Now that the San Antonio Spurs have wrapped up the NBA championship, attention shifts to what's going on off the court—the 2014 draft and the free-agency period.
Although teams can't start officially negotiating with players until July 1, the rumor mill has been heating up for months. Team representatives have been leaking info all season to indirectly lure players this offseason and vice versa without breaking the league's rules on tampering.
But once July hits, everything can finally be out in the open.
For now, fans have to settle for rumors and conjecture.
Carmelo Anthony Will Opt Out, but Knicks Remain Confident of Keeping Him
It seems almost a foregone conclusion that Carmelo Anthony will opt out of his current deal. He can get more money by becoming a free agent and possibly improve his playing situation. There's almost no reason not to opt out at this point.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the New York Knicks star will become a free agent and may move on from New York altogether:
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
As re-signing with the Knicks continues to fade as his priority, Chicago and Houston have emerged as the clear frontrunners to acquire Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Anthony's meeting with Knicks officials on Friday night had little impact on his state of mind, league sources said, because there remain too many uncertainties about how quickly president Phil Jackson can reshape the team into a championship contender.
Marc Berman of the New York Post, however, reported that the Knicks believe Anthony won't be going anywhere:
Despite a report Anthony was “leaning’’ toward leaving the Knicks because of interest from the Bulls and Rockets, Knicks officials did not seem alarmed, according to NBA sources.
According to a source close to president Phil Jackson, “The meeting went well — [Anthony] will still most likely opt out — but all in all, a good meeting.’’
Whatever happens with Anthony could send ripples throughout the league. He's one of the most talented players in the NBA and could turn a team like the Bulls or Rockets into a title contender overnight. Anthony can't win a title on his own, but he's talented enough to join a team with ready-made talent and take it to the next step.
Tim Duncan's On the Clock
Tim Duncan has a player option for the 2014-15 season, and he's rapidly running out of time to inform the San Antonio Spurs if he'll activate it or not. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Duncan has a deadline of June 24:
It would seem crazy for the 14-time All-Star to leave San Antonio now. The team can still clearly be a contender. At 38 years old, he has a couple of seasons left at the maximum. There would be no reason for him to start over with a new franchise this late into his career, when he's already won multiple NBA titles.
If anything, Duncan could opt out of his current deal in order to sign a more team-friendly contract. He doesn't owe anything to the team, but he's left money on the table before to stay with the Spurs, so you wouldn't be surprised if he did it again.
LeBron James Will Stay with the Miami Heat
LeBron James isn't going anywhere. As bad as the Miami Heat played in the NBA Finals this year, they're still far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference at the moment, and they've made four straight NBA Finals appearances. One series doesn't wipe out everything the organization has done to this point.
As ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne reported, James has apparently decided what he's doing this offseason regardless of the Heat's loss to the Spurs:
The Miami Heat would have to make history to come back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit, but the future of their best player doesn't hinge on that happening.
The Heat's success or failure in these Finals will not affect LeBron James' decision on whether to opt out of his contract by the end of this month, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
That would lead you to believe that he will remain in Miami.
USA Today's Sam Amick wondered, though, if the totality of San Antonio's title win might end up changing James' mind:
Even more shocking than the Spurs' overwhelming efforts in the past two games is how quickly the Finals have changed the outlook when it comes to James' future. He may very well stick around in Miami, either to play out the last season on his current deal or opt out with some combination of the others (Wade and Chris Bosh also have player options) in order to re-sign.
Yet failure has a funny way of changing one's perspective, and the way these Heat are going down at the moment should be more than enough for James to rethink the idea of re-upping with this group. They left him all by himself in Game 4, with James (28 points on 10 of 17 shooting) more than doubling the Heat's second-highest scorer (Bosh with 12 points). James was hardly spectacular himself, as he was outplayed by Spurs rising star Kawhi Leonard (20 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks).
You can understand why James might be scared when looking into the future with the Heat in their current construction. Defensively, they're a mess and they aren't getting younger anytime soon.
If LeBron does stay in Miami, then you'd think he'd have some sort of assurance from owner Micky Arison that the team will spend the money necessary to remain in its current position in the league hierarchy.
Everybody can see the Heat need reinforcements. Chris Bosh is holding his own, but Dwyane Wade is declining at a rapid rate. A marquee name isn't a necessity, but the team at the very least must get some more depth on the bench and help on defense.
Carmelo Anthony Will Sign with the Chicago Bulls
One of the biggest names linked to the Heat was Anthony. ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein reported that Miami is considering pursuing the Knicks star:
Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team's leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.
The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract. Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions, according to sources.
Signing Anthony would allow James to breathe a little bit. No more of these one-man shows that became a staple of his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was the whole reason he left Cleveland in the first place, yet he's in the exact same situation again.
What the move wouldn't do is improve the Heat's defense.
Anthony's never been known as a very good defender, so even if Miami did add him this offseason, many of the issues it's currently having would continue to crop up.
As a result, the Melo-to-Miami talk will remain pure speculation.
Wojnarowski reported that the Bulls and Rockets are the top two contenders to land Anthony, and both make compelling cases. Between the two, Chicago makes a little more sense.
Tom Thibodeau already has the defensive structure in place to cover for Melo's deficiencies on that end of the court. The missing piece to the puzzle for the Bulls has been a scorer like Anthony, especially in the absence of Derrick Rose. Put him on that team and it immediately challenges the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy.