Though the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs has provided a surprising amount of upsets and drama, the rumor mill never really stops swirling. For teams still playing and those on vacation, there is already speculation about what may unfold this summer.
The playoffs should take center stage, with a wide-open field and a few shocking upsets looming. However, for those interested in potential offseason activity, check out the latest rumors below.
Melo's Free-Agency Plan
Though there is uncertainty about whether Miami's Big Three will opt out of their contracts, Carmelo Anthony is a sure bet to decline his $23.5 million player option. Anthony can receive a more lucrative long-term extension from New York, or he can bolt the dysfunctional Knicks for a more promising chance at immediate contention.
The Knicks will always be a free-agent draw, but even with Phil Jackson in tow as president, there is significant question as to whether Anthony will remain after missing the postseason for the first time in his career. According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, Anthony wants to replicate the college recruitment-style free-agency process that Dwight Howard and LeBron James have conducted in recent summers:
Free agency opens on July 1, and, the source said, Anthony would like, “the Dwight Howard treatment.” That means he wants to go through the same sort of process that Howard went through last summer, when Howard set up shop in Los Angeles and set up meetings with five teams—Houston, the Lakers, Dallas, Golden State and Atlanta—each of whom came in and made formal presentations.
In fact, Jackson might not even represent that much of a draw. It's a statement about the Zen Mater that appears blasphemous, but Jackson is apparently already asking Anthony to make sacrifices for the Knicks:
Phil Jackson wants Carmelo Anthony to take less money to re-sign with Knicks http://t.co/Tn82SRjW3I— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 23, 2014
It's not an unreasonable request from Jackson. The Knicks will be over the projected salary cap even if Anthony leaves, and New York will not have any real salary flexibility until after Amar'e Stoudemire's contract expires following the 2014-15 season.
Anthony remains a singularly talented scorer who took an unfair amount of flak for the Knicks' organizational incompetence. Anthony's field goal percentage and three-point percentage were his highest since arriving in New York, and he set a career high with 10.4 win shares. With a stellar 50.3 percent effective field goal percentage (eFG%) that was nearly identical to his 2012-13 mark, Anthony was far from the source of the Knicks' problems.
Approaching his 30th birthday, Anthony may no longer want to solely carry the burden (and also the blame). Though leaving his hometown club would seem unfathomable, circumstances may dictate a change of location for Anthony.
Early in the year, Lance Stephenson looked like he was going to price himself out of Indiana's price range. A dynamic and fearless shot-creator, Stephenson at his best is a backcourt weapon capable of goosing any offensive attack.
However, Stephenson's surly demeanor has manifested itself in some ugly incidents. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported a fistfight in practice between Stephenson and Evan Turner, a report that both players have since downplayed:
Pacers G Lance Stephenson confirms that he & Evan Turner got into scuffle before Game 1 of series vs Hawks, but denies punches were thrown.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 23, 2014
Nevertheless, the Pacers' malaise and Stephenson's attitude are having deleterious effects on his once promising free-agent prospects. According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, front office personnel are growing wary of shelling out annual eight-figure salaries for Stephenson:
One league executive said the problems that have arisen—the public ones, remember, not the behind-the-scenes ones—with Stephenson will cut deep into his value on the free-agent market, and that a deal worth $7 million-$8 million per year is more likely to be Stephenson’s range now.
“You hear things, for sure,” one general manager told Sporting News this week. “Stephenson is a guy who has talent, but if you have a young team and you’re building up a culture, you have to consider that before you pursue a guy who might affect your locker room negatively. You have to do your due diligence.
Stephenson's play has not precipitously dropped after the All-Star break, unlike some of his teammates. His true-shooting percentage has only dipped from 56.7 percent to 55.9 percent. The big drop comes in his plus-minus rating, which has cratered from plus-9.4 to minus-1.4 per 100 possessions.
It's hard to quantify how much of that is due to Stephenson and how much is due to, say, Roy Hibbert's sudden immobility. Stephenson still finished runner-up for the Most Improved Player award, and his on-court profile appears befitting of a big raise.
Nonetheless, Stephenson may now be back in Indiana's price range. Ironically, though, the Pacers may no longer seek to keep him depending on how their playoff run shakes out.
Shipping Out of Boston?
As a rebuilding team, the Boston Celtics are searching for diamonds on a rough roster. Jeff Green, who once went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, was supposed to assume the scoring load and demonstrate consistency as the top option for the first time in his career.
However, Green failed to deliver on his tantalizing (and increasingly frustrating) promise. His shooting percentages declined precipitously, something one might expect given increased usage. Except for the fact that Green's usage barely shifted, going from 22.2 in 2012 to 23.6 in 2013.
Consequently, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge might find it more prudent to move Green's $9.2 million salary. The 27-year-old has a 2015-16 player option for the same price as well, one that seems above market value for a secondary scoring option who has ostensibly peaked.
Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald suggested that Green was "eminently movable" to a contender this offseason. The Celtics are projected to have $56.3 million committed to the salary cap next year, per ShamSports.com. However, that does not factor in a salary for a potential top-five pick, or an extension for restricted free agent Avery Bradley.
Moving Green would go against Ainge's recent sentiments, however. Circumstances change, but at the trade deadline, Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling suggested that Ainge wanted to build around a core of Green, Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger:
Hearing the Celtics are not likely to trade Jeff Green, with the mindset they want to build around him, Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) February 12, 2014
Green has not provided evidence that he can bring the nightly intensity and focus required to be a team's top scorer, though. It appears the role he played in Oklahoma City, where he was a secondary wing scorer behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, is a much more tenable long-term fit.
With a huge stockpile of draft picks, the Celtics have enough assets to make any kind of move they want. Trading Green is an option that would free up some financial breathing room, critical for a franchise that likely harbors ambitions of re-creating the Big Three model they had in their last championship window.