The NBA Free Agency Circus
Did you hear LeBron James decided to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
By now, everyone has heard that LeBron decided to exercise his opt-out clause to forego his last year with the Miami Heat, effectively becoming a free agent, and triggering hundreds of Skylar Grey “Coming Home” video montages. LeBron’s signing in Cleveland was preceded by a week of intense speculation and anxious waiting, as other free agents put their plans on hold (or so that is what was reported) to see what LeBron would do. After meeting with Heat President Pat Riley in Las Vegas last Wednesday, LeBron decided to write an essay in Sports Illustrated to announce his decision to return to Cleveland. Ultimately, it was not much we didn’t already know; we all knew it was either Miami or Cleveland, and we all knew he wanted to go back to Cleveland eventually, we just didn’t know when. After the Heat were thoroughly demolished in the Finals by the Spurs, Dwyane Wade looked physically worn-out, Chris Bosh looked mentally exhuasted, and LeBron looked like he was finished carrying yet another team to the finals, only to lose to a more complete team (as in 07’, when LeBron put his then-Cavs team on his back only to be swept in the finals by the Spurs).
With his move to Cleveland, LeBron finds himself on a roster filled with young talent. 2011, ‘13, and ‘14 number-one-overall picks Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins, as well as other first-round picks Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, round out a roster with its best days squarely in front of it. Adding LeBron fast-tracks the team’s expectations for big things, with the Cavs going from 60-1 to 4-1 to win the title next year after LeBron announced his decision.
Believe it or not, there were other important signings around the league over the past week as well.
Even though the Miami Heat are no longer favorites to win the East, Riley is clearly not interested in a rebuilding project. The Heat’s signings of Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger were not enough to entice LeBron to come back, but re-signing Bosh, adding Luol Deng, and likely re-signing Wade put this team on the road to a playoff-caliber roster. If they are able to make another move or two, they could be right back in the mix next year for a top 4 spot in the East.
It’s notable that Miami was able to bring Bosh back, as he looked destined for signing with the Houston Rockets. But Bosh decided to take the max deal with Miami instead (and nearly $33 million more than the Rockets could offer him), leaving the Rockets – thought to be big players in the market for nearly every big free agent name – left to resort to backup plans. Bosh signing with the Rockets would have probably made the team a favorite in the West, given their intent to match Dallas’ offer sheet to Rocket’s forward Chandler Parsons were they also be able to land Bosh. Without Bosh, Houston decided not to match the Mavericks’ offer for Parsons, thus losing out on both players, and having to settle for signing Washington Wizards’ forward Trevor Ariza. The Mavericks acquisition of Parsons was a savvy move, and definitely lessens the blow of losing veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, as Parsons brings instant-offense and athleticism to the Dallas lineup.
This is where the domino effect that LeBron moving to Cleveland is really felt. If LeBron re-signed with the Heat, Miami might not have been able to offer Bosh a max deal, Bosh may have landed in Houston, Houston may have matched Dallas’ offer for Parsons, and Rockets fans would be ecstatic right now instead of brutally disappointed.
The other big free agent out there was Knicks’ forward Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo was rumored to be considering the Bulls and the Lakers if he did not return to New York. The Bulls would clearly have offered the best scenario to win the soonest. With former-MVP Derrick Rose coming back, Chicago’s defensively stellar yet offensively impotent team would have been complete by signing Carmelo, still a top-3 scorer in the league. Instead, Carmelo decided to return to New York and build a team with new President and NBA legend Phil Jackson. Carmelo took a $7 million discount from the max deal the Knicks could have offered him, so it’s not fair to say that he chose the money over winning, but at the same time, NBA fans have to wonder what exactly Jackson promised in terms of signing players in the future in order to lure Carmelo back to New York AND take a discount. I think it’s safe to assume the Knicks will be major players in signing big-time free agents in the summer of 2015.
All was not lost for the Bulls however, as they were able to get Lakers’ free agent Pau Gasol. Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson represent the one of the best frontcourts in the league and definitely the best in the East. Along with Jimmy Butler and draftee Doug “Dougie McBuckets” McDermott, the Bulls are right up there with the Cavs and Pacers as favorites to come out of the East next year.
Other moves of lesser significance included Jazz restricted free agent Gordon Hayward going back to Utah after they matched an offer from the Charlotte Bobcats, Paul Pierce signing with the Wizards, and the Suns acquiring point guard Isaiah Thomas from Sacramento in a sign-and-trade. Lakers fans seem less than pleased about Linsanity coming to Los Angeles, as the Lakers acquired point guard Jeremy Lin from Houston for a future first round pick. So yes, that means Lin, Steve Nash, Nick Young, and Kobe will feature in the backcourt for the Lakers next season – Brittany Elias explains how to finance television shows here, so there is no excuse for this not becoming a reality TV show.
Who is left?
Well, Pacers’ shooting guard Lance Stephenson is the biggest name still available and has been linked to the Mavericks or a return to the Pacers. Stephenson is a dynamic playmaker and can really contribute for the right price. Otherwise, restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe is likely headed back to Phoenix, as the Suns’ move for Thomas was with the intent that he would be the third guard behind Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Also, LeBron’s former Heat teammates Mike Miller and Ray Allen are available and have been rumored to be pushing for a reunion with LeBron in Cleveland. Small forwards Shawn Marion and Evan Turner are also free agents who could help a contender if used correctly, which Turner most certainly was not in Indiana this spring. Pistons’ restricted free agent center Greg Monroe is the last of the bigger names out there, but I’d think his price tag is likely too high to land him on a contender.
With all of this shuffling, the most intriguing move left on the board is the destination of Kevin Love. The Timberwolves most certainly know that Love will not re-sign with the team after his current deal expires at the end of the 2014-2015 season, so they are pursuing every trade option possible. While Golden State seemed like the most likely destination for Love to land this summer, the Warriors decided they did not want to include shooting guard Klay Thompson in the deal. Now, the Cavs are looking to team LeBron up with Love, his US Olympic teammate. The deal points are still uncertain, and Cleveland has apparently declared any offer involving Andrew Wiggins off the table, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavs opt to pursue this further. If Minnesota doesn’t get a deal done, they would be left with a desperation move this season to trade Love before the trade deadline or lose him for nothing. My bet is that he will be shipped somewhere before the end of the summer and Vegas odds-makers will have to adjust their favorite to win the title yet again.
Between NBA free agency and the World Cup, the sports world has been quite entertaining for the past few weeks.