The young stars shined bright for a brief moment during the NBA draft on Thursday night, but then it was straight back to the biggest question surrounding the league this summer: where will some of its top stars be playing next season?
Come July 1, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will be unrestricted free agents, and a few teams will have the opportunity to convince two of the Association's only true superstars to join their side. Although the King and Melo hitting the market is all this offseason needs to be great, they represent only the start of a star-studded list of players who could change locations before 2014-15.
Let's break down the latest rumors from around the NBA in the hours and days after Thursday's draft.
Knicks Optimistic About 'Melo; Eyeing Pau Gasol
When Carmelo Anthony's impending free agency became official, all of the hype surrounded the mutual interest between Anthony and the Chicago Bulls, as noted by ESPN New York's Ian Begley. Slowly but surely, the Knicks seemed to be fading into the background of the Anthony sweepstakes, and it seemed as though they were on the verge of losing their star player.
Well, apparently not. Early on Saturday, Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Knicks are "increasingly optimistic about their chances of re-signing" Anthony despite his impending meetings with other teams:
Sources told ESPN.com that Knicks officials, while not willing to trumpet it publicly with free agency fast approaching, are quietly confident about their odds of retaining Anthony thanks in part to the idea that new team president Phil Jackson and the high-scoring forward have 'connected' to some degree.
The Knicks might not be able to match the sheer star talent of Houston or Chicago, especially with a salary-cap problem stemming from the nightmarish Amar'e Stoudemire deal, among others. But with Phil Jackson running the show and anything being possible in free agency—including the possibility of luring James to the Big Apple, as he reportedly has the Knicks on his short list, per ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required)—the chances of Melo returning to the Knicks are still very much alive.
New York is also trying to bring in Lakers big man and impending free agent Pau Gasol, per Stein:
It might be somewhat comical to think that luring Gasol to New York would give the Knicks the upper-hand over the stacked teams that Anthony will be talking to in free agency. But don't count out the Knicks' chances of making enough moves to convince their star to stay.
They selected two players in the draft who could come in right away and play in Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and Gasol—although he is 33 and certainly not the dominant presence he was during L.A.'s title reign—still has enough to be a complementary piece next to a superstar.
It may not be able to do enough to keep Anthony from joining forces with one of the many teams courting him over the coming days, but New York certainly isn't giving up on Melo.
Celtics Not Giving Up on Rondo...Yet
The selection of Marcus Smart with the No. 6 overall pick in Thursday night's draft may complicate things in Boston's backcourt.
Smart plays enough of a scorer's role to man the 2-guard spot, but theoretically he is a point guard who brings the ball up the floor and commands the offense. But wait, the Celtics already have one of the NBA's best at doing that in Rajon Rondo.
So does that mean Rondo is done in Boston and that the pipe dream of connecting him with another star in Celtic green is all but forgotten?
Perhaps not yet, according to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett:
The Celtics’ first choice in all this is to keep Rondo and find better players to put around him, but if they are unable to do that, they will have to confront the issue of his impending free agency. The club went into its rebuild with last summer’s trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett knowing it had to show a clear path to again being a contender before Rondo could depart on his own in 2015.
The Celts have made decent strides, but first-round picks Smart and James Young will be 20 and 19, respectively, when next season begins. Before you even confront the question of whether Rondo and Smart are built to be together for a long haul, there is the pressing concern that Rondo may not want to wade through the longer reinvention project. He has thus far pledged allegiance to Danny Ainge and the Celts, but that could change if the enterprise is bobbing around .500.
Second-year head coach Brad Stevens has made some strides in his short time in Boston, but there's little doubt that with two young draft picks—Smart and Kentucky's James Young—the Celtics are a few years away from contending if no serious moves are made this offseason. Rondo is 28, and his window of being one of the league's best point guards isn't staying open forever.
Immediately after the selection of Smart was made, folks around the league took notice, per the Boston Globe:
Still, the Celtics see Smart and Rondo co-existing well together, per MassLive.com's Jay King:
It might be tough early on for Smart to thrive while playing alongside a point guard like Rondo, but he's shown through two years with Oklahoma State that he can be deadly as a pure scorer. That sort of skill on the perimeter is hard to come by, and the C's could use his impact whether Rondo is in the fold or not.
Obviously, the prospect of playing alongside one of the draft's best guards may be enticing for Rondo, but it is unnerving at the same time, especially considering that other solid frontcourt options were available at No. 6. At the least, the move has to have Rondo wondering what his future in Boston is.
LeBron's Options Continue to Grow
The most realistic option for LeBron James, even after opting out and entering the free-agent circus with his crown all polished, remains a return to the Heat, as concluded by a five-person panel of ESPN experts.
But seemingly every time he wakes up, he's greeted with another rumor of a notable NBA team scheming to pair him up with (insert superstar player here).
During Thursday night's draft, Broussard reported that Kevin Love is very much interested in uniting with James should the King return to Cleveland:
Surprise, surprise—a star player wanting to play with LeBron. Shocking, I know. But with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and now Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, the potential addition of Love would seem to do wonders for the Cavs' chances of luring back their former No. 1 overall pick.
The Lakers, always thought of to be major players during the upcoming free-agency cycle, are concocting a few plans of their own, per Broussard:
LeBron and Melo along with Kobe Bryant's $25-million-per-year contract? I wouldn't want to have to make those numbers fit under the salary cap.
Of course, the Heat have their own salary-cap mess to address if they want to attract James back to South Beach. Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick expects Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem to follow suit and opt out in order to help give Pat Riley some extra funds to bolster the roster. In fact, Haslem has already done so, as noted by Skolnick on Saturday morning.
The biggest obstacle that the Heat were expected to face over the offseason was the inevitable need to make significant additions to the roster with a lack of finances to actually do so. Had the Big Three all opted in along with Haslem, almost no money would be available for Riley to work with.
If winning is the biggest thing, James won't be shy to take another pay cut to help the Heat build the proper roster around him. Then again, seemingly every other team in the LeBron sweepstakes is aiming to offer the same sort of opportunity.
Needless to say, James' options are open as he enters July 1.
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