Burning Questions for 2014 NBA Free Agency

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

Burning Questions for 2014 NBA Free Agency

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    The NBA offseason got off to a riveting start thanks to a polarizing 2014 draft, but things won't truly kick into high gear until free agency opens on July 1. 

    Not since the summer of 2010 have we seen a free-agent signing period packed with this many big names and compelling questions. 

    The good news is that answers will soon be on the way. 

    But before pitches are made and pen is put to paper, it's time to break down each of the burning questions facing the Association during what promises to be a period of frenzied wheeling and dealing. 

    Whether it's the Miami Heat's quest to improve their supporting cast, Carmelo Anthony's bevy of suitors or Chandler Parsons' restricted free agency, we've compiled a comprehensive breakdown of the storylines that will dominate the NBA over the next few weeks. 

    All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.

What Will the Miami Heat Look Like?

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    Following their failed quest to three-peat as NBA champions, the Miami Heat are searching for ways to reinvent a franchise that's established itself as the class of the Eastern Conference over the past decade. 

    And with the news that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have all opted out of their contracts in order to provide Pat Riley with added financial flexibility, it's starting to look more and more likely that the Big Three will all be back in South Beach next season. 

    As Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes writes, the trio's decision to exercise its early-termination option was merely a formality in order to make a play for upgraded complementary pieces: 

    Practically speaking, the opt-outs had to happen. Without them, the Heat had no way to substantially improve the roster because the contracts of the Big Three alone would have pushed the Heat right up to the brink of the projected 2014-15 salary cap of $63.2 million. That would mean Miami's options for roster improvement would be limited to veteran's minimums and the mid-level exception.

    Furthermore, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the threesome plans "to give Pat Riley a window to enact his plan on upgrading supporting cast," which jibes with sentiments that James, Wade and Bosh are all focused on making the Heat a more complete contender in the weeks ahead. 

    Which game-changers the team will target remains to be seen, but there's no shortage of intriguing names floating around for Riley to consider. 

    Whether it's a superstar like Carmelo Anthony, a tenacious two-way floor general in the mold of Kyle Lowry, a veteran like Jameer Nelson or a three-and-D swingman like Trevor Ariza, the Heat figure to have options aplenty should the restructuring of contracts proceed as expected. 

    Monetary sacrifices may be necessary, but for a group with such grand aspirations, they figure to be nothing more than a slight bump in the road.

Where Will Carmelo Anthony Land?

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    Assuming Miami's triumvirate returns to Pat Riley's kingdom, Carmelo Anthony will be the most polarizing unrestricted free agent on the market. 

    And according to ESPN's Marc Stein, Anthony has several suitors lining up to pitch him over the next few days: 

    Sources told ESPN.com that Anthony is in the process of arranging a trip to Chicago to meet with the Bulls, then intends to travel to Texas for Wednesday meetings with both the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.

    Sources say Anthony is likely to visit the Rockets first on Wednesday, followed by the Mavericks in the afternoon.

    Anthony, who maintains an offseason home in Los Angeles, is also expected to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers face-to-face next week.

    Of those realistic landing spots, the most logical remains Chicago. 

    Already boasting a defense that ranked as the league's second-most efficient last season (surrendering 100.5 points per 100 possessions), according to Basketball-Reference.com, a dominant wing scorer seems to be the only addition standing between Chicago and a shot at an Eastern Conference crown. 

    Remember, the Bulls' anemic offense managed just 102.5 points per 100 possessions last season without Derrick Rose and still captured the conference's No. 4 seed. With a scorer like Anthony spacing the floor and taking a piece of the burden off the shoulders of Rose, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, the Bulls would have the makings of a much more balanced two-way attack. 

    There's also the matter of Anthony's most recent employer remaining in the mix. 

    According to Stein, the Knicks are "increasingly optimistic" about retaining Anthony, despite his ability to join a club with a chance to contend more immediately. 

    The major selling point there would conceivably revolve around the Knicks' ability to offer Anthony a five-year deal worth $129 million, which no other club can match. 

    All other interested parties will be able to offer last season's second-leading scorer a four-year deal that tops out at $96 million. 

    If Anthony's serious about winning, he'll bolt for one of his primary suitors and won't think twice. But if it's the money that speaks loudest, keep an eye on the suits at Madison Square Garden.  

