LeBron James' latest spin around the NBA's free-agency carousel is over. James announced his return to Cleveland through an essay given to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated Friday, which means that all the other major moves destined for this NBA offseason can begin to take shape.
To be sure, it's not as though the entire market has stood still since it opened on July 1, per se, Dirk Nowitzki, Marcin Gortat, Kyle Lowry, Boris Diaw and Avery Bradley are among those who've already re-signed with their incumbent squads. Meanwhile, Spencer Hawes, Channing Frye, Darren Collison, Josh McRoberts and Jodie Meeks have inked mid-level contracts with new squads.
Not to mention, Jordan Farmar, Danny Granger, Ben Gordon, Beno Udrih, Patty Mills, Patrick Patterson and Thabo Sefolosha also now have fresh deals in hand.
But that still leaves a long and impressive list of free agents who have yet to make that important life decision this summer. Now that LeBron's business is out of the way, the market for everyone else among the upper crust of this year's class should move rather quickly.
That process has already restarted, with James' now-former teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, at the forefront. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Bosh will be staying put on South Beach, and Wade could be doing the same.
Bosh's choice is particularly intriguing since it comes at the expense of what would seem like a better opportunity to win now with the Houston Rockets. Bosh had reportedly been offered a max contract worth north of $80 million over four years with the Rockets, according to Sam Amick of USA Today.
Instead, Bosh will make even more money while working in a city he loves, for an organization he trusts, on a team where he'll now be featured as the central star rather than a third wheel, like he'd previously been in Miami and would be in Houston.
As for Wade, the Chicago Bulls had shown interest in the city's native son, per Wojnarowski, but according to ESPN's Mark Jones, they were quickly rebuffed.
The Heat will have a tough time contending for a spot atop the Eastern Conference without LeBron, but so long as Wade and Bosh are there, they should be good enough to snag a playoff spot therein.
This is especially true if Pat Riley makes judicious use of his squad's remaining cap space. Some of that will be spent to re-sign Udonis Haslem, who opted out of the final year of his contract to afford Miami more flexibility in free agency.
The rest could (in theory) be splashed at any number of second-tier free agents, from unrestricted players such as Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza to high-profile restricted guys like Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe. According to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, Deng would seem a strong bet to take his talents to South Beach:
Riles will have his fair share of competition in this regard. The Washington Wizards will probably want to run back to last season's squad with Ariza back in tow. The Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns are all in the market for productive wing-forwards and have money to burn after being spurned by bigger names.
The Rockets will remove themselves from this mix if they wind up matching the Mavs' three-year, $46 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. According to ESPNDallas.com's Tim McMahon, Houston is unsure about doing so by Sunday's 11:59 p.m. ET deadline now that Bosh is no longer an option.
In the meantime, the Rockets will be hard at work trying to make the best of a not-quite-bad situation. As Grantland's Zach Lowe notes:
You can bet Daryl Morey will work his ass off to sign someone into that space while it lasts, even if he has to overpay a bit. He’s in desperation mode now, having tossed away time, players, and draft picks in the Bosh chase.
Nabbing Bosh would have put Houston right alongside San Antonio and Oklahoma City in the Western Conference hierarchy. They’ll still be a very good team without him, and they could still have a chunk of cap space even if they don’t manage to sign a free agent before matching Parsons’s $15 million deal.
The Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons wouldn't appear to have any qualms about retaining their own restricted free agents. According to The Deseret News' Jody Genessy, the Jazz will soon match the four-year, $63 million offer sheet that the Charlotte Hornets extended to Gordon Hayward.
The Pistons are in no rush to do the same with Greg Monroe, if only because his offer-sheet clock hasn't started ticking yet. Once it does, don't be surprised if/when Stan Van Gundy swats it away with an equal one of his own.
Van Gundy expressed to local media the team's high regard for Monroe (h/t The Detroit Free Press):
We want Greg Monroe back, but obviously it’s got to be a mutual thing, too. There’s no hesitation there. From Day 1, and Greg can tell you, I went down and met with him. He was the first player I met with. I went down and met with him within a few days of getting the job and made it clear to him we want him back and we haven’t wavered on that at all.
The Sacramento Kings wavered plenty on Isaiah Thomas, thereby opening the door for the Suns to swoop in for a sign-and-trade. That deal was reached Friday evening.
As far as the spotlight is concerned, everyone else will have to wait their turn until Carmelo Anthony makes up his mind. Several reports indicate Anthony will choose between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls.
The former offers more money, the appeal of playing in his hometown, the comfort of an organization he's come to know since 2011 and the potential to contend in the future, once New York's cap situation clears up. The latter would afford Anthony a clearer opportunity to compete for a championship immediately—and be LeBron's division rival, no less—albeit at a discount of some degree.
However the rest of the Melodrama shakes out, it won't involve the Los Angeles Lakers. They appeared to be out of the running for Anthony's services prior to James' decision day and are almost certainly out of fiscal range for that caliber of signing now. Between trading for Jeremy Lin and re-signing Jordan Hill and Nick Young, the Lakers quickly sopped up a significant share of their cap space.
It seems that Hill's share (two years, $18 million) would've gone to Pau Gasol. But the slender Spaniard turned down L.A.'s offer, per Wojnarowski. Instead, Gasol is expected to choose between the Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs.
Perhaps the Heat will renew their pursuit of Gasol now that they have some money to spend. If they want to maximize Bosh's effectiveness, it'd behoove them to pair him with someone who can play center, which Gasol can do and has done with aplomb throughout his career.
Or, perhaps he will take a good long look at the Atlanta Hawks' rich offer:
What Gasol is to big men in this year's free-agent class, Paul Pierce is to wings: an aging All-Star looking for one last ride to the top of the pops. Pierce might prefer a reunion with Doc Rivers on the Los Angeles Clippers, but striking such a deal would require that Pierce either settle for a severe pay cut or coax the Brooklyn Nets into a sign-and-trade.
Neither option looks likely at this point. According to ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo, Pierce is seeking a deal worth $9-10 million annually. The Nets, on the other hand, would prefer to keep him in the $6-8 million range. Whether Pierce can actually find a team willing to meet his salary demands is another story, especially in light of his age (he turns 37 in October).
Ray Allen, Pierce's former compatriot, remains in limbo after LeBron's decision. So, too, do a host of other veterans hoping to catch on somewhere, including Shawn Marion, Chris Andersen, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Miller and Jameer Nelson.
The list of available free agents remains long, even after Friday's flurry of activity. But now that the real movers and shakers are, indeed, moving and shaking their way off the board, the rest of the field should find new homes in relatively short order.
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