With the excitement of the NBA draft done and dealt with, the basketball world will turn its attention to one of the most highly anticipated free-agency periods of recent memory.
The league's greatest player, LeBron James, will be an unrestricted free agent and faced with another decision that could alter the landscape of the league. What dominoes will fall based on his decision, and what will ultimately be the fate of the Big Three for the Miami Heat?
Carmelo Anthony, also an unrestricted free agent, is at a crossroads in his own right. Will he take the money and continue his career with the New York Knicks, or will he look for a team with more talent in an effort to win his first ring and define his legacy?
Will the Minnesota Timberwolves once again have to trade a transcendent talent at power forward named Kevin? After landing Kevin Garnett all those years ago, can the Boston Celtics do it again and nab Kevin Love? Or will a team like the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls or Phoenix Suns beat them to it?
As you can see, there's plenty to digest this offseason, and plenty of potential changes on the horizon. The draft was exciting, to be certain, but it's just the opening act for the main event. Let's take a more detailed look at the biggest storylines heading into the 2014 NBA offseason period:
LeBron's Decision, Take Two
Go ahead, try and avoid it over the next few days. Work, school, the gym, the bar...wherever you are, someone close by will be discussing LeBron James and what his next move should be.
It creates an interesting dynamic, if only because members of 29 fanbases will inevitably be disappointed, even if their teams had no realistic shot at landing James in the first place. But so long as there's a chance—and this is the first time there really has been since 2010—for the world's greatest player to change zip codes, fingers will be crossed around the nation.
Let's put it bluntly, though. Odds are, James stays in Miami. He has a great sidekick in Chris Bosh, who is still one of the most productive players in the league, and he has Dwyane Wade, a star whose overall impact still trumps his inconsistency and fragile health.
More importantly, he has options. If James can convince Wade and Bosh that all three of them should take paycuts, then he can help keep in place Miami's status as a championship contender. James, however, probably needs the assurance that the savings will be spent on a better roster and not on franchise tax breaks, as Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News recently reported:
James isn’t interested in reducing his salary from $20.6 next season and $22.1 million in 2015-16 just so that team owner Micky Arison can avoid paying luxury taxes. As they say, been there, done that and all it got James was second place.
Bosh, who makes identical money to James, and Wade, who makes slightly less, at around $41.5 million for the next two seasons, also don’t want to rework their deals solely to give Arison another tax break. They want the money put to good use, meaning adding talent so that Miami can return to the Finals for a fifth straight season.
While the Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs was certainly severe, it should be noted that the Heat still made it there. Get virtually anything from Wade, Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and two starting positions in general, and the outcome of the Finals might have been a different story.
In other words, the Heat's current situation isn't so messed up that it's beyond repair by any means.
James will have to weigh his legacy, and his departure will undoubtedly lead to a storm of public disappointment and backlash. Winning should take top priority, but Miami's ownership and team president Pat Riley have proven—with the exception of a few moves, such as letting Mike Miller walk—to be pretty dedicated to that goal over the years.
The opportunity to pair up with talent on other teams no doubt will be appealing, but James seemingly has much less incentive to leave now than he did back in 2010, when he played in Cleveland for a mismanaged franchise with a largely bumbling supporting cast. No other franchise out there is perfect, by any means.
No matter which path he chooses, though, the whole world will be watching.
If you want a player who has plenty of incentive to leave in free agency, Carmelo Anthony ranks pretty high up there. The New York Knicks were a mess last year, and despite the presence of Phil Jackson hopefully drowning out the voice of owner James Dolan, Anthony still faces the very real prospect of playing the majority of his minutes next year alongside Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire.
That's not appetizing in the least, and Anthony may not be thrilled to punt a year of his prime for the hope that he'll be able to help recruit another star player to New York in 2015-16. That's especially true since there appear to be teams with star cores ready to welcome him aboard, like the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.
Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports with more:
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.
What's the old saying? One in the hand is worth two in the bush? In New York, Anthony would be pairing up with zero stars and the hope that one will come once the Knicks clear massive space next season.
But the beauty of unrestricted free agency is that it's ultimately up to Anthony. He can join a team that has superstars already in place, even though it will cost him a pretty penny to do so.
It's pretty rare that a player with a talent level similar to Anthony becomes readily available, and we've already seen teams begin to jockey for position and clear space with trades and draft choices.
Just seeing which conference Anthony ends up in is interesting. If he comes out West, the balance of power will be even more drastically tilted that side of the standings. If he teams up with an actual contender in the East (someone other than Miami‚ perhaps the Heat won't experience the virtually unimpeded march to the the Finals that they've enjoyed in recent seasons.
With that in mind, don't rule out the possibility of Anthony and James finding somewhere to play together. As we've witnessed in previous offseasons, crazy things can happen.
Love, Rondo and Stealing 2015's Thunder
If this summer we don't get the explosiveness of LeBron changing teams or Carmelo Anthony pairing up with other stars, it might be up to the potential free agents of 2015 to keep us entertained.
Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love are two of the league's biggest stars, and it very well could be possible that both are dealt this offseason. Boston's selection of point guard Marcus Smart in the draft wasn't necessarily telling, but it was a bit curious, and Minnesota targeting raw athletic talents like Zach LaVine might signal that winning now isn't the ultimate priority.
Of the two players, Love seems like the most likely to be moved. Considering his transcendent talent and the type of production he's provided Minnesota over the years, he'd be one of the best players in recent memory to be traded. We could be analyzing a Love trade for years and years after the fact.
For right now, it's hard to say what Minnesota's plan is. Do they still want to try and compete for a playoff spot after losing Love, even if that means acquiring veterans instead of younger assets? Are they willing to bottom out a bit and rebuild? Minnesota hasn't been a factor in a long time, and in a crowded Western Conference, it isn't easy to instantly become one.
It's possible Minnesota will hold out for assets, as might be the case with a rumored deal with the Golden State Warriors. Here's ESPN.com's Marc Stein with the latest on Love:
Sources told ESPN.com that the teams have resumed dialogue on the much-discussed deal that would send Love to the Warriors, but neither side has yet shown a willingness to yield on the Klay Thompson issue.
The Wolves have been adamant that Thompson be included in the trade, but the Warriors' pursuit has been stalled by what ESPN.com reported last weekend has been described as an "organizational split" on the willingness to part with Thompson.
It will be interesting to see if Rondo and Love are dealt, and how LeBron's decision impacts them, if at all.
One big move could spark multiple others, and if this offseason lives up to its potential with all the big names involved and the major contenders angling for stars, we could be treated to a real show.
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