June 27, 2016

Partly cloudy

LeBron is now free

INDEPENDENCE — The lions and tigers — and clowns — were ready for several days, maybe even weeks, but the circus didn’t officially open until today.

Free agency is now fully under way, with LeBron James, who spent Wednesday evening playing softball at Copley High School, expected to open his meetings this morning by listening to a sales pitch from New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

The two-time reigning league MVP is expected to meet with officials from New York this afternoon, with Miami, Chicago, Cleveland and perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers awaiting their chance.

It is believed the Cavaliers will be the last team James talks to before sitting down to weigh all his offers.
On the day before the start of free agency — agreements can now be reached, but the earliest contracts can be signed is July 8 — rumors were surprisingly slow in regards to James.

Yahoo! Sports reported that Prokhorov will show the 25-year-old a map of the world and explain how he can become a billionaire. The Russian owner has amassed a fortune in deals in his homeland, China and India.

Prokhorov, who will reportedly be accompanied by part-owner Jay-Z, coach Avery Johnson and outgoing president Rod Thorn, will also pitch New Jersey’s eventual move to Brooklyn and attempt to sell James on the fact the Nets will soon be a global organization.

The Nets, however, are considered a long shot to land James, largely because they are coming off a 12-70 season and don’t have the salary cap space to sign another max free agent.

The Knicks, meanwhile, will attempt to sell James on the fact they can sign two players to max contracts — Joe Johnson appears to be their other main target — and, perhaps even more important, life as a celebrity in the Big Apple.

Reporters from New Jersey and New York are expected to be in the Akron area today, trying to find the location where James will meet with teams. Whether they do or don’t, they’ll likely string their facts together to suit their own purposes.

The New York Post, for instance, talked to a realtor who told the paper James had found a townhouse he loves in West Village, just minutes from Madison Square Garden, but James has probably researched living quarters in most cities courting him as a free agent.

Right now, nothing is certain, but it still looks like the leading contenders to sign James are Cleveland and Chicago.

Miami has almost enough cap space to sign three players — Dwyane Wade, James and Chris Bosh — but a Miami Herald story quoted Bosh as saying, “I don’t see it happening. I don’t even know how it would work. It sounds like pie in the sky.”

Bosh made those comments sometime over the weekend, however, so it’s possible the three players talked after that about signing with the Heat.

The Cavaliers made a $1.02 million qualifying offer to forward Jawad Williams by the Wednesday deadline, making him a restricted free agent. If Cleveland had not made the qualifying offer, Williams would have been unrestricted.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.