This is an important question with the Free Agent Class of 2010 getting ready to cash in at a potentially historic rate. Conventional wisdom says ANY team looking at Dwyane Wade and/or LeBron James knows they’re worth MAX $. After that, things get a little more tricky.
In my opinion a MAX $ guy is one who is a franchise player—not just a guy who serves as the face of a franchise because he’s the best player on a bad team, but a true franchise player. My definition of a true franchise player is a guy who can carry his team and get it to the Playoffs with little to no help. A true franchise player, with a little help, makes his team a threat to advance deep into the Playoffs and possibly contend for a World Championship. In my mind, there’s only a few guys who fit that bill. They are (in no certain order): Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandon Roy (Yao Ming, provided he returns healthy, is on this list). There are a few guys who may be there in the next few seasons, including: Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Tyreke Evans.
Then there’s a set of second-tier All Star Caliber players who are worth MAX $, but only to the team they play for in an effort to keep them. That’s right, they’re not true MAX $ guys, but they’re teams will need to break the bank to keep them from making sub-MAX $ on a better team. This least includes free-agents-to-be Amare Stoudamire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and Chris Bosh. These guys are looking to ink the contracts that will set them up for the rest of their lives this summer, and they will have to leverage their financial prospects against winning when making their final decisions.
In the case of the Miami Heat and its hopes of landing one or two big-time free agents, I am hoping the prospect of winning weighs more heavily with the incoming big name(s) than the money because we do have a few other needs to address if we’re going to truly contend.