Every year around this time you can hear the buzz. It’s the sound of the impending NBA free-agency period, which begins July 1.
Speculation and rumors about the next crop of free agents run rampant. Where will the star players sign? Will a new superteam be created? Which team will emerge as a legitimate title contender?
Yet more often than not, the free-agency period often ends in disappointment. Reality rarely exceeds expectations, as many players either chase the money on a bad team or decide to stay put in hopes of simultaneously winning a ring while staying loyal to their team.
The 2014 NBA free-agent class is loaded with big-name, franchise-caliber players. But don’t get too excited. In all likelihood, most of the top players won’t change cities or join your favorite team.
Here are the projected landing spots for a few of the top NBA players who could, but probably won’t, be on the move this summer.
The Big Three: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh
Wade, James and Bosh each have an early termination option, giving them the right to end their contracts and sign with any team or decline the option and remain with the Miami Heat. However, it is hard to picture a scenario where any of them opt out.
The Big Three are four victories away from winning their third consecutive NBA title, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the Los Angeles Lakers strung three titles together from 2000-2002.
Wade is the least likely of the trio to change teams. The Heat are his team, and he has been with the organization his entire career. The loyalty he shares with the franchise can’t be underestimated. He is an aging player with bad knees, and there isn’t another team out there that gives him a better opportunity to collect championship rings. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play with LeBron James?
Speaking of James, he came to Miami for one reason: to win championships. He already has two and is close to a third. He no longer cares about scoring titles or impressive statistics. Instead, his focus is on trying to match Kobe Bryant, and even Michael Jordan, in championships, because he likely has come to realize rings cement legacies.
While he could dramatically alter the NBA landscape by switching teams, and perhaps going back to Cleveland to try to win a ring for his home state, the probability of that is low. It doesn’t get much better than the situation in Miami.
Bosh averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in seven seasons with the Raptors before coming to Miami. He was the Raptors' best player and leading scorer, but Toronto only reached the playoffs twice and was eliminated in the first round both times.
With the Heat, Bosh’s statistics have decreased, but that is a result of being the team’s third option and not a decline in ability. After tasting champagne twice, it is hard to see him bolting the Heat for more money.
Prediction: Wade, James and Bosh all stay in Miami.
Anthony has a player option, giving him the power to decide whether he wants to stay for another year or become an unrestricted free agent. If any superstar is likely to leave, it’s him, but I still don’t see it.
Widely regarded as the second-best scorer in the league behind Kevin Durant, Anthony knows how to put the ball in the hole. But he won’t be in his prime forever, and eventually, championships will become more important than money and exposure.
I’m just not convinced that time is now.
Which star free agent would you most like to see change teams?
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has actively been recruiting Anthony to join the Bulls, per ESPN’s Chris Broussard. Noah believes Anthony could be the missing piece that allows the Bulls to win a championship, or two, while simultaneously cementing Anthony’s legacy as a winner.
But Chicago doesn’t seem to be a natural fit. The Bulls could use a scorer to complement a healthy Derrick Rose, but Anthony’s ball-hogging nature doesn’t exactly fit Tom Thibodeau’s strategy on offense.
The New York Knicks can make an offer that Anthony will have trouble turning down. They can give him an extra year and $30 million on his contract, as well as the continued opportunity to be the star player in the NBA’s largest market. Plus, the recent addition of Phil Jackson can’t be ignored. Jackson has a proven track record, and together, they can recruit players to join them in New York.
Prediction: Anthony stays in New York.
Like Anthony, Duncan also has a player option, but I don’t see him using it. He has been a Spur his entire career and his deep relationships with Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can’t be ignored. They have won championships together and have certainly proven over the last couple years they still have the ability to compete for rings.
Duncan is four victories away from his fifth championship. If he gets it, perhaps he retires. If not, he will likely stay with San Antonio to make another run at it next year. He has kept his body slim and has played effective basketball at the age of 38. The best way for him to compete for championships is to stay put.
Prediction: Duncan stays in San Antonio.
Nowitzki is an unrestricted free agent. He is free to sign with any team, but it’s hard to picture him not being a Maverick. Like Duncan, he has spent his entire career with the same organization, and owner Mark Cuban has proven his loyalty to the German by not being afraid to spend to bring in other players.
The power forward earned $22.7 million this season, and as Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News points out, Nowitzki knows he will need to take a pay cut in order to create enough cap room to sign quality free agents. Sefko estimates a contract around $10 million per year.
Winning takes a team effort, and Nowitzki is confident Cuban can strike a balance between paying him what he deserves while maintaining financial flexibility, per Sefko in an interview following the Mavericks' opening-round series loss to the Spurs.
We want to get better as a team. 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.
Last year, the Mavericks brought in Monta Ellis, who had a terrific season in Dallas. Despite the fact he will be 36 later this month, Nowitzki can still play at an All-Star level, as he averaged almost 22 points and six rebounds per game this year.
Like some of the players mentioned above, he doesn’t need to chase a ring. He won one in Dallas, and if Cuban makes a splash in free agency, he could very well win another.
Prediction: Nowitzki stays in Dallas.
Lowry was almost traded at last year’s trade deadline, but he played so well that Toronto couldn’t afford to lose him. The gritty and aggressive point guard had a career season and was a consistent stat-stuffer, averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per contest. Almost five rebounds a game for a six-foot point guard is particularly impressive.
While Lowry needs to become a better shooter (he is only a 41.8 percent shooter from the field and 35 percent shooter from deep), he is a tough defender and Toronto’s best player. The Raptors are young and talented, and if they want to make the playoffs on a consistent basis, they need to re-sign Lowry, even though it won’t come cheap.
Prediction: Lowry stays in Toronto.
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