The major free-agent catches:
—LeBron James: The league's two-time reigning most valuable player is the biggest prize from a historically deep free-agent pool. His Akron, Ohio, roots will be tested by pitches from all the major markets.
—Dwyane Wade: He carried the Heat to the 2006 NBA championship and remains one of those players who plays well with or off the ball. Also an excellent defender. Widely regarded as the free agent most likely to re-sign with his current team.
—Chris Bosh: The double-double machine can score in a variety of ways, which will make teams forget his playoff failures. Regarded as a player strongly desiring a sixth contractual year, which could lead to a Raptors sign-and-trade to the Western Conference.
—Joe Johnson: A classic shooting guard with size (6-foot-7), he also is said to desire a sixth year because, at 29, this is his last major contract. His playoff struggles against the Magic shouldn't discount his scoring ability.
—Amare Stoudemire: Some see a player dependent on Steve Nash who has defensive and motivational lapses to boot. Others see a double-double machine who is a monster in the screen-and-roll game and came on strong during the Suns' surprising Western Conference finals surge.
—Carlos Boozer: Another double-double machine who can pick-and-pop with the best of the big men. His durability and defense have been questioned, as has his reputation after he reneged on a handshake deal with the Cavaliers to sign with the Jazz.
The major free-agent suitors:
—Knicks: The new management team of Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni based their entire plan on cutting payroll (and being bad) for two seasons to be the team with the most cap space. At $34 million, they succeeded. Now they must execute.
—Nets: Their jettisoning of Yi Jianlian pushed them currently into second place in the cap-space race at $30.5 million. Add a dynamic billionaire new owner in Mikhail Prokhorov and flashy minority owner in rapper Jay-Z and let the recruiting begin.
—Heat: They continue to try to trade Michael Beasley to augment their roughly $27.5 million of cap space. Doing so would allow them to offer two near maximum salaries and also re-sign Dwyane Wade.
—Bulls: Widely regarded as possessing the best core of, you know, actual talent of the teams with cap space, their aggressive move to dump Kirk Hinrich's salary will augment their pitch. They also will sell the city and six NBA titles.
—Cavaliers: For James, it's home. The organization built its practice facility near his home, proving his influence. And they can offer more money. The front office is changing, and they possess no cap space to improve an aging roster.
—Wild cards: The Clippers, who might hire Vinny Del Negro, are the only other team that can offer a maximum contract. But with teams like the Kings, Timberwolves, Wizards and Thunder possessing cap space, capped-out teams like the Lakers and Mavericks could get involved.
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