THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Winning the NBA lottery

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / July 7, 2010

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It’s NBA free agency season. How do you like it so far?

(By the way, the Jordan Farmar Era is over in LA. The Lakers gave Steve Blake a four-year contract. You scared?)

There’s been some head-scratching stuff going on out there. Minnesota gives Darko (one of these years I’ll play more than 15 minutes a game and average more than 8 points per) Milicic four years, $20 million (but, hey the fourth year is only partially guaranteed)? Milwaukee gives Drew (nine teams in eight years) Gooden five years, $32 million? Amir (go ahead, name the team that has re-signed him) Johnson gets five years, $34 million? The answer is Toronto.

This isn’t just a wonderful country, or, I guess I should say, continent. This is a fictionally blissful, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming continent. It’s a tremendous time to be young, tall, and a marginally talented basketball player.

And what was that about the “impoverished’’ owners (who, according to the Commish, lost $400 million last year) gearing up to lock out the players a year hence?

You’ll be hearing lots more about that depressing story as the 2010-11 season unfolds. Let’s again turn our attention to the fascinating summer of 2010, which was endlessly discussed and analyzed in advance for at least two years, and which, six days into the process, leaves most of the really big fish still swimming in the Sea of Uncertainty.

Forget about what we think, intuit, or feel is worth a reasonable guess about what’s going on with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, three-fourths of the free agency Big Four. Here is the only thing we know: Amar’e (forget about my bad knees and utter lack of interest in defense and growing disdain about getting myself dirty by actually, you know, posting up every now and then) Stoudemire, he of the wandering apostrophe, is a New York Knick.

The beyond-desperate inhab itants of Madison Square Garden, whose team president/CEO rates a separate admission wing in the Idiot Owners Hall of Fame, have thrust the maximum contract (five years, nearly $100 million) at a player who is pretty much guaranteed to break down no later than the midway point of the deal and who has proven, as have several others in this free agent class, that he is a fine wingman, a suitable adjunct, a faithful Tonto to the Lone Ranger type player, but someone who will be unmasked once asked to be The Man.

And can you imagine a worse city in which to be thus exposed, especially when LeBron is kissing the Larry O’Brien Trophy while wearing the uniform of the Cavaliers, Bulls, Heat, or, and wouldn’t we all contribute to the kitty to make this happen, the Brooklyn Nets?

The Knicks aren’t the only one suffering from that debilitating disease known as Max Madness.

To begin with, here’s a philosophical question: Just because you’ve identified someone as your best player, does that mean you’re duty-bound to give him a max contract? Can’t you just reward him nicely and fairly without giving him a contract that implies he’ll be something he’s constitutionally incapable of being?

Exhibit A: Atlanta maxes Joe Johnson. A fine player, Joe Johnson. I’d like to have him (oh, wait, we did). I’ve seen him make shots against the Celtics that were somewhere between Jordanesque and Kobe-like. But he’s not a No. 1 guy. He’s a No. 2 on a team of No. 2 and No. 3 guys. As the Hawks were en route to the most savage four-game series beating in the history of the NBA — that’s fact, not hyperbole — no one shrunk into nothingness against the Magic more than Joe Johnson. In fact, here are his shooting numbers in the final seven games of the 2010 playoffs: 6 for 16, 8 for 24, 4 for 14, 4 for 11, 5 for 16, 3 for 15, and 5 for 15. That’s 31 percent. What would the Hawks have done for him had he actually played well when it most mattered?

Exhibit B: Memphis maxes Rudy Gay. A nice player. Anyone would take him. But max him? He used to disappear a lot in games when he was at UConn, leaving one with two conclusions. 1) He’s a shy kid who doesn’t know how good he is. 2) There simply is no pilot light. After four years with the Grizz, people down there are of the same opinion. And if he’s a max guy, what is O.J. Mayo? I’m not so sure Marc Gasol isn’t more important to the Memphis cause.

As for the Big Three free agents, what do we really know?

We know that before they signed Stoudemire the Knicks tried to hit LeBron with major money talk, producing a report from a marketing consultant claiming that James could make anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion in total salary and outside income as a lifetime Knick (i.e. 37, 38 years old, a real reach), as opposed to an estimated $700 million in Cleveland, $690 million in Chicago, and $600 million in Miami.

We know that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov tried to dazzle LeBron with his international business reach. We know the Heat talked having Wade and sufficient salary cap space to add another max guy.

We know the Bulls talked up their current roster only needing LeBron to become a champion. We know Cleveland prepared a cartoon video that one wag suggested was very well-geared to recruit a 14-year-old.

Cleveland surely needs roster re-do, but the Cavaliers do have an edge. The public is laying a colossal guilt trip on him to remain home, the implication that the franchise might collapse if he leaves. There is also no denying that he is loyal to the region.

Wade is totally comfortable in Miami. His situation is complicated by a very messy divorce proceeding in which he has been given temporary custody of his two children, who had been living in Chicago. But should he win full custody, which legal observers believe will happen, he then can move the offspring to Miami.

The odds still favor him staying where he is.

Chris Bosh? Aside from having a camera crew follow his every move (remember Manny and ESPN 10 years ago?), Bosh has been in the background.

He is very much the wild card. Is he worth the fuss? Some say that if he’s that good, why has he only been to the playoffs twice in seven years? Valid point. But I’ve seen him perform in international competition, and this guy can really play. Playing alongside either LeBron or Wade, he could affect the balance of power.

When you come down to it, there really is only one thing we know for sure. A lot of people have gotten rich. Or are about to.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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