NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on High-Profile Free Agents Still on Market

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NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on High-Profile Free Agents Still on Market
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If you spent the first week of free agency looking for answers, your eyes trained on NBA reporter Twitter accounts as if they were Lost message boards circa 2008, then you're probably feeling a little fatigued and disappointed at the moment.

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh remain unsigned. As does nearly every other player with a remote chance of ever making an All-Star team. Minus a few expected re-signings (Dirk Nowitzki, Marcin Gortat) and a few strange overpays (Jodie Meeks, Ben Gordon), the league remains in a state of inertia until the Big Four make up their minds.

A simple look at the history of free agency says those decisions will come sooner than later.

The second week is typically where the true silly season begins. Top free agents typically get their gallivanting across the country done in the first few days—even rankling a few people about a potential jersey number switch—and then use the Independence Day holiday as an excuse to take their time in making a final decision. That the holiday fell perfectly on a Friday means news will probably come in an overwhelming cascade beginning late Sunday or early Monday.

I hope you NBA diehards found time for some sleep this weekend.

If not, welcome to the wonderful world of the Association offseason. After a somewhat mundane week, we've truly arrived. Let's take a look around the league and check in on the latest buzz for top players and how their decisions will affect the rest of the league.

 

Lakers Make 'Strong Impression' on Carmelo?

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Most have assumed throughout the Carmelo recruitment process that only Chicago and New York had an actual chance of winning his services. Visits to Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles seemed like little more than courtesy visits—ones designed to create goodwill and to see the Photoshop skills of each PR department.

The Bulls offered the best chance to contend for a championship. The Knicks offered money, comfort and the allure of playing for an organization run by Phil Jackson. The other three seemed to merely be offering lesser versions of what Chicago and New York had on the table.

Except, apparently, the Lakers. As most were preparing for a world in which Anthony signed a deal to stay in the Big Apple, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard reported that Anthony was seriously considering signing a max contract in Los Angeles. Lakers brass was said to have made a "strong impression" on Anthony during their mid-week meeting.

Shelburne and Broussard are not the type of reporters who are going to chase every little story, so it's worth taking this Lakers buzz at face value. It's also worth noting that there is roughly a 95 percent chance that nothing has actually changed. Giving consideration to an offer does not guarantee actual consideration to signing said offer.

The overwhelming odds remain in the re-signing camp. It's a little disingenuous to throw out the $30 million figure that everyone has in this process—Anthony isn't suddenly going to vanish after his contract expires—but the Knicks can offer a significant amount of guaranteed money. Even if it isn't $30 million, the $15 million that he would possibly be giving away by leaving is no small deal. Barring the unlikely scenario in which the Knicks work a sign-and-trade with Chicago, that figure might even be a little low given the Bulls' cap situation.

The Lakers are interesting because they have max contract space, Anthony resides in Los Angeles during the offseason and, well, because they are the Lakers. There is just no logical reason for him to favor Los Angeles over New York. Kobe Bryant is returning, but is anyone sure he's still Kobe Bryant? Re-signing Pau Gasol would help matters, but it seems few remember Pau's complete lack of defensive effort last season. Adding Anthony to the Lakers does not make them a playoff team in the West; it makes them a fringe playoff contender.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Eastern Conference is so bad that the Knicks might back in without even changing anything other than their coach. Jose Calderon gives them a legitimate offensive-minded point guard. J.R. Smith can still score in bunches. Amar'e Stoudemire actually played in 65 regular-season games in 2013-14. The Knicks don't have anything resembling a "good" roster, but 40 wins is probably a playoff team in the East. With a lack of long-term money on the books as well, Jackson can really begin shaping the roster in his image next summer.

If winning is the answer, then neither New York nor L.A. should have a chance. It's Chicago. It's not even close. But when making the concession that other factors also come into play here, it's hard to reconcile the Lakers being a better long-term option than the Knicks.

 

Big Three Reunion Hinges on LeBron?

