A look at the teams that could pursue LeBron James in free agency (in alphabetical order):
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.
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.
Projected amount under the salary cap: Doesn’t matter, they can exceed the 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. … Best regular-season record in the NBA each of the last two seasons.
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. … Not as much talent on the roster as other teams courting James.
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, having not yet replaced Mike Dunleavy. … 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.
Projected amount under the salary cap: $26.7 million ($43.3 million if Dwyane Wade left).
Why they’d land LeBron: Enough money to afford James, another max player and still have enough left over for a solid third piece. … Trendy spots, great weather and no state income tax make Miami a favorite of many NBA players. … Good friends with Dwyane Wade, whom the Heat expect to keep. … 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 built. … 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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