The biggest NBA free-agent chip finally fell Friday when LeBron James announced his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With King James now off the market, the focus shifts toward some of the other big names searching for a home.
James was always viewed as the key to the offseason since his choice figured to make the landscape much clearer. Now that teams are aware of LeBron's status, it stands to reason that many of the other top free agents will start to reach agreements as well.
That includes LeBron's former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, who was left in limbo after LeBron bolted South Beach. James' exit opens up some interesting scenarios for D-Wade and several others, though, which should make the next several days of NBA free agency quite chaotic.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding Wade and more marquee free agents.
With LeBron out of the picture, it is fair to say that the Heat are no longer title contenders. That could ultimately impact Wade's free-agent decision, but having spent his entire NBA career in Miami and won three titles with the Heat, he could still be compelled to stay.
The 32-year-old Wade was once among the NBA's most dominant players. He is still productive when healthy, but he averaged just 19 points per game last season, which was his lowest scoring output since his rookie year. Wade also played in only 54 games. That was partly due to injury but also partly due to the Heat wanting to preserve him for the playoffs.
If Wade returns to Miami, it won't have the luxury of resting him. Much of the burden will be on Wade's shoulders, and it remains to be seen if he is still capable of handling it.
The Heat apparently want to find out as they are taking steps to bring back the heart and soul of the team, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
Miami is pushing to complete a deal to keep Dwyane Wade now, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 11, 2014
This is on the heels of the Heat somewhat surprisingly reaching an agreement with Chris Bosh, per ESPN.com. The expectation was that Bosh would go elsewhere with no James in the fold, but the Heat still have a chance to be somewhat of a factor in the Eastern Conference.
They must keep Wade in order to do that, but they might have some company. According to Wojnarowski, Wade's hometown Chicago Bulls are kicking the tires as well:
The Chicago Bulls are gauging interest with free agent Dwyane Wade, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 11, 2014
After James decided to go home, it is possible that Wade wants to do the same. Wade is so entrenched in Miami, though, that it can be argued he feels comfortable where he is. If Bosh's stay in Miami becomes official, then it would make sense for Wade to stay as well so that the "Big 2" can continue to have some measure of success in South Beach.
Wade may be the biggest name on the market at shooting guard, but the best 2-guard available is likely Lance Stephenson. The 23-year-old star enjoyed a breakout 2013-14 campaign with the Indiana Pacers as he averaged nearly 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Stephenson is a true stat-sheet stuffer who has already garnered a great deal of interest across the league.
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Stephenson has at least three high-profile suitors in addition to the Pacers:
In addition to Dallas & Lakers, Boston also showing interest in Lance Stephenson, source said— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
The Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics all offer different and intriguing situations for Stephenson to consider. The Mavs could conceivably make some noise in the Western Conference with Stephenson in the fold. The Lakers have a certain mystique, but Stephenson would play second fiddle to Kobe Bryant. Stephenson would be "the guy" in Boston, although the Celtics probably won't be a winning team.
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Remaining in Indiana is still an option for Stephenson as well. He obviously fits well into the scheme, and the Pacers figure to be among the best teams in the Eastern Conference with the Heat weakening and the Cavaliers getting stronger.
The Pacers would probably love to keep Stephenson, but head coach Frank Vogel made it clear that the decision is ultimately up to the player, per the Associated Press.
"It's a process. The ball is in his court," Vogel said. "It's a waiting game until we see how some of the other dominoes fall."
One of those dominoes fell in the form of James, so business is likely about to pick up for Stephenson. There are still some question marks surrounding him since he is somewhat volatile and only has one truly productive year under his belt, but Stephenson should be the recipient of a big contract regardless.
Small forward Trevor Ariza has flown under the radar for much of his NBA career, so it comes as no surprise that the same is true of his time on the free-agent market. Ariza has been overshadowed, but it won't be long before he is viewed as a hot commodity.
Ariza is a 10-year NBA veteran who is coming off his best season. Ariza has always been a strong defender and high-flying dunker, but his offensive game really came together while with the Washington Wizards. Ariza averaged over 14 points and six rebounds per game in addition to shooting a remarkable 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Ariza was already a useful player prior to last season due to his defensive acumen. Improving so much from three-point range makes him a multi-faceted threat, though. Perhaps that is why the Heat have expressed some interest in him, according to Wojnarowski:
Miami engaged with free agents Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng for the job opening at small forward, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 11, 2014
With LeBron now in Cleveland, the Heat need to find a replacement. There is no like-for-like replacement when it comes to someone of James' caliber, but Ariza is no slouch. He would add a different dimension to the Heat and help them be a very good team provided Bosh and Wade stay.
If the Heat want Ariza, though, they will have to out-maneuver some competition. Per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, one of Ariza's former teams—the Houston Rockets—is also making overtures.
Ariza could help make the Rockets title contenders out West alongside James Harden and Dwight Howard. At the same time, he might have a bigger role in Miami as well as an easier road through the Eastern Conference.
Whatever the case, Ariza has some hand in negotiations as other players start to sign, so he figures to do quite well for himself in free agency.
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