The NBA playoffs are in full swing with some of the most competitive first-round matchups in recent memory. Although there's still plenty of basketball left to be played, a lot of teams have already directed their attention to the upcoming 2014 NBA draft and free agency.
With some of the most storied franchises in the biggest markets suffering disappointing seasons, the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers will all be looking to right the ship this summer. That being said, major changes are potentially on the horizon for these teams, with some looking to the draft and others to free agency.
Along with the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics trying to get back on track, other teams around the league are on the cusp of becoming title contenders needing that one missing piece to the puzzle. Free agency will be where most of these teams try to acquire that piece, but there's limited options this summer, and that may lead them to battle it out for these three players.
Arguably the most sought-after free agent in the NBA this summer will be superstar Carmelo Anthony. There's still no guarantee that Anthony will opt out of his current deal with the New York Knicks, but all signs appear to leading in that direction, as stated by Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk:
Carmelo Anthony will opt out of the final year of his deal to become an unrestricted free agent, and he’ll be touring teams to hear their sales pitches in much the same way we saw Dwight Howard go about things last summer.
With Anthony on the open market, many teams will likely show interest in signing the veteran forward.
Early indications have the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers all interested in his services once officially an unrestricted free agent in July. According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, "The Bulls, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are among a group of teams expected to pursue him this summer."
Earlier in the season, Anthony hinted at the prospect of taking less money if it meant playing for a winner, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman. Big-name players like Anthony nearing their 30s tend to make comments like these when approaching free agency if they haven't already won that elusive championship ring or think their current team isn't going in the right direction.
Obviously, despite the recent hiring of Phil Jackson, the Knicks have been headed into a downward spiral as of late with no telling what the future holds for the storied New York franchise.
Although uncertainty looms in New York, Anthony staying with the Knicks seems to be a likely scenario with Jackson having an opportunity to convince him over the next few months.
Despite New York still being an option, Anthony will sign with the Bulls.
It has been no secret that the Bulls are in desperate need of a scorer of Anthony's caliber. Chicago was recently bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Wizards due to the fact that it simply couldn't be a force offensively with Derrick Rose still on the shelf with a knee injury.
With that being said, the Bulls have the best opportunity to offer. Anthony will get a shot to play with an elite defense with a brilliant head coach in Tom Thibodeau calling the shots. The superstar will also be paired with Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah.
Along with Rose and Noah, the Bulls have a host of solid role players to surround Anthony with like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich.
The Rockets, Clippers and Lakers will have their sales pitch along with the Knicks, but in the end, Anthony ends up in Chicago.
Prediction: Melo signs with the Bulls
The relationship with the Lakers has been a rocky one for Pau Gasol over the last three years, with the four-time All-Star being mentioned in trade rumors on an annual basis. Although the Lakers have been reluctant to pull the trigger on a deal to send Gasol elsewhere, the Spaniard is excited at the prospect of finally being able to control his own fate this summer as a free agent.
At 33 years old, 34 in July, Gasol is no spring chicken. The veteran big man will be a free agent for the first time in his career, but he won't get the same kind of offers he did a few years ago.
Along with being at an advanced age, Gasol had his fair share of injury problems this season that kept him off the court for 22 games. In fact, Gasol has played a total of 102 games over the past two seasons due to constant injury issues. That won't bode well for the two-time NBA champion on the open market.
Although Gasol is a bit banged up and no longer the dominant player of old, there will still be considerable interest in his services, as he brings a lot to the table with championship experience to go along with a versatile skill set.
With that being said, teams looking for that extra piece to the championship puzzle will likely reach out to Gasol this summer.
One team that could be a perfect fit is Chicago.
As of right now, the Bulls still have Carlos Boozer under contract for next season, but that might not be the case for long. Boozer may be traded or amnestied before next season. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, "Sources briefed on Chicago's thinking say the Bulls are going to do everything they can to try to find a trading partner for Boozer before seriously considering the amnesty option."
Amnestying or trading Boozer would be a move to clear cap space for Anthony, not Gasol. If Gasol did decide to come to Chicago, it would have to be considerably less than he's accustomed to after making over $19 million with the Lakers this season.
Honestly I’m not ruling out renewing my contract, I’m just open to every option. My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations. It couldn’t be any other way. I want to be in a team with a real chance of winning a ring and where I can help to compete for it. I would like to win another championship. The financial side comes second at this stage of my career.
With money not being an issue and the Bulls potentially going all-out for Anthony, Gasol joining the Bulls makes sense in so many ways. Noah will continue to be the starter, but Gasol could shift to power forward while sharing time with Gibson.
Other potential landing spots for Gasol will be the Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies. The prospect of reuniting with Phil Jackson, Lamar Odom and possibly Metta World Peace might be an option for the veteran, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
Since being hired as the Knicks' president, Jackson has signed former Lakers forward Lamar Odom to a contract and met with former Lakers forward Metta World Peace. The Knicks would be interested in Gasol in free agency, a source said.
There will be no shortage of options for Gasol this summer as he tests the free-agent waters, but Chicago seems like the best bet to win a title for a player that might only have a few more years left before calling it a career.
Prediction: Gasol will sign with the Bulls
In an interesting move by the Bulls, Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for center Andrew Bynum and draft picks. The trade took many by surprise, as it seemed to signal the beginning of a potential rebuilding process in Chicago following yet another season-ending knee injury for Derrick Rose.
Once officially dealt to Cleveland, the Cavs appeared to have a roster that could compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The combination of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Luol Deng was thought to be promising in Cleveland, but it never seemed to work out.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the gamble to acquire Deng failed miserably. The Cavs will see another big-name player leave town in free agency this summer for a better situation elsewhere.
Despite being one of the better defenders in the league at his position, it is uncertain what level of interest there will be in Deng's services. There's no doubt he'll draw numerous offers, but it is unclear how lucrative they'll be due to his injury history at 29.
One team that will be looking for a player of Deng's caliber will be the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers will have the majority of their contracts coming off the books this summer and will be looking to acquire some new faces. Outside of the potential signing of Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers might not go all-in this offseason with an emphasis on reloading in free agency during the summer of 2015 with Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo potentially being available.
As we approach the summer, we will see who's available and weigh it against what we think is a sound and prudent basketball and business decision. And we'll decide whether to sign that player versus some other player this summer, or take somebody in a trade or make a trade, and weight it against the option of waiting another year.
With Gasol potentially leaving in free agency and Anthony looking for a winning situation right now, the Lakers may consider Deng as their best option this summer. Deng would be a considerable upgrade on the defensive end of the floor while also providing an offensive boost.
Deng will have more than one suitor in free agency, but the Lakers will offer him a deal in which he'll play a major role over the next few years alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
Prediction: Deng will sign with the Lakers