It's the latest trope to hit the NBA. It's the saving grace of fading franchises in major markets, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks. It's the long-shot hope of a mid-tier team like the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's the supposed bane of superstar-laden squads, like the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks.
"Wait until 2014."
Wait for what, exactly? A knight in shining armor to arrive on horseback? A miracle from the mountaintop to shift the natural order? Another redistribution of fortunes from Robin Hood himself?
Or something. That all depends on how dramatic you'd want to make it.
It's all well and good that the Lakers will have only Steve Nash's $9.7 million on the books and figure to feature plenty of cap space once Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are either re-signed at steep discounts or sloughed off entirely.
The same goes for the Mavs, who should have room enough for a max free agent after Dirk Nowitzki takes a "significant pay cut" to which he's already committed.
There will be others, too, depending on how the rest of this year's free-agent class and the 2013-14 season play out.
But will there be anyone to sign?
All eyes will be on James, who—along with Wade, Bosh and 'Melo—will have the option to terminate his current contract and re-enter the free-agent market next summer. For James, though, a move away from South Beach seems highly unlikely, especially if the Heat wrap up a three-peat in the spring.
Would any of the Big Three really leave behind a clear opportunity at NBA history in Miami for a new and unknown situation in another city, with all the grueling legwork that accompanies the construction of a contender?
Let's just say I have my doubts, especially when considering the upcoming situations of the most likely suitors.
The Lakers are bound for a down year after losing Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets, waiting for Kobe Bryant's Achilles to heal up, burdening Pau Gasol and Steve Nash with the team's fortunes, and cutting Metta World Peace for "good measure."
The Mavs are coming off one such year of their own and could be ticketed for another after striking out in free agency once again. Their hopes for success now hinge on the fickle feelings—and unknown knees—of Andrew Bynum, who ESPN.com reports is also weighing offers from Cleveland and the Atlanta Hawks.
The Cavs' immediate playoff hopes are similarly contingent on Bynum. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Cleveland has enticed Bynum with a two-year, $24 million deal that's laden with incentives and a team option for the second year.
The intrigue of playing with Kyrie Irving and the drying up of the rest of the market could be enough to convince Bynum to sign, though there's still no guarantee that the Cavs would be anything more than the seventh or eighth seed in the East, if that.
In each of these cases, then, there exists a distinct possibility—if not a probability—of landing in the lottery rather than competing in the postseason.
Which, again, leads me to wonder whether a team fresh off a losing season would have any pull with a superstar free agent in a championship situation like LeBron or even one with a now perennially competitive team like 'Melo with his hometown Knicks.
If the Lakers, with their unsettled situation up top in the wake of Dr. Jerry Buss' death, couldn't convince Dwight to stay after having him in their locker room for a season, how could they hope to lure an even better player away from a more immediately successful situation?
How are the Mavs supposed to attract big names to Big D after failing to deliver a winning pitch to a local talent (Deron Williams) and garnering less-than-serious consideration from another (Dwight) who wound up elsewhere in Texas?
Not to mention the ill will the Mavs likely built up for themselves by parting ways with Steve Nash in 2004 and Tyson Chandler in 2011.
And, really, you think LeBron's going back to Cleveland? After all of the jersey burnings and angry emails written in Comic Sans? You think he's going to leave behind Biscayne Bay and the shot at basketball immortality afforded thereabouts to return to Cleveland?
Sure. And Andrew Wiggins can fly.
Okay, so maybe that wasn't the best example. In any case, there's plenty of reason to believe that next year's early-termination-eligible superstars won't be going anywhere—much less to losing teams.
What options, then, might the Lakers, Mavs, Cavs and others have?
There could be some intriguing names to consider from the pool of restricted free agents. Paul George, John Wall, Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, Evan Turner, Larry Sanders and Derrick Favors will be among those expecting significant raises after exhausting their rookie deals.
That doesn't mean their incumbent teams will allow outside competition to pry them away.
George and Wall are prime candidates to sign extensions prior to the late-October deadline, while others—particularly Monroe, Bledsoe and Boogie—could see whatever offer sheets they field from other teams matched without a second thought from their current employers.
Truth be told, Hayward, Turner, Sanders and Favors, while nice players with solid upside, are hardly the sort around which a team like the Lakers would look to build a long-term championship contender.
Neither is Rudy Gay, who can leave the Toronto Raptors after next season. Zach Randolph has a player option of his own worth $16.5 million, but he has shown no inclination toward leaving the Memphis Grizzlies and seeking out the substantial pay cut that'd accompany such a departure.
And if you think the San Antonio Spurs are splitting with Tony Parker, a perennial MVP candidate, just because his deal isn't fully guaranteed for 2014-15, then you haven't been paying attention to what's been happening in the Alamo City during the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era.
This isn't to say that the market will be completely barren. Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut, Marcin Gortat and Charlie Villanueva should all have several strong years left on their respective career clocks.
However, Wojnarowski reports that Deng and the Chicago Bulls are discussing an extension. Granger and Bogut have both proven to be far too injury-prone to merit major money and the starring roles such compensation would demand. Meanwhile, Gortat and Villanueva, while solid players, are the kinds of guys you build with, not around.
But...but...but, what about Kobe and Pau and Dirk and Paul Pierce?
It's tough to see Bryant and Nowitzki leaving their longtime teams behind, unless things turn sour in a hurry or retirement rears its expected head. Then again, who would've thought that The Truth would ever suit up in anything other than Boston Celtics green?
Still, don't expect Kobe and Dirk to go anywhere.
Gasol and Pierce might, but while those two would've been superb cornerstones even three or four years ago, they're both comfortably into their 30s now, with the on-court deterioration to prove it.
Gasol's fresh off the worst year of his potential Hall of Fame career, in terms of both games missed and pure productivity, while Pierce showed over the course of the Celtics' season that he's not exactly equipped to handle a heavy workload anymore.
Not exactly the prettiest of pictures, now is it?
For those of you who are now distraught after having so much hope for 2014, don't despair. For one, most of the discussion herein is hypothetical, albeit with some sense of logic built in. It's still possible that LeBron, Carmelo and company decide to set up shop elsewhere come next July.
And even if they don't, the class of 2015 will have some gems of its own to offer, between Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and possibly Kevin Love, among others.
Perhaps, then, it would behoove some of those teams hoping for slam dunks in free agency to stay flexible and build through the draft—which should be loaded with top-flight talent in 2014—while awaiting an alley-oop pass from a prospective veteran in the years to come.
Or perhaps those teams should start trying out the NBA's other new and popular trend: piling up assets with which to eventually arrange for a trade involving a young stud who's soon set for a massive payday. Think Deron Williams to the Nets or James Harden to the Houston Rockets.
The possibilities are endless, and each year brings a new bundle of them.
The key for any team in any tier of today's NBA is to be ready with every turn of the calendar rather than heaping all its hopes and dreams onto one particular offseason, as would seem to be the case for at least a select few—if not many more—in 2014.