Look at what’s riding on Game 6…

With Boston’s impressive win in Game 5 on Tuesday night, the series has once again swung the Celtics’ way, and they have a chance to close out the Cavs in Game 6 on Thursday.

Has there ever been more riding on a conference semifinal playoff game?

While there are those that believe LeBron James is more likely to leave Cleveland if the Cavs were to win the title, the general consensus is just opposite. If the Cavs suffer another pre-Finals flame out, most NBA fans believe that LeBron will sign elsewhere this summer.

But it’s not like LeBron had one of his monster near-triple-double games and his teammates let him down. The other Cavs shot 46% from the field, 45% from 3PT and hit 18-of-22 free throws. Shaquille O’Neal posted 21-4 (hitting 7-of-10 free throws) along with four blocks.

Meanwhile, LeBron shot 3-of-14 from the field (0-4 from 3PT) and scored just 15 points. For the first three quarters, he settled for long jumper after long jumper and missed most of them. Once again, his unwillingness to go in the post limited his options in a game when his jumper just wasn’t falling. Two of the game’s great wings — Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — made/make a living on the block, especially when they were having trouble scoring elsewhere.

Defensively for the Cavs, it was another story.

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The Top 10 NBA Free Agents of 2010

Originally published December 11, 2008.
Updated November 12, 2009.

The phrase “Summer of 2010” has become part of the NBA lexicon. Teams have been tripping over each other trying to clear cap space for next summer so that they can sign an impact free agent (or two). With that in mind, let’s take a look ahead at the free agent crop of 2010.

Below is a list of the top 10 players that are likely to be free agents next summer. I’m ranking them based mostly on talent, but it’s also important to note each player’s age in July of 2010, as that will affect his value and skill. For example, a 31 year-old Paul Pierce holds much more value than a 33 year-old Paul Pierce. Get the drift?

1. LeBron James, SF (26 years-old)
James is the golden boy of this free agent class and is the player that every franchise would love to land next summer. He will have just turned 26 and whatever team is lucky enough to sign him will – barring injury – enjoy four or five years of the best basketball of his career. The Cavs have gone “all in” this season, signing Shaq, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, and re-signing Anderson Varejao. In the process, they gave up whatever cap space they would have enjoyed next summer. If Cleveland’s season ends in disappointment once again, it wouldn’t be surprising if LeBron decides to take his game elsewhere. Three teams — the Knicks, Bulls and Nets — jump out as good fits. LeBron has stated that his top priority is to become a “global icon” and playing in Manhattan would serve that purpose. If the Knicks are able to unload Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries before the trade deadline, then they’ll have the projected cap space to sign two top players on this list, and that might be enough to convince LeBron to sign on the dotted line. Plus, he’s familiar with Mike D’Antoni (via the duo’s work with Team USA) and the Knicks’ up-tempo system would be a near-perfect fit for LeBron’s skill set. The Nets offer a better supporting cast (led by Devin Harris and Brook Lopez) and the (impending?) move to Brooklyn would boost the franchise’s profile. Chicago has a number of pieces already in place (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich) and is bigger market than Cleveland. But would LeBron want to go to the franchise that Michael Jordan built?
Note: Player option (PO)

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LeBron to…Minnesota?!?

John Hollinger writes in his latest PER Diem (Insider subscription required) that LeBron’s best bet for long term success may not be in Cleveland…or New York…or New Jersey/Brooklyn…

And it’s especially worth noting that if the Cavs are back in the 45-50 win range this season, King James might be a much more portable commodity this coming summer. If he’s looking at a Cleveland lineup with one majestically talented player and several spare parts, one would think the comparison to such arrangements in New York or New Jersey wouldn’t be dramatically different.

But those aren’t close to being the most palatable changes of uniform available. For instance, it bears mentioning that joining the Chicago squad LeBron’s team lost to Thursday night would be dramatically different. With a young star point guard, quality big men and lots of secondary help, the Bulls — who could get as much as $20 million under the cap if John Salmons opts out of his contract, conveniently opening a spot in the lineup for LeBron at the same time — would offer a more clear opportunity for long-term success.

Let me throw out an even crazier proposition — Minnesota. The Wolves will have the cap space to make a run at LeBron, depending on a few variables — or at the very least can get there fairly easily if they know there’s a chance for a player of this caliber. (Declining an option on Ryan Gomes, for instance, is done much more easily if it allows you to replace him with the best player in the league.)

