Every NBA franchise needs a centerpiece, and they can't all have LeBron James.
Believe it or not, while James and Carmelo Anthony draw the spotlight, the 2014 free-agent market is awash with elite players who can only improve rosters—and there are franchises quietly working very hard to bring them on board.
While the following names are not all technically of the household variety, they hold enough talent, upside and downright production to subtly change the landscape of the league.
So let's nail down where some of the best names on the market will end up, based on the latest happenings, of course.
Max Deal for Gordon Hayward?
Gordon Hayward, the 24-year-old swingman out of Butler, is drumming up quite the market for himself, which is nothing but a bad thing for the Utah Jazz.
For a player who through four seasons has done nothing but improve, offers a ton of upside and has shot an average of 44 percent from the field, perhaps the Jazz should have been more aggressive in keeping Hayward around:
Those numbers have teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers on the hunt, as noted by ESPN's Brian Windhorst:
Cavs believed to be preparing a max offer sheet for restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, sources said. Yahoo reported he is visiting today— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 2, 2014
Cleveland isn't alone in the pursuit, per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News:
The Phoenix Suns are expected to make Gordon Hayward a significant offer, possibly a max deal, but Utah Jazz will match, per sources.— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) June 29, 2014
Undeterred by the onslaught of suitors for a critical piece of his roster, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey still proclaims the chances his franchise retains Hayward are "very, very strong," per Genessy.
If Lindsey and his staff are serious about matching any offer, it's a major price to pay to keep Hayward around in a backcourt that already features Alec Burks, Trey Burke and rookie sensation Dante Exum.
Phoenix surely has an ulterior motive with an offer—make a Western Conference rival spend more than they would prefer. But Cleveland is a notable suitor, as some additional firepower next to rookie Andrew Wiggins makes a load of sense.
But in the end, Utah clearly isn't letting go of a budding star.
Prediction: Hayward remains in Utah.
Lance Stephenson and an "Impasse"
It's only right that the wild-personality aura surrounding 23-year-old Lance Stephenson has resulted in a bit of an alleged contract dispute.
While hard to imagine Stephenson being a surefire lock to remain with the Indiana Pacers after a tumultuous ride last season capped off by in-house drama, Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star recently suggested that Larry Bird and Co. were not going to let the Cincinnati product get away:
I think it's clear here from Larry Bird Lance Stephenson ain't getting away unless someone completely overpays: http://t.co/t4zkrunnQk— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) June 27, 2014
Yet, here we are a few days later, and ESPN's Chris Broussard hears that money is assuredly an issue between the two sides:
Sources: L Stephenson & Pacers at impasse. Indy offers 5 yrs/$44 mill. Lance wants more, will talk to others. Chi, LAL, Hornets interested.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 2, 2014
"Lance and his representatives aren't sure they're going to be able to reach an agreement with the Pacers," a source told Broussard. "It's clear they want him back and he wanted to go back, but they may not be able to come to terms."
This opens up a whole realm of intriguing possibilities for a player who, despite his personality, has posted gaudy numbers when given the chance:
Atlanta is a team that comes to mind that needs a quality 2-guard, but given the teams to work with, it is hard to say where Stephenson finally lands.
Los Angeles is an odd pairing and Mitch Kupchak and Co. surely want to land bigger fish, especially considering attempting a mesh between the personalities of Kobe Bryant and Stephenson seems dangerous.
Charlotte has its own problems retaining the likes of Josh McRoberts, but Chicago makes a ton of sense should the franchise miss out on Carmelo Anthony. Rookie Doug McDermott can play the 3-spot next to Stephenson, and the former Pacers star would benefit from playing with a point guard like Derrick Rose.
Prediction: Stephenson signs with the Bulls.
A Dark Horse for Pau Gasol
As any hardcore NBA fan would have predicted, there is a rather large market for Pau Gasol, who despite going on 34 years old still has an elite skill set on the offensive end of the court and enough to play starter minutes on the defensive end.
While a bit lost last season during the worst campaign in Los Angeles Lakers history, Gasol still performed like his usual, steady self:
Of course, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson would love a reunion tour with his big man, as noted by ESPN's Marc Stein:
Furthermore, one source close to the process told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks' front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
But the real caveat here is the underdog contenders for Gasol's services who have emerged late in the process.
Such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, as everyone expected, right? ESPN's Ramona Shelburne has the scoop:
In a surprising twist, OKC has come on strong with Pau Gasol, and described as a "frontrunner" for the Spaniard.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 2, 2014
Stein followed up with news that some of the biggest names on the Thunder roster made a big pitch to Gasol:
ESPN has learned that Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made a come-to-OKC pitch directly to Pau Gasol today in Los Angeles— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 3, 2014
Before this wild revelation, it was easy to think Gasol would want to reunite with his former coach in New York, but this is too easy—bank on the veteran big man heading to Oklahoma City for a few more shots at a title before he hangs up the sneakers.
Prediction: Gasol joins the Thunder.