Now that the 2014 NBA draft is in the rear-view mirror, the focus shifts to free agency and the trade market. Based on the extremely active rumor mill during the early portion of the offseason, it's setting up to become a wild summer around the league.
Since there are so many big names, led by LeBron James, who could be on the move before next season, whichever team wins the offseason could very well be the new title favorite heading into 2014-15. Of course, the San Antonio Spurs will probably do very little and still contend; they are the exception more than the rule, however.
With that in mind, let's check out some of latest talk surrounding the teams that are lining up to potentially make a major splash over the next few months. Above all else, the rumors themselves should create an intriguing offseason atmosphere.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are right on the fringe of the championship picture. Adding James to the mix would take them to the top of the list, assuming they aren't forced to move multiple key pieces to get him.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that the Clips are definitely an option for the four-time MVP:
The most intriguing move on the mind of James and his camp, sources told Yahoo Sports, would be a sign-and-trade scenario with the Los Angeles Clippers in which James could play with close friend Chris Paul and under president-coach Doc Rivers. Nevertheless, Miami has remained the primary consideration for James, sources said. He wants to see Riley's plans for improving the roster.
James clearly relishes the ability to control where he plays and the teammates around him. That was the case leading up to his move to Miami, and now the same scenario is setting up again. Michael Wallace of ESPN provided comments from the forward about that power:
I'm in position to be able to do that. Not saying I want to take that option right now. I'm not sure yet. There's a lot of time when you're not in control of your future in professional sports. I've been fortunate to have two opportunities to do that -- in 2010, and if I decide to use it now, I can be in control of my future now.
Where will James play next season?
The reason why James heading to the Clippers is so worrisome to teams in the Western Conference is because of the presence of Chris Paul. James has dominated for virtually his entire career without having an elite point guard, so imagine what he could do with the best distributor in the game serving as his facilitator.
Whether or not they will be able to get the logistics to work is a question mark. But a foundation of James, Paul and Blake Griffin is more potent based on current ability than what the Heat can offer barring further upgrades to the roster.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are in a tricky position. The current roster isn't good enough to make a serious title bid, but they also can't go into a complete rebuild with Kobe Bryant still on the roster. Doing everything they can to put together their own dynamic trio is probably the only option.
It sounds like they are shooting for the stars, at least to begin the offseason. Chris Broussard of ESPN reports that James and Carmelo Anthony are squarely on the team's radar, with Chris Bosh also becoming a target should he decide to leave Miami:
Lakers' dream is to add LeBron & Melo this summer. If that fails would go for CBosh & Melo, sources say. That's assuming Bosh opts out— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 27, 2014
The key word in the entire scenario is "dream." Although it certainly sounds good on paper, Mitch Kupchak would have to work some serious magic to make any combination of that trio join the Lakers. It's definitely worth taking their best run at given their current situation, though.
Houston is another team frequently linked to a major addition this summer. The Rockets have two cornerstone pieces in James Harden and Dwight Howard. Now they are looking for a third, which is a common theme around the NBA these days.
One thing that would likely need to happen if they did line up a deal for James or Anthony is trading away Jeremy Lin to create the necessary cap space. Bleacher Report's Howard Beck reports that such a move is already prepared should they need to move quickly:
Rival exec tells me Rockets already have a Jeremy Lin deal lined up and ready to execute if they need the cap room to sign Melo or LBJ.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 26, 2014
The Rockets front office has done an underrated job over the past few seasons. Bringing one of those superstars to Houston would bring the group the praise it deserves. Anthony seems like the more realistic option, but the team hasn't shown a clear preference between the two so far.