Will Any Team Be Able to Poach Chandler Parsons from the Houston Rockets?

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    Now that the Houston Rockets have officially declined Chandler Parsons' option and extended a qualifying offer to formally make him a restricted free agent, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, it's time to see if any prospective buyers can pry the swingman away from Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale. 

    With a usage rate lower than 20 percent, according to Basketball-Reference, Parsons established himself as an efficient and versatile scorer, knocking down 47.2 percent of his shots and 37 percent of his looks from three-point range last season. 

    In addition to torching opponents in Houston's up-tempo offense to the tune of 1.19 points per possession in transition, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he displayed the half-court competency required of modern-day wings. 

    According to Synergy, Parsons produced 1.07 points per possession on handoffs and spot-ups—the latter of which accounted for 29.8 percent of his offensive production last season. 

    And when it comes to potential suitors, Yahoo's Marc J. Spears reports a couple of big-market franchises could have Parsons in their crosshairs: 

    If the Thompson trade doesn't happen, the source said Minnesota could attempt a deal sending Love to the Rockets and acquire Parsons in a sign-and-trade. The Los Angeles LakersChicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks have primary interest in signing Anthony as a free agent, but also could chase Parsons if they don't, a source said.

    Feigen also reports that Parsons is expected to receive interest from a dark-horse suitor: the Charlotte Hornets. 

    However, according to Feigen, the Rockets are planning on retaining Parsons "regardless of what else happens in free agency." 

    Some bigger dominoes will need to fall before we get clarity regarding Parsons' future, but his name is one to watch once the signing period gets underway. 

Is Greg Monroe on the Move?

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    Along with Chandler Parsons, Greg Monroe's name headlines this summer's class of restricted free agents. 

    Once considered a potential franchise building block in Detroit, questions now linger regarding Monroe's ability to properly coexist with Andre Drummond and Josh Smith in a crowded frontcourt that was at times dysfunctional last season. 

    Despite starting all 82 games last season, Monroe's scoring average (15.2 points per game) dipped to the lowest mark since his rookie season, while his player efficiency rating did the same (18.1, according to Basketball-Reference.com.)

    But despite all of the perceived chemistry issues, the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis maintains that the smart money is on Monroe returning:

    News of Monroe’s possible suitors will dominate headlines, but the Pistons are in control there. When the dust settles, you likely will see Monroe — and several other less-heralded newcomers — in Pistons uniforms next season.

    Ellis added the following:

    There is speculation that the Pistons would let Monroe go if he were to find a team willing to offer a max deal — four years and in the $60-million range. But the Pistons likely will match a max offer and worry about roster and cap issues later.

    And if we're to believe the team's head coach and president of basketball operations, Stan Van Gundy, then bringing back Monroe would appear to be a priority for the Pistons. 

    “I think teams think it’s better, especially with younger guys, to have an asset, even if he’s overpaid, that can bring value down the road, than to have a guy go for nothing,” Van Gundy said, according to Ellis.

Will Minnesota Deal Kevin Love?

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    He may not be a free agent just yet, but speculation regarding Kevin Love's future with the Minnesota Timberwolves has run rampant for weeks now. 

    Trade talks with the Golden State Warriors stalled. Then they were back on. And then the draft came and went, with both sides holding firm. 

    Now, as we enter a crucial period of moving and shaking, it remains to be seen whether the Warriors will be able to piece together a package that appeases the Timberwolves' demands. 

    By now, the pros and cons of trading Love have been established. 

    There don't appear to be any packages of intrigue that exist as things stand, although opinions differ on the Warriors' reported offer, which revolves around Klay Thompson and David Lee

    But is dealing Love for a polished three-and-D wing and another defensive liability at the 4 really worthwhile for the Timberwolves? 

    Thompson is a marksman of the highest caliber—shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc during his three seasons with the Dubs—but he's not the sort of versatile perimeter option that teams would seem to be inclined to build around. 

    And Lee, for all of his statistical dominance—he was one of five players to average at least 18 points and nine rebounds while shooting at least 50 percent from the field last season, per Basketball-Reference.com—remains a sieve when it comes to post defense. 

    The dilemma facing the Timberwolves is one that franchises across the league deal with every year: Do they pull the rigger now and receive some value in return for an impending free agent or roll the dice and play out the season in hopes of making some sort of impression on their superstar talent? 