As each day passes, the prospect of Miami's big three bolting seems to get bigger. What everyone expected to be a mundane process—everyone opting out, re-signing long-term deals with less money upfront and then a fourth (or fifth) star coming to South Beach—has instead begun engulfing the rumor mill.

Like in 2010, the world is now waiting on LeBron. His agent, Rich Paul, has been taking steal meetings throughout the process with designs on giving the four-time MVP a recap and possibly setting up an in-person powwow. The teams that have met with James are the typical suspects. Take your Carmelo teams, add a dash of Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers and then voila.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski has reported buzz around the league is growing that the Heat's inability to find another piece in free agency has created hope that the Big Three could head elsewhere. LeBron and Bosh are the two guys teams have fixated on. Wade is expected to stay with Miami regardless of what happens, being the organizational mainstay who has been there through times dark and light.

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For now, the expectation remains the same as a week ago. The Big Three will find contract numbers that open up enough space for someone just above the mid-level exception, and then Pat Riley will work around the margins to fill out the rest of the roster.

Wojnarowski noted that Luol Deng met with Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Saturday. Deng is probably out of Miami's realistic price range. Grabbing a $10 million player for a little more than half of that just isn't happening on this market. There are too many teams with cap space available and a desperation to compete. The Heat would probably need to wait on the money to dry up and then grab value contracts.

Waiting might also be death.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

James is nothing if not a pragmatist. He set his reputation ablaze four years ago to come to Miami. He's become part of the Heat family—a nucleus that few players ever leave—but this is still a business transaction. If Miami cannot offer a roster more capable of taking down the Spurs, then its allure is suddenly lessened. Could Cleveland and a chance at a full-circle moment be enticing? Or perhaps talking Anthony into pairing up in Phoenix might be the move?

Again, the likelihood here is that the answer is boring. James, Wade and Bosh will re-sign. Riley will delve into his bag of tricks and come out with another elite piece. The Heat will walk into next season as Eastern Conference favorites. Leaving that city and that organization is far more difficult than most realize.

But, as the days go by, it's at least looking like a possibility. The answer hinges on James.

 

Gordon Hayward Drawing Interest From Mavs?

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Restricted free agency is often a slow-burning gambit. Teams feverishly pursue unrestricted guys fist, knowing that incumbent squads with restricted players are always waiting in the wings. Signing a restricted free agent means jettisoning valuable cap space, waiting days for an answer and at times even sign-and-trade deals that wind up costing you assets.

Even this year's crop of players—strong and somewhat deep—is feeling the squeeze. There have been no off-the-wall offers like last year's Tyreke Evans signing, with restricted guys feeling the same squeeze as other free agents: No one is moving until LeBron and Carmelo make their plans known.

There have, however, been more than a couple cursory calls of interest. Such is the case with Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who is already getting looks from the likes of Cleveland and Charlotte. Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram reported that you can add James/Anthony suitor Dallas to that ever-growing list.

The Mavs are not considered serious contenders for any of the Big Four guys. Getting in a meeting room with Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki only to tell them no has become a free agency tradition unlike any other. This will likely be the third straight summer that the Mavs have struck out on their top targets. Hayward is a solid secondary option, and one who infuses some youth in a veteran-laden roster.

The 24-year-old averaged 16.1 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds last season, making him among the handful of players who went 15-5-5 on a nightly basis. He was miscast as a lead option on an undermanned Jazz team, though, and could very much use an infusion of talent around him. After being a solid three-point shooter his first three NBA seasons, Hayward dropped to a career-low 30.4 percent as defenses focused on him more.

Dallas has a star in Nowitzki and a coaching savant in Rick Carlisle. Few players have gone to the Mavs in the Carlisle era and lived to regret it. 

At issue here, as it is with all restricted free agents, is signability. The Jazz want Hayward back. In all likelihood, they're going to instantly match any offer sheet he signs. Nothing depresses a player's market quite like the complete inability to actually sign him. This is how you end up with insane max contracts being thrown around—merely in an effort to get Utah to blink.

And who knows if they even would? Hayward's true value is a topic worth debate, but expect him to get the max or near-max from a team in the coming days. And then look for the Jazz to instantly match.

 

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