War Eagle Extra

Ryan Black commentary: NBA has most captivating offseason in sports

If the NBA offseason was a novel, it would be a thriller. Or perhaps it would be in the mystery section. A case could be made it should be listed as a drama, too. Really, any of the designations would fit.

Undoubtedly, every offseason brings about a hint of intrigue, with numerous players departing for new teams. But some years are more captivating than others. 2010 was one of those years, when perennial All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire were on the market. As everyone knows by now, James, Wade and Bosh ended up in Miami. (Stoudemire signed with New York and hasn't quite reached the heights of the aforementioned trio.)

Four years later, James, Wade and Bosh are free agents once more, opting out of their contracts with the Heat last month. The smart money is that they will return to Miami, with Bosh and Wade taking less money annually to allow James to agree to a max contract.

But believe it or not, Wade and Bosh are (supposedly) in the dark when it comes to James’ future. If reports are true, the two junior members of “The Big Three” in terms of talent and prestige have said it’s not a done deal that they’ll all be members of the Heat next season.

Those reports — as with all reports that attribute anonymous “sources” instead of actual names — must be taken with a grain of salt. To think that James hasn't talked to them at all since they met for lunch last week is nigh preposterous. There might be a valid explanation, though.

The three want to throw people “off their scent,” as it were.

And it makes perfect sense: Many people believe the three had secretly worked in concert for years prior to 2010, planning to join forces once they had the opportunity to opt out of their respective contracts and test the free agent waters at the same time. All they needed to settle on was a team; Miami ended up being the big winner, immediately transforming the landscape of the league.

So it’s understandable that Wade and Bosh are feigning ignorance on James’ intentions: They don’t want to be accused of collusion for the second time.

Yet it’s these storylines that make the NBA offseason the best of any sport. No, you’re not going to see the type of haul Miami had four years ago — signing three All-Stars in the prime of their career — every offseason. That’s partially due to being creative with cap space and finding the money to pay them all. It’s also because stars are a rare, highly-valued commodity. Teams normally do everything they can to lock their marquee players into long-term contracts, thus rendering free agency a moot point.

It’s far from an afterthought this year.

Along with James, Wade and Bosh, fellow 2003 draftee Carmelo Anthony is also a free agent. Chicago, Houston, Dallas and New York — where Anthony has played for the last three and a half seasons — are in play as well as the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant himself cut a European vacation short so he could be there when Anthony arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday. According to ESPN.com, Bryant wanted to “play a key part in the team's pitch” to convince Anthony to sign with Los Angeles.

Other big names, like Pau Gasol and an aging-but-still-effective Paul Pierce, could be on the move as well. Indiana is reportedly trying to engage Phoenix to acquire guard Goran Dragic, who was named an All-NBA third-team performer for the Suns last season.

For those wondering “why” anyone would make such a fuss over the NBA offseason, it’s a query that needs to be altered to “why not?"

It’s simple: No team sport is more individually-driven than the NBA.

In baseball, a dominant hitter can be pitched around. All the opposing team has to do is issue an intentional walk. Problem solved.

In football, a great quarterback is nothing without an offensive line that gives him time to find open receivers. On defense, a shutdown cornerback can be ignored by throwing the ball to the opposite side of the field.

Not so in basketball. With only 10 players on the court at a time, the easier it is for one player to take over a game. With players having to continually shift between offense and defense, weaknesses in either area are quickly exploited.

In that vein, the addition of one great player can change everything. Hence, the more great players a team accumulates, the better its chances of advancing deep into the NBA playoffs. Just look at the Heat’s final results in the four seasons of the “Big Three” era: Finals appearance, NBA title, NBA title, Finals appearance.

Not bad.

Don’t let anyone tell you keeping up with the NBA offseason is a pointless endeavor. After all, it’s more than just players jumping to new teams and donning different jerseys. One could almost say it’s like another ongoing, open-ended novel.

It’s called the NBA’s history book.