This story appears in the March 22 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
In the waning weeks of the season, NBA fans from New York to Miami to LA will be ticking off games as though the schedule were an Advent calendar. After all, with the best-ever free agent class available in 90 ... 89 ... 88 days, Christmas will be in July this year, right? "Only if you get the exact right guys," says a Western Conference exec/killjoy. "Otherwise, you could screw yourself."
LeBron, of course, is an exact right guy. And there's no doubt his choice of kingdom will dictate how the rest of the free agency dominoes fall. And chances are good that he won't go anywhere at all. But not all GMs are waiting on His Highness before considering how to position themselves. In fact, the suits who run a lot of bottom-feeders are daring to wonder if any one of the best players in the world alone can fix their franchise.
"I've never mentioned a single player's name, publicly or privately," says Knicks president Donnie Walsh, who faces daily the most virulent strain of Get-Us-LeBron-or-Else fever. "I want to have financial flexibility because that's the only way you can build the foundation of a title-contending team."