Only one team, the San Antonio Spurs, currently sits atop the NBA throne, while every other franchise is hoping to dethrone them next season.
After the 2014 NBA draft, several teams came away with building blocks for the future. But simply growing through the draft likely won't be enough to thrust a franchise into becoming an NBA Finals contender.
The next stage is crucial, as the NBA free-agency period officially got underway on Tuesday. With superstars like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James out there on the market, where both players land might potentially shift the entire landscape.
As for the best of the rest, both Lance Stephenson and Gordon Hayward are emerging stars who might find new homes next season. Another veteran looking at his options this summer is Pau Gasol, who would instantly impact a playoff contender if he chooses to leave the Los Angeles Lakers.
Here's a look at the latest rumors during the first week of NBA free agency.
Pacers' Negotiations with Stephenson Hit a Roadblock
While he's not quite the coveted prize that either James or Anthony provide, Stephenson is still one of the biggest free agents on the market this summer.
After a breakout season where he put up career highs in nearly every statistical category, the former second-round pick might not be in an Indiana Pacers jersey next year. Chris Broussard of ESPN provides the latest on Stephenson and the Pacers:
Despite the Indiana Pacers' heartfelt movie tribute and presentation to Lance Stephenson, the two sides are currently at an impasse over a new deal, according to sources close to the situation.
The Pacers offered a five-year, $44 million contract to Stephenson, but sources said the versatile shooting guard believes he's worth much more.
Those are pretty lofty numbers, but apparently not enough for Stephenson's services.
Broussard goes on to mention that teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and even the Charlotte Hornets have reached out to Alberto Ebanks, Stephenson's agent. As for what's next, Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star provides a quote from a team source with the Pacers:
Walking away from that lucrative of an offer seems surprising, but Stephenson might draw more money from another team. With all three of the franchises mentioned by Broussard being either a contender or a team on the rise, Stephenson has several options this summer.
Market for Hayward Opening Up; Cavaliers Might Make Offer
Here's yet another player who posted career highs during his fourth year and is set to make a lot of money for the breakout season.
Gordon Hayward posted 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds during the 2013-14 season with the Utah Jazz, but he has options this summer. Marc Stein of ESPN notes Hayward turned down a huge deal and might have several teams interested in him:
After starting in 77 games with the Jazz last year, he's shown he's a good pure shooter. With a .413 shooting percentage, he now has a chance to go to a playoff contender during free agency.
One team that appears to be interested in the shooting guard is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ken Berger of CBS Sports notes what the Cavs might be willing to offer Hayward:
The fit makes sense for both sides with Cleveland likely on the rise in the next several seasons. Equipped with both Kyrie Irving and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, adding Hayward would be a significant piece of the puzzle for the future.
As for clubs like the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns, either might need to put together an impressive deal to woo Hayward to the franchise. With the free-agency period just getting started, Hayward will have plenty of time to make his decision between the possible suitors.
Thunder, Heat and Spurs Going After Pau Gasol Over Summer
After two emerging stars, one wily veteran could be on the move as well.
At the tender age of 33 years old, Gasol comes off a year with the Lakers where he was asked to fill several needs all while having his name rumored for a trade throughout the season. With free agency underway, multiple postseason contenders are after the 7'0" center.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com points out interest from one team in the Western Conference:
Equipped with players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, adding Gasol looks like a perfect fit for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Following up a deep playoff run, Gasol would not only add a great offensive piece, but also championship experience.
Outside of the Thunder, there will be several other teams looking to attract Gasol away from the Lakers. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports notes two other franchises hoping to join the race:
The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs have inquired with Gasol's agent Arn Tellem, expressing an interest, sources said, but the Spurs can't become a legitimate suitor unless Gasol significantly drops his asking price.
Therefore, out of the four teams in the East and West Finals last year, three are looking at the center. Gasol can't go wrong with any of these options, but he would also have to weigh his options of remaining in Los Angeles.
Much like the rest of the players out on the market, Gasol will have time to go over his options. Given the wide-open market for the center, the rumors surrounding him likely are just beginning.
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