Minnesota is generally thought of as one of the NBA’s least-desirable relocation options, but let’s consider it from a winning perspective. Who would you rather play with for the next five years: Al Jefferson or Anderson Varejao? Kevin Love or Ilgauskas? Ricky Rubio or Mo Williams? Jonny Flynn or West? Ramon Sessions or Daniel Gibson? Next year’s fourth pick or next year’s 24th? It’s obvious, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong — the T-Wolves would be a good fit for LeBron, but he’d be a pretty good fit anywhere. I just don’t see him taking his show from one cold, small-market Midwestern city to another cold, small-market Midwestern city. If he doesn’t stay in Cleveland, then there seem to be three real options:

1. Brooklyn Nets
With Devin Harris and Brook Lopez locked up for the next few years, the Nets have two All-Star caliber players already on the roster at two of the toughest positions to fill — point guard and center. Is the penetrating Harris the perfect fit alongside LeBron? Not necessarily, but if the Nets can find a sharpshooting off guard (Courtney Lee?) and face up power forward (a la Rashard Lewis), the Nets would really be in business. Plus, the move to Brooklyn would take away the stigma of playing in New Jersey.

2. Chicago Bulls
It would break the city of Cleveland’s heart if LeBron fled to the Windy City. New York or Brooklyn? Cleveland fans wouldn’t like it, but they’d understand. But if LeBron heads to Chicago, home of the team that stepped on the Cavs’ throats so many times during the Jordan era, the city might explode. From a pure basketball point of view, it’s a nice fit. They already have Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and maybe Tyrus Thomas. Chicago is also a threat to pry Dwyane Wade out of Miami.

3. New York Knicks
This is more about MSG and the spotlight than who the Knicks have on the roster. Playing in Mike D’Antoni’s system would be nice, and if the Knicks can unload either Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries, they’d have enough cap space to sign another free agent to max deal. This might be a case of the Knicks having to coax Chris Bosh out of Toronto or Amare Stoudemire out of Phoenix before being able to convince LeBron to sign on the dotted line.

We’re only a couple of weeks into the season and the talk is already starting. The Cavs have plenty of time to morph into a 60-win team, but right now they don’t look it. And the longer they struggle, the louder the drum beat is going to sound.

NBA News & Rumors: Delonte, LeBron, JJ and Julian

Delonte West misses practice (unexcused) again. All right, one unexcused absence I can understand, but after he was MIA yesterday, wouldn’t the Cavs track him down to find out why he was absent? Of course they would, which is why he is either completely unreachable or the Cavs don’t approve of his reasons for missing practice. This is worrisome, but expect the team to give him a lot of leeway to get his life straightened out.

The New York Daily News thinks there has been another sign that LeBron is headed to the Knicks.
His name is William Wesley and apparently he has LeBron’s ear. He was at Knicks camp this week and some conspiracy theorists believe his presence is a sign that LeBron will be playing in New York next season.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Joe Johnson will not sign an extension this season.
Instead, Johnson is going to become a free agent next summer when a number of teams are going to have the cap space to offer a max deal. After LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and (maybe) Amare Stoudemire, Johnson is the next biggest prize in the free agent class of 2010. He’s one of those players that isn’t quite worth a max deal but he’s going to get one anyway. (Think Michael Redd circa 2005.)

Byron Scott told the Times-Picayune that the Hornets’ starting small forward job is Julian Wright’s to lose.
This is about a year too late. Wright was quite productive (PER: 15.48) in his rookie season, but the Hornets went with James Posey instead, thinking that he’d be the missing piece to the championship puzzle. Wright is one of those young, talented players that is going to see a big increase in minutes, so fantasy basketball owners should take note.

Blogging the Bloggers: Despicable coaches, LeBron on “TDS” and more

GQ lists the 20 Most Despicable Coaches. Wait until you see who’s #1.

SPORTSBYBROOKS discusses why the vast majority of sports talk radio hosts are white men.

FIVE TOOL TOOL has a great list of 10 Lame NFL Excuses.

BALL DON’T LIE has video of Jon Stewart trying to woo LeBron to New York on an episode of “The Daily Show.”

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