    In this case, Minnesota can afford to wait things out until the February trade deadline, but offers figure to be more underwhelming at a juncture when clubs are paying for a half-season rental.

Can the Indiana Pacers Retain Lance Stephenson?

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    The Indiana Pacers figure to be hamstrung financially this summer with just under $65 million on the books for next season, according to ShamSports, but that shouldn't deter their quest to re-sign Lance Stephenson. 

    An enigma unlike any other, even in a league replete with vibrant personalities, Stephenson will be priority No. 1 for the Pacers when free agency opens, as The Indianapolis Star's Candace Bucker reported. 

    At the beginning of June, Larry Bird, the team's president of basketball operations, made it clear that he wanted Stephenson back in the fold. 

    "I think his ceiling is what he wants it to be," Bird said, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I always want him back. You just don't let talent like that walk away if you can help it."

    Stephenson's frustrating on-court tendencies have been documented at length, but players with his two-way skill set deserve preferential treatment in free agency. 

    The league's regular-season leader in triple-doubles earned a considerable raise after averaging career highs of 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 35.2 percent from deep. 

    And given how much he's prospered under the tutelage of Frank Vogel these past two years, the smart move for Stephenson would be to re-up with the club he's helped carry to the Eastern Conference Finals each of the past two seasons, even if it means taking a slight hometown discount.

Do the Los Angeles Lakers Have Any Bold Moves in Store?

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    Following a futile 2013-14 regular season that saw the Los Angeles Lakers struggle through a litany of injuries en route to a winning percentage of .329—the second worst in franchise history, according to Basketball-Reference.com—GM Mitch Kupchak has a relatively clean slate to work with. 

    According to ShamSports, the Lakers will enter free agency with just over $35 million on the books as Jodie Meeks, Pau Gasol and Nick Young, among others, hit the open market. 

    And given the Lakers' track record of luring type-A free agents to Hollywood, it's hard not to wonder if Kupchak has a trick or two up his sleeve with the signing period approaching. 

    However, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, don't expect the Lakers to splurge needlessly should they fail to snag one of the offseason's biggest prizes: 

    If the Lakers fail to land James or Anthony, they will not go on a spending spree for second-tier free agents such as Luol Deng and Kyle Lowry. The Lakers are keeping their eye on Kevin Love possibly becoming a free agent next summer and Kevin Durant the year after that.

    To maintain their salary-cap flexibility, the Lakers will consider Deng and Lowry only if they take a sensible rate over a relatively short period — one or two years at the most.

    It's difficult to imagine L.A. remaining quiet to the degree of its small-market counterparts, but if the front office thinks financial prudence is the way to go, it's hard to argue with it. 

    An organizational turnaround in the span of one offseason figures to be rather unfeasible given the quality of suitors awaiting Carmelo Anthony and the depth of talent in the Western Conference, but if Kupchak can lure some solid rotational bodies to the Purple and Gold, his club will be set up nicely to make a big splash next summer.

Does Gordon Hayward Have a Future in Utah?

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    According to the Deseret News' Jody Genessy, the Utah Jazz "are prepared to match any offers to restricted free agent Gordon Hayward." 

    But should they be? 

    Hayward's coming off of a relatively disappointing season, one that saw his scoring average increase by more than two points per game but his conversion rate drop to a career-worst 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three. 

    But as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale writes, the Jazz can't afford to let Hayward walk simply because he stumbled during one year of the team's rebuilding phase under former head coach Ty Corbin: 

    But the Jazz also aren't prepared to replace Hayward. 

    Free agents don't flock to Utah in today's NBA. It isn't a big, flashy market with endless off-court potential. The Jazz won't let Hayward walk now only to sign Kevin Love or some other superstar next summer. It doesn't work like that.

    Favale later added the following: 

    In the absence of free-agent appeal, they must do everything and anything they can to retain incumbent talent, to pay those who are willing to play for them. That may include overpaying Hayward; it may include matching a totally reasonable offer. It doesn't matter.

    And truthfully, it's hard to argue with that logic. 

    The Jazz aren't in a position to let homegrown talent walk, particularly if a player of Hayward's caliber hasn't come close to reaching his ceiling. 

    Now, with the roster evolving thanks to the additions of Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, Utah's long-term picture is starting to crystalize. 

    Patience will be required, but retaining Hayward at all costs is the savvy move in this case.