To little fanfare -- other than in the LeBron Watch boxes being published in the New York City tabloids -- the countdown to July 1 passed the 100-day mark over the weekend. The most anticipated free-agent class of the post-Michael Jordan era is now 98 days away.
Something else happened recently that could dramatically affect the free-agent cataclysm that's about to hit. Henry Thomas, the Chicago-based agent for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined forces with Leon Rose, the agent for LeBron James, at Creative Artists Agency.
In a move that the parties involved have attempted to portray as unrelated, William Wesley -- the ubiquitous "World Wide Wes" -- will be joining the coaches' division at CAA. Wesley, one of the most connected and influential men in basketball due to his ties to James, Kentucky coach John Calipari and essentially every tentacle of the game, will go from being unofficially powerful to officially powerful in the next 2-3 months, according to a source familiar with his plans.
|With these three in its stable, Creative Artists Agency becomes the biggest power player in the NBA this summer. (US Presswire)|
"I think the process is going to entail three individual circumstances, but the knowledge is centralized on all three," one NBA team executive said. "It gives them absolute control of the market, for one. You have the three most sought-after clients."
The Big Three have been in lock step since they signed their most recent contract extensions, negotiating simultaneous player options to maximize their flexibility. Teammates on the 2008 Olympic team that won the gold medal in Beijing, they've spoken at various times about the possibility of playing together.
Now, they're more than merely friends and Olympic teammates. They're business partners, with power and leverage that are united with the agency that will dictate the tempo and terms of the 2010 free-agent market.
But this is much more complicated than steering two of the three biggest free agents to the same team, an outcome that remains a long shot for logistical reasons. For one thing, there are other potential free agents with powerful agents; Joe Johnson, for example, is represented by Arn Tellem, who brokered the trade sending client Tracy McGrady to New York to help the Knicks clear enough cap space for two max free agents. For another, Rose and Thomas have other clients, too, and their first obligation is to get each player the best situation for him.
"We're just under the same umbrella," Bosh said. "I don't think that's something that anybody feeds off of. We're all our own individuals. We just happen to be with the same agency. So maybe in the future, with the same contacts, maybe we can find something that in some kind of way everybody will benefit from."
Wade also downplayed CAA's 2010 monopoly, saying, "I don't think it changes anything." But he's forgetting about one extraordinarily valuable commodity come July 1: information. While team executives and rival agents will be expending countless man hours trying to predict what the Big Three will do, their options and strategies will be centralized under one roof.
"It's a possibility we might know a little inside scoop," Wade said. "But at the same time, if we didn't go to CAA, I think we would know a little bit, too, because we're all family either way. We're all friends."
The common threads going beyond CAA soon will include Wesley, the behind-the-scenes power broker who also is tied to presumed No. 1 pick John Wall, who plays for Calipari at Kentucky. Wesley's influence covers all the biggest assets on the market simultaneously in the coming months -- the Big Three free agents, the No. 1 pick, the No. 1 pick's college coach, and on and on.
One person involved in the coaching business called Wesley's decision to join Rose, his longtime associate, in an official capacity "a good move by CAA." But others have questioned why he would want to give up his back-channel, unofficial influence for official coaching representation.
"Wes can get a coach [hired] any time he wants," the person said. "Why would he want to become official?"
But if there were ever a time to take the plunge, this would be it. Wesley's sway over LeBron has been built over years and won't disappear when James is making the biggest decision of his career. In fact, his power would only expand by virtue of having the official capacity to influence coaching situations throughout the NBA.
Reached for comment Tuesday, the media-averse Wesley said, "I don't discuss CAA business." In a couple of months, that'll be part of his job description.
LeBron and Wade have said all along they intend to play out the season and explore all their options, which is why both turned down extension offers from their teams last July. Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo took a different approach with Bosh, not offering him an extension initially because all indications were the answer would be no.
Needing more clarity from Bosh before the trade deadline, Colangelo offered a max extension in late January, according to sources. By that point, Bosh presumably had a better feel for where the team was heading. At the time, Toronto was playing well and was in the process of pushing its record to six games above .500 before the All-Star break. Still, Bosh's camp reiterated he wanted to wait until after the season. The Raptors (35-34) have lost 10 of 14 games and are in a tough fight with Charlotte and Chicago for the final two playoff spots in the East.
"We're a playoff team," Bosh said. "We're just not where we want to be. I think it's just not being as consistent as we could be. Sometimes we have opportunities to get better and we just come up short."
The possibilities presented by all these connected relationships are "endless," Bosh said. And at some point, they could get complicated. What if Wade, for example, instructs Thomas not to share his plans with Bosh or with LeBron's agent, Rose? In that case, Thomas would be able to "at least advise Leon and share some insight without giving him everything," the team executive said. When the dominos start falling, a little information will be better than none at all.
"The No. 1 domino to fall is going to be LeBron, because everyone will be waiting to find out what he does and it's going to impact the whole free-agent flow," the executive said. "There's going to be some deals signed out of the gate, but those are going to be the teams that don't think they have a shot at LeBron. Anybody who thinks they have a legitimate shot at LeBron is going to take that shot."