The landscape of the NBA as we know it is about to undergo a seismic shift.
While major tectonic plates like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony seemingly hold all the cards, there are lesser potential movements that will have a similar impact on the league as a whole.
Some franchises, knowing full well that going all-in for James or Anthony is simply unrealistic, are throwing resources around in a more productive manner. Believe it or not, there are other players out there both available and capable of changing a franchise, conference and playoff race.
Let's assemble the latest buzz around some of these names and nail down a prediction as to where they will land.
Atlanta and Luol Deng
See, the Atlanta Hawks have the right idea.
Knowing full well the franchise stands little chance at James or Anthony—that's more a slight directed at the players than the team itself—the front office has focused its attention on lesser names who still provide plenty of production.
Deng, who put a drastic hit on his own stock last season during his brief stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, still has a lot to offer as one of the best two-way players in the league, thanks to his ability to lock down the opposing team's best player every night.
As ESPN's Marc Stein notes, the Hawks are well aware and are making a move while the rest of the league sits on its hands:
Amid all this focus on LeBron/Melo/Bosh ... word is Atlanta continues to press for one of Miami's presumably out-of-reach targets: Luol Deng— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 7, 2014
If Atlanta wants Deng, behooves them to try to press for a deal while so much else is happening. Let's see how they fare #eventhehawks— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 7, 2014
The Hawks seem to believe they are one piece away from serious playoff contention, so good on them for making a smart play that is best for the franchise rather than missing out on players in the hopes of hitting a grand slam.
Deng's numbers in recent years, though, must be contrasted with his financial demands:
Per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, the rumblings suggest the asking price is $10 million per year for the former Duke star. The Hawks have enough cash to make that happen and could especially use the added defensive output, so expect the deal to work itself out sooner rather than later.
Prediction: Deng signs with the Hawks
Lance Stephenson in...Dallas or Los Angeles?
Things are not going so well between Lance Stephenson and the Indiana Pacers, a volatile mixture last season that produced some of the more entertaining moments the league had to offer.
Stephenson, at 23 years of age, could easily develop into the NBA's next big superstar if he can keep his head on straight, so it should not come as any shock that he and his representatives surveyed the current market and turned down a deal with the Pacers, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press:
If - repeat, if - Hayward is getting $15M next season, Lance Stephenson is perfectly within the guides of sanity to turn down 5/44.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) July 2, 2014
A year removed from posting averages of 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, the numbers suggests a bigger role and further development will birth a superstar.
With that in mind, it makes sense that there is a mutual interest between Stephenson and the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, as Broussard reports:
"Stephenson has drawn interest from the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, although both teams have other free agents prioritized above Stephenson, according to sources. The Boston Celtics have also shown interest in Stephenson, according to a source."
Unlike the Hawks' approach to Deng, the above franchises seem willing to wait on Stephenson, and that's probably the right move. His price won't waver, and he will have an obvious interest in at least two out of the three.
Those two should be Los Angeles and Boston, with the latter being the priority. Going to the Lakers and attempting to fit in with Kobe Bryant seems odd for a guy who has had erratic behavior in the past, but going to Boston with Rajon Rondo and the young Marcus Smart makes sense.
There, Stephenson can be hailed as a critical part of the rebuild and create one of the most feared backcourts in the league. He'll also compete for titles on a regular basis once the rebuild is complete. What's not to like?
Prediction: Stephenson signs with Boston
Houston Wants Chris Bosh Badly
The Houston Rockets have been a wild card throughout the offseason process so far, with Dwight Howard in place, little known about next year's roster outside of that and the fact that the front office clearly wants to splurge.
In a not-so-shocking turn of events, the brass in Houston want a shot at Chris Bosh, he of Big Three fame (or infamy, depending on who is asked) who is often pegged as the weak link.
Well, Mr. Weak Link just got a major offer, and it's hard to see him turning it down. Stein and Ramona Shelburne over at ESPN.com have the scoop:
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com on Sunday that the Rockets -- though they haven't formally been told they are no longer in the running for top free-agent target Carmelo Anthony -- have intensified their pursuit of Bosh over the weekend in the hope that LeBron James will seriously consider leaving the Heat.
Broussard followed up with a bombshell that says Bosh is "seriously considering the Houston Rockets' maximum contract offer of four years, $88 million."
Will Bosh sign with the Rockets?
Of course he is. In Miami, Bosh would need to take a pay cut. That's a slight any way it is sliced. He'd also perhaps be third fiddle on the offense.
In Houston, Bosh would act as a key component to stretching the floor. The offense would run through Dwight Howard, but all of that attention would open up the Georgia Tech product for more opportunities. Plus, his life would be made easier on the defensive end of the court.
Getting paid like the superstar he is and being one-half of the best power forward-center combo in the league—not to mention competing for titles—is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Prediction: Bosh signs with the Rockets