The NBA world currently sits in the palm of one LeBron Raymone James. Whether it's #TheReturn or #TheDecisionPart2, James' stealthy Las Vegas meetings continue to enrapture and leave the rest of the league in a state of inertia.
When LeBron makes his next move, expect a cascade of deals to come pouring out from all circles. Even teams without a chance in the world of landing the four-time MVP—essentially, any team not located in South Beach or Ohio—are waiting to see what happens.
As I outlined earlier this week, James' destination (and to a certain extent Carmelo Anthony's) may create an unintended boom on the secondary free-agent market.
Until James, Anthony and Chris Bosh make their next chess move, almost all of free agency is frozen.
Not frozen? The NBA trade rumors mill. Well, OK, I'm lying a bit to sell the premise. It's a little chilly too. The best player in the world kind of has a hold on people.
Offseason trades are typically executed before the free-agency period and once it starts to peter out—barring a sign-and-trade situation. Because the nature of free agency is so fast-moving, there is often little time to talk trade amid 350 phone calls with agents.
But that all changes this week. Summer league, specifically Las Vegas Summer League, is a haven for the rumor mill. The yearly trip to the gambling capital of the world acts as a second All-Star break for league executives. If you've ever wanted to know what an NBA reunion looks like, head to the pool of a swanky Vegas hotel in mid-July.
With the cascade coming in a few days, let's instead take a look at a few rumors that have been hanging around in the trickle period. (Note: Sorry for how weird that sounds.)
Celtics Still After Love, Wolves Say LOL?
The Boston Celtics want Kevin Love. I believe this is a road we've been down a time or six. Danny Ainge's interest in Love has been one of the NBA's worst-kept secrets for more than two years. Love's interest in playing for the Celtics became super subtle right about the time he decided to take a very public tour around the city.
There is just one issue in this epic Love story: Mr. Love is still property of the Minnesota Timberwolves for one more season. And Flip Saunders wants none of what Mr. Ainge has to offer.
Although Ainge has done well collecting assets in the form of future draft picks, his cupboard is mostly bare when it comes to actual basketball players. Avery Bradley won't be eligible for a trade until December after he signs his four-year, $32 million contract on July 10. Neither Marcus Smart nor James Young have played an NBA game, though Young especially would be intriguing given Minnesota's roster needs.
At issue here is anything Saunders can not only sell to his fans, but himself as well. He did not come down from the ivory front-office box to win 25 games and tarnish his coaching record. It might be selfish, but a coach with front-office power is always going to be more prone to win-now moves than looking toward the long haul.
Saunders is no different, which is why landing Golden State's David Lee and Klay Thompson would have a higher value than unprotected Brooklyn picks.
“Minnesota didn’t want anything Boston had two weeks ago, and it’s crazy to think that’s changed this fast,” a league source told Scott Bulpett of the Boston Herald. “They may change their mind at some point, but I still think that’s going to take some time.”
The Celtics would have to engage at least one more team in talks to make a Love deal work, which only complicates matters.
We saw the months-long process that went into Dwight Howard's deal to the Lakers in 2012 how many things have to go right when adding a third (or fourth) team to the mix. It's a negotiation on top of a negotiation on top of a negotiation; contingencies have to go just right to make it happen.
I'm still of the believe Love eventually winds up a Warrior. Thompson is a very good player, but he's an interesting line to draw in the sand when it comes to acquiring one of the NBA's best handful of players. Eventually, enough time will pass and both sides will get desperate enough to pull the trigger.
Unless Boston can somehow find a team ready to deal a real-life professional contributor in exchange for draft picks, the Celtics are probably out of the running.
Phil Jackson Looking to Deal Amar'e, Bargs?
There's probably no need for the question mark there. I mean, you could offer Jackson the liquids in the bottom of a dumpster for the contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani and he would probably gladly take it, provided it opens cap space for the New York Knicks.
