Countdown over…pursuit of LeBron begins

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(AP)—As speculation grows that a megateam could be created in Miami—the idea of Wade, James and Bosh together has been floated for weeks, and seems to be gaining steam with July 1 looming—Heat second-round draft pick Da’Sean Butler out of West Virginia has already figured out what position he’ll play if he was ever alongside that star-studded triumvirate. “Passer,” he said Monday.

Tweet of the Day Part I: Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons took to Twitter to start the NBA’s version of an international incident, predicting (or announcing?) that Bosh is leaving Canada’s team for South Florida. “Sorry to break Toronto’s heart, I love that city, but Chris Bosh is heading to Miami,” Villanueva offered.

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SKY’S THE LIMIT—In this Nov. 12, 2009 photo, Cavaliers forward LeBron James jokes with Heat guard Dwyane Wade during a game in Miami. For stars like Wade and James, the difference between staying with their respective teams and signing elsewhere could be about $30 million. Either way, a maximum contract for either likely would start around $95 million for five years, or $125 million for six years if Wade was to stay in Miami and James remain in Cleveland.

Tweet of the Day Part II: And moments after that tweet, Villanueva decided to break the collective hearts of Clevelanders with this nugget: “You have a better chance seeing me with a Ben Wallace afro, than LeBron going back to Cleveland.”

Here’s a look at the teams that could pursue LeBron James (in alphabetical order):

CHICAGO BULLS: Projected amount under the salary cap: $29.2 million

Why they’d land LeBron: With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, perhaps the best core of any James suitor. …James respects new coach Tom Thibodeau, the architect of the Boston defenses that knocked him out of the playoffs two of the last three years. …Draft-night trade left them close to being able to offer two maximum salary contracts that would start at around $16.5 million next season. …James grew up a Bulls fan.

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CLEAR ORDER OF PRIORITY—This Aug. 3, 2008 photo shows Chris Bosh, left, and LeBron James, of the USA men’s basketball team, chatting on the bench during a match between the USA and Russia in Shanghai. Bosh believes there will be a clear order of priority when the most-awaited free agent period in NBA history opens at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. LeBron James comes first. Everybody else comes second.

Why they’d lose LeBron: James may not want the pressure of living up to inevitable comparisons to Michael Jordan in Chicago. …Management has had some strained relationships with its star players, a point Dwyane Wade alluded to this season. …Won’t have the same star power making their pitch as some competitors.

Outlook: If James doesn’t mind playing in Jordan’s old home, he may find his best chance to win is there.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Projected amount under the salary cap: Doesn’t matter, they can exceed cap to sign James.

Why they’d land LeBron: James has spent his entire career in Cleveland and is comfortable there, saying the Cavs have an “edge” in re-signing him. …Close to his hometown of Akron. …Able to offer him about $30 million more than any other team over the life of a max deal. …Owner Dan Gilbert has shown he’s willing to spend to build a winner.

Why they’d lose LeBron: With coach Mike Brown fired—and still not replaced—and general manager Danny Ferry leaving since the season ended, the Cavs have the look of a team in turmoil. …Moves to win now have left few easy opportunities to upgrade the roster.

Outlook: It was hard during the season to find many people who thought James would leave. Since the season ended, it’s gotten harder to find those who think he’s staying. The Cavs have to count on his loyalty to home.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Projected amount under the salary cap: $16.8 million

Why they’d land LeBron: A good core, with All-Star center Chris Kaman, 2009 No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin, and guards Baron Davis and Eric Gordon. …Los Angeles would provide numerous entertainment opportunities.

Why they’d lose LeBron: A longtime laughingstock in pro sports and the clear little brother in its own building to the NBA champion Lakers. …Donald Sterling is considered one of the worst and cheapest owners in sports. …No coach in place. …Would be tough to unseat Kobe Bryant as the most popular player in the city.

Outlook: There’s certainly reasons for James to be intrigued by the Clippers, but just as many to be scared off by them.

MIAMI HEAT: Projected amount under the salary cap: $26.7 million

Why they’d land LeBron: Enough money to afford James, another max player and still have enough left over for a solid third piece. … Good friends with Dwyane Wade. … Strong leadership at the top with owner Micky Arison and President Pat Riley—who hinted he’d consider a return to coaching if certain free agents requested it.

Why they’d lose LeBron: Not much there besides Wade as a result of salary-clearing moves. …James may not want to come to Wade’s team.

Outlook: Wade and James both have talked about playing with each other, and here’s their chance. But James would have to be sold they could build a competitive roster around them, and he may prefer beating Wade to joining him.

NEW JERSEY NETS: Amount under the salary cap: $27.1 million

Why they’d land LeBron: Excitement of new Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who vows the Nets will become a global team. …Entertainer and part-owner Jay-Z and James are longtime friends. …With center Brook Lopez, point guard Devin Harris and No. 3 pick Derrick Favors, the Nets have some good young pieces. …Expected to begin playing in new arena in Brooklyn, which James calls his favorite borough, in 2012.

Why they’d lose LeBron: Will spend the next two years in Newark while waiting for Brooklyn arena to be bu
ilt. …Coming off a 12-70 season that was one of worst in NBA history. …With President Rod Thorn expected to retire next month, no clear leader of the basketball operations.

Outlook: The Nets might be the favorites if they were already in Brooklyn. But playing near New York isn’t the same as playing in New York, and the difference might be enough to make James look elsewhere.

NEW YORK KNICKS: Amount under the salary cap: $34.1 million

Why they’d land LeBron: James loves Madison Square Garden and New York. …Coach Mike D’Antoni is friendly with James from the U.S. Olympic team, and James likes his system. …Can afford to sign another maximum salary free agent with James. …Offers marketing opportunities James craves.

Why they’d lose LeBron: Mired in franchise-worst stretch of nine straight losing seasons. …Moves to clear salary have left little remaining talent. …One of the league’s poorest defensive teams, and James values good defense. …Enormous media presence may be a turnoff to James.

Outlook: The Knicks believe they’ll get someone—maybe even two guys. But they haven’t had a winning season since James came into the NBA and have little talent to put around him, so no matter how much James loves New York, he may not love the Knicks.

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