worth it for these two superstars to stick around.
The other names hitting the open market in 2010? The likes of Bosh, Amare, Dirk, Nash, Yao and T-Mac are hardly worth mortgaging your team's future, financial and competitive, over. In fact, there's a good chance now that the latter two will have trouble getting any long-term deal next summer. The more you look at the vaunted Class of 2010, the more it looks like ... the motley bunch that populates 2009. Not the younger, lesser-known guys likely to get squeezed by 2010-itis (whether real or feigned), but names like Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace, players who still register with the public as stars but are on the downward arc of their careers. This once-lustrous roll call now seems in limbo -- will they, like Iverson and Wallace, be faced with taking a pay cut to go to a contender?
All of which brings us to a startling proposition: If what we once thought of as the windfall of 2010 is everyday getting closer and closer to the muddle of 2009, then is it possible that the pent-up thrill of 2010 is, in fact, best spent on 2009? Emotionally and financially, should 2009 be the new 2010?
Look at it this way: If teams are waiting to make a move, why exactly wouldn't they target Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villanueva, Paul Millsap, Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Hedo Turkoglu, or Marcin Gortat? None of them are huge names, but here's the rub: They won't cost an arm and a leg, either. Teams can save money and improve their teams long-term, far more than they could by staking it all on 2010. That's true even if saving money was as important as getting better. Teams who had thought of 2010 only as an excuse to shed payroll might find themselves strangely equipped to accomplish both goals. Would they even know how to cope?
At this point, most of this is academic. Teams have, or are, making a point of looking to contracts expiring in 2010. (One notable exception is Joe Dumars, who already has been active in looking at free agents this summer -- maybe reuniting former UConn teammates Villanueva and Gordon -- when formerly we'd assumed Iverson's contract would amount to something magical a year from now.) However, it's entirely possibly we might end up comparing these two offseasons and looking at 2010 as mostly hype, and 2009 the low-profile crop that got overshadowed until we saw the difference it made. Sort of like the draft of 2007 vs. 2008, or even 2006. Let's hope, for the sake of honor and justice, that teams only interested in their bottom line can't keep hiding behind the Bron-chasing excuse until then.
2010 will be all about the consolidation of empire. If someone doesn't stick up for the little guy before then, then the need for more parity could become a rallying cry for fans. And the funny thing is, they'll have no one to blame but their own team's supposed desire to aim for the stars rather than think realistically. If we even buy that story. Those teams will end up developing young players for the next few years, unless they buckle and end up bringing in names for the sake of bringing in names. Which, in the end, is the worst decision to be made from either a personnel or bottom line standpoint.