The Stoudemire and Bargnani deals are reminders of incompetencies past. They're a bitter symbol of shortsighted management and buffoonish win-now moves without a single consideration of the future. Without dipping any further into the chamber of hyperbole, Stoudemire's is among the worst free-agent contracts of the last half-decade, and the Bargnani trade may be the worst in the same time frame.
That Jackson, according to ESPN's Ian Begley, is looking to deal Stoudemire and Bargnani is no surprise.
Even less of a surprise is the opportunistic Philadelphia 76ers being floated as a possible match for Jackson. Sam Hinkie is currently enacting the most bald-faced rebuild in NBA history, completely stripping the Sixers of anything resembling a basketball team and building two and three years down the line.
Does this have any remote chance of happening? Of course not.
No one is touching those two contracts with a mile-long ruler. As has been said umpteen times, the Knicks have no assets. Iman Shumpert's plateauing over the last season has put his worth around the league up in the air. Is he the equivalent to a late first-round choice at this point? Tim Hardaway Jr. had a good rookie season, but not eating $24.3 million good.
The only realistic scenario in which Jackson unloads Bargnani or Stoudemire is by taking on long-term money.
Taking on Jose Calderon's deal in the Tyson Chandler trade showed Jackson isn't afraid to add salary in the right scenario, but that's a far different case. The Mavs had been chasing a Chandler reunion and offered draft-pick compensation. Plus, even though Calderon's deal will get ugly at the end, he's still an above-average NBA starter at the moment.
Nobody is desperate for Stoudemire or Bargnani to come aboard. Amar'e can still be effective offensively in limited minutes. He's also been a defensive liability even before knee injuries sapped his once-prodigious athleticism. Bargnani is a mess whose career spiral I still to this day do not understand. He's someone we might have looked at far differently if he weren't a No. 1 overall pick.
In summation: No. Not happening.
Heat Trying to Find Sign-and-Trade Partner for Mario Chalmers?
Signing Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger all but ends Miami's offseason, assuming the Big Three stay put. Using the midlevel exception on McRoberts and bi-annual exception on Granger leaves only a $2.2 million trade exception left over from the Joel Anthony deal. All that's left is adding their own free agents back to the fold.
Unless another team happens to be interested in said free agent. Then a sign-and-trade deal could possibly be worked out, assuming it does not take the Heat over the so-called tax apron ($81 million). Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders reported the Heat have made cursory calls asking teams about a sign-and-trade swap for Mario Chalmers.
Having drafted Shabazz Napier and groomed Norris Cole, Chalmers' six-year run in Miami seems like it's over.
Chalmers performed miserably in the NBA Finals, so much so that Erik Spoelstra went without a point guard in his starting lineup for Game 5. The postseason struggles have depressed his market a bit, but he's still someone with 346 career starts and an above-average jumper.
Even if he signs in the $3 million range, the Heat could possibly sign-and-trade Chalmers and package its exception into another near midlevel piece.
Of course, that all depends on Chalmers' willingness to help out his soon-to-be-former team.
Josh Smith Not on the Trade Block?
We're now into the point of the summer where previous moves begin their retraction phase. Perhaps a team floated a player's name on the open market and then saw their efforts get rebuffed. Now they're hitting the damage control button. Or perhaps there was never an effort to begin with, only cursory conversations that were thrown into the rumor mill.
One of those scenarios seem to be the case with Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith. Sam Amick of USA Today reported Tuesday that Detroit is "not eager to part ways" the 28-year-old enigma.
Smith is seen leaguewide as a spare part in Stan Van Gundy's vision. The Pistons already have Andre Drummond and plan to bring back restricted free agent Greg Monroe, leaving Smith again in an awkward spot where he's forced into playing the 3.
That's not an ideal outcome for anyone. More likely, Detroit has just been lowballed on the trade market. Smith, especially when he can play his natural power forward, is a fine NBA player. The deal he signed in Detroit was not terrible in a vacuum; it was terrible in a basketball sense. It seems feasible that Van Gundy is merely trying to gin up as much interest as possible.
With three years and $40.5 million remaining on his contract, that's going to be more difficult than he hopes.
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