NBA free agency has to annually be the worst time of year on the league calendar.
Think about it. Franchises mortgage their future on the hopes of a fleeting chance at a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Every. Single. Year. There are teams at this very moment that selected head coaches, rookies and even marked quality players off a wish list in the hopes of getting a big name.
If not, back to the drawing board—for years. Heck, this is even happening as we speak despite names like James being available, as some franchises surely want a shot at Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge next offseason.
This creates a market that is value-friendly for smart franchises. Let's take a look at some stars whose names have been swept under the rug, and the franchises that will be smart enough to capitalize.
Remember Trevor Ariza? One of the key cogs in the Los Angeles Lakers' championship run back in 2009?
Yes, it feels like that was decades ago, but it is rather easy to forget that Ariza is just 29 years old and enters the market off a career year after breaking out with the Washington Wizards:
As a result, Ariza is generating a wicked amount of momentum on the market, as noted by Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
It helps that Ariza showed up big in Washington's first playoff series triumph since 2005 against the Chicago Bulls in Round 1, posting averages of 15.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
If it's not apparent, Ariza is a key player for any championship formula. Contenders will surely continue to give chase until he signs, but the safest money is on him returning to the rebuilding Lakers.
The front office in Los Angeles has plenty of cap space and wants to stay relevant during a rebuild and over the course of Kobe Bryant's last few seasons, so the shoe certainly fits—especially when one has to remember that Ariza will have no chemistry issues playing with Bryant.
Prediction: Ariza returns to the Lakers
Had 24-year-old Kentucky product Eric Bledsoe been healthier last season, we may be talking about how deep of a run the Phoenix Suns made in the postseason, rather than clamoring what could have been as the franchise wound up as the best to miss the playoffs.
Alas, Bledsoe appeared in just 43 games last year and posted averages of 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. But the injury issues mark the second time in four years that he has played in 43 games or fewer, an alarming trend that may hurt his stock on the market.
"We'll try to do that as soon as possible and not let it get to the point where you'd have to get an offer and we'd match it," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said, via Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic.
Bledsoe will undoubtedly be one of the hottest names on the market as soon as the big dominoes fall, but by then it will be too late for another franchise to swoop in and grab the restricted free agent. The Suns understand what they have in a promising guard who can lead the team, even if they added three first-round rookies via the 2014 draft and will do so again next year.
The Suns seem adamant on matching any offer thrown Bledsoe's way, meaning another team can swoop in and drive up the price to wild heights. But that's the game the Suns have elected to play, and Bledsoe is worth the investment if he can remain on the court.
Prediction: Bledsoe returns to the Suns
Let's talk about Nick Young, who had a breakout year of sorts last season on the aforementioned miserable Lakers squad:
Those numbers may see a deduction next year depending on where he lands, but Young is clearly a hot commodity as a proven scorer with seven years of experience. Los Angeles has a clear interest in bringing him back, as detailed by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
Earlier this offseason, Young told InsideSoCal.com’s Mark Medina that he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay with the Lakers, should he feel comfortable with a few key factors:
It depends how much the discount is. But as a player, everyone wants a place they feel comfortable at. I feel comfortable in L.A. But I can’t keep taking these discounts. I need a raise a little bit. But if it’s for the right cost and they’re bringing in players and I fit into the rotation, then I’ll probably take a pay cut.
It is impossible to tell, as the front office in Los Angeles could somehow reel in a star like Anthony—all the way down to only being able to bring back Young as a highlight of their offseason.
That's not such a bad thing. The reality is, not many teams around the league will pursue Young's services thanks to his personality on the court, although they should given the spark he can provide. This opens the door for a return to the Lakers, where each side gets what it wants. The team will prove better for it in the long run.
Prediction: Young returns to the Lakers