5 Teams That Will Be Prime Free-Agent Destinations During 2014 Offseason
With the playoffs past their midpoint and the NBA Finals around the corner, free agency has become a hot topic. Bleacher Report's Michael Pina recently broke down which players highlight the 2014 free-agent class, but there's one question to keep in mind as the summer approaches: Where are the top destinations?
While an argument can be made for numerous teams across the league, a few key factors give a handful of franchises the edge. Location, roster makeup and potential for success are all important, but as we all know, the almighty dollar is just as persuasive.
Unless you have a crystal ball, there's no telling where each player will land in July. That said, it's easier to see where the best situations are, giving us an idea of which teams will be most desirable before the 2014-15 season.
There are plenty of teams that deserve to be considered honorable mentions. The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are free-agent hot spots for role players taking pay cuts. The Orlando Magic will have money to spend to surround a young core.
Even the Toronto Raptors could enter the conversation as a top-three seed (with a rabid fanbase), as they will have cash to spend if numerous pieces depart, Kyle Lowry included.
Two teams, however, barely missed the cut: the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls.
The Jazz will have plenty of money to spend this summer, but that cash could be a facade if Gordon Hayward commands more coin than anticipated.
On the contrary, if Hayward leaves and the cap space remains, that's one young piece from a promising nucleus that disappears from a rebuilding organization.
It's a Catch-22, but it's one that shouldn't scare away anyone who's truly interested in revitalizing this organization.
Unlike the Jazz, the Bulls enter the offseason with no money to spend. That could change, though, with a few key roster moves.
The most important move Chicago could make is involving Carlos Boozer. The Bulls still have the amnesty clause at their disposal, and ridding themselves of the big man and his contract (and a few other players along the way) would open up space for a significant free agent to play alongside Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.
Joakim Noah once asked the question, "What's so good about Cleveland?" The city may not have the bright lights of New York or the sunny beaches of Miami, but entering the 2014 offseason, it has its selling points to incoming free agents.
For starters, let's look at the point guard position. Kyrie Irving, despite coming off an inconsistent season, is one of the most promising young floor generals in the NBA. No team in today's game can thrive with only one star, but having the first piece in place is crucial when pitching to free agents.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, they may already have a second piece in place as well. The team hasn't drafted well since Irving, but with the upcoming No. 1 pick in June, the team will have another strong selling point in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or another player with superstar potential.
Money is also important here. Because the Cavs can't offer big-market exposure, substantial cap room will be crucial once Anderson Varejao, Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng officially come off the books.
Cleveland may not look like a contender today, but in a top-heavy conference, a return to contention won't be far away with the right moves.
“We want to get better as a team,” Nowitzki said. “And I'm pretty sure I'm not going to sign Kobe's deal, unfortunately [Bryant signed a two-year, $48-million extension]. We'll find a good way where I feel respected for what I did and we still have enough money left for us to get great players in here. Cubes has been great to me and been loyal to me for a long, long time. I'm sure we're going to find a great solution for everybody.”
A pay cut for Nowitzki means good things for the Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban isn't shy about reaching for the stars in free agency, and that means the team should transition nicely away from the Nowitzki era.
The good part for Dallas, and more specifically its potential free-agent acquisitions, is that the team has already begun that process. Monta Ellis proved to be a great first option at times in his first season under Rick Carlisle, and with players such as Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert potentially coming off the books, there's room to start fresh—something the team has tried to do for the past few seasons.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers have no head coach, their star is aging (not to mention recovering from injury) and they're coming off their worst season in franchise history.
So what makes them such a desirable free-agent destination? There's more reasons than you might think.
Although the Lakers have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, this is an organization that's never down for too long. The free-agent class of 2015 has the potential to bring this team back to prominence, but the 2014 group of players will have the chance to get in early before all the money goes toward a superstar.
Detractors will point out L.A.'s expensive living costs and tax situations, but for players making millions of dollars, the allure of Tinseltown often takes priority. This summer is Step 1 toward a return to greatness, and players would be foolish to pass on the opportunity to join in on the expedited rebuild.
The Philadelphia 76ers have set themselves up wonderfully for the future. Along with having the reigning Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, at the forefront of the rebuild, the team has two lottery picks in the upcoming draft; the third and 10th overall selections.
Throw Nerlens Noel into the mix, and you're adding three lottery picks to the franchise—a franchise that will have money to spend in July.
From a basketball standpoint, joining the Sixers makes sense if a player is willing to be a leader. Former Sixer Charles Barkley told Sportsradio 94WIP (h/t Philadelphia.cbslocal.com), "With the good young players they got, I think it [Philadelphia] is going to be a destination for a guy."
The problem is, not everybody believes Philly can pull off a big acquisition. Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer stated recently, "no valuable veteran players are forming a line outside the Wells Fargo Center and pounding the front doors to be let in, and none will for a long while."
The pieces are in place for the Sixers to be a hot spot for free agents. The question is: Will that come to fruition in 2014?
The Phoenix Suns have flipped the script in the desert.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Phoenix was considered a bottom-feeder out West. Nobody expected it to push for a spot in the playoffs, yet it finished with 48 wins—one spot outside of the conference's top eight.
The Suns, who have an up-and-coming sense about them, have another thing available for incoming free agents: playing time. Unless you're a starting guard, there are minutes to go around, which is something many playoff-caliber organizations can't provide.
Then, of course, there's money. Phoenix will have plenty of it to go around, and while a good chunk of it could go to Eric Bledsoe, that would be money well spent to retain a great backcourt option.
Combine all of this with nice weather and an incredible training staff, and you've got one of the top destinations for players looking to change teams this summer.
*Teams are listed in alphabetical order, and teams with cap space were determined using Basketball Insiders.