This year's NBA free-agency period could have been relatively quiet. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony opting out of their contracts changed all of that.
And so now, the rest of us are left blundering through the muck and mud of rumors, speculation and, yes, hope as we try to determine how all of this will shake out.
Generally speaking, all of the rumors out there are connected in some way, blending together while we wait for the big two—James and Anthony—to pick their team. Let's start with Anthony.
Perhaps the most likely of the big names to swap teams this year, Anthony is on a veritable "come get me" tour this offseason. And teams are prepared to offer him the big bucks, unsurprisingly.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of those teams, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
Lakers made it clear to Melo today they'd offer the maximum, 4-yr, $97mil contract they can, if he chose them.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 4, 2014
And the New York Knicks will spare no expense to bring him back, as Chris Broussard of ESPN tweeted Thursday:
Source: Melo's meeting with the Knicks is over. They reiterated to him that they will offer him a max contract— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 4, 2014
Source: Melo did not give the Knicks an answer or a timetable tonight. He will take the long weekend to think things through.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 4, 2014
But here's where it starts to get interesting—where Anthony ends up will likely have a major influence on where several other stars land. At the same time, the new uncertainty with James is really shaking things up.
Before the 2013-14 season, it would have seemed inconceivable that James might consider changing teams again. But like Anthony, he's seemingly on his own free-agency tour, per Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN:
The agent for LeBron James has met this week with officials from multiple teams interested in courting the four-time league MVP in free agency, according to sources close to the process.
The exact number of teams to secure face-to-face meetings with Cleveland-based agent Rich Paul was not immediately known, but sources told ESPN.com that the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and James' home state Cavaliers have had the opportunity to make presentations to Paul in recent days.
In addition, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was flying to Cleveland on Thursday night and was scheduled to meet with Paul on Friday, a source confirmed to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.
The Suns may seem like a long shot, but their owner, Robert Sarver, told The Arizona Republic he thinks his team has a chance to land James:
We are in a good position. We have a lot to offer, too, with the depth of our roster compared to some of the other teams. We think we have a favorable opportunity, but obviously he'll make his decision when he wants to make it. He's a smart player and a smart businessman. He'll look at the facts and make a decision.
But why would LeBron leave the team that has reached four straight NBA Finals and won two titles in that time? Sure, they are getting old, but surely they could make a few tweaks to improve, right?
But James' interest in exploring the market might run deeper than we all think, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
Says official who was part of meetings ESPN reported on: "There's clearly a breakdown in communication between LeBron and (Wade and Bosh)."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 4, 2014
Unless Pat Riley lines up talent appealing to James within cap structure soon, one LBJ suitor says: "LeBron seems ready to explore market."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 4, 2014
On the other hand, King James could simply be taking the long and elaborate road to exert his influence over the Heat.
Another team official who met with James' agent, Rich Paul, in Cleveland tells Yahoo: "I think it's all a smoke screen."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 4, 2014
This might not just be about Pat Riley adding more pieces to the team. It might also be about James getting the max while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh take a pay cut. It would be hard to begrudge James the max—he's the league's best player and much more responsible for the Heat's success than Wade or Bosh at this point—but it could also be the source of the rumored disconnect between the three.
All of that said, it still seems likely that James will return to the Heat. That's what J.A. Adande of ESPN is hearing, anyway:
Sense I get from convos with people in the know is LeBron stays in Miami -grudgingly - on short-term deal. We'll see if landscape changes— J.A. Adande (@jadande) July 4, 2014
With James and Anthony twisting in the wind, teams are starting to make contingency plans. And one of the aforementioned pawns in this game, Bosh, could become a very valuable commodity on the market.
Or, at the very least, a nice consolation prize, as Stein reported:
The Houston Rockets, if they fail to land free agent Carmelo Anthony, plan to shift their attention to trying to swipe Chris Bosh from the Miami Heat, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com on Thursday night that the Rockets—while still holding out hope that Anthony will choose them after hosting him Wednesday in Houston—have already let Bosh know how interested they are in bringing the Dallas native back to Texas.
Could the Big Three break up? If they do, don't expect the Heat to sit on their hands. It looks like they already have a nice backup plan in place for Bosh if he bolts, per Shelburne:
Pau Gasol will indeed meet with the Heat, according to a source.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 4, 2014
Of course, Gasol is going to be a pretty popular man on the market no matter what happens with the Heat, as David Aldridge of NBA.com reports:
Indirectly, Anthony’s decision impacts another significant free agent—Pau Gasol, who was scheduled to meet with Riley in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ hopes of keeping Gasol are centered on first getting Anthony, who would then, hopefully, entice Gasol to stay in L.A. rather than follow Riley back to South Beach, or to San Antonio or Oklahoma City, both of which harbor strong and real hopes they can get Gasol to take a huge pay cut to play for a contender.
Oklahoma City, according to a source, hopes that a three-year deal with its mid-level exception can do the trick with Gasol, even as it understands his agent, Arn Tellem, will surely be able to shake out bigger offers elsewhere.
And so the plot thickens.
In the end, it still appears likely that James and Bosh will stick with the Heat, while Anthony and Gasol will be on new teams (though if Anthony chooses the Lakers, it will be interesting to see if Gasol decides to come back after all).
So much in the NBA could change in early July, or much could end up being the same. A few men and a few fat contracts will get to decide.