It was fun while it lasted—for the offseason winners at least—but, for all intents and purposes, it's over now. The trade market might still produce a stunner, a few more restricted free-agent dominoes still need to drop, but the red carpets have been rolled up and placed in storage for next summer.
So, what should fans expect for the next wild round of negotiations? Who might be changing jerseys in 2015, and which clubs are positioned to be big spenders?
Notable Names to Watch
Normally I'd try to avoid starting with a technicality, but this one is kind of important.
Even after returning to his roots this summer, LeBron James has the option of hitting free agency again in 2015. His two-year, $42.1 million contract includes a player option for 2015-16, although sources told ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst that James "is fully committed to the Cavs long term."
As USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt noted, the option is a bargaining chip for James, not a source of hope for teams attempting to pry him away from the Cleveland Cavaliers:
So, James really shouldn't be on the watch list, but considering the subject, his status is certainly worth a mention.
While the 2014 class dazzled at the top, the 2015 crop shines brightest for its depth. There are some heavy hitters in the group, but they don't have the same star power of a James or a Kevin Durant (slated for the 2016 class).
Most lists ranking the top free agents for next summer will start with one of three players: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol. Love has the best individual numbers of the three, Aldridge's team experienced the most success last season and Gasol has always been a favorite of the analytical crowd.
|Comparing The Best of the 2015 Class|
If a team is preparing to throw major money at a member of this class, these are the three most likely recipients.
The question may be whether any of them are available.
As ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported, Love has informed the Minnesota Timberwolves of his intention to opt out of his contract next summer and find his way to a contender. Of course, the Wolves could speed up that process and work out a trade for him now to avoid the risk of losing him for nothing later.
If a deal goes down for Love, his next employer could demand some type of commitment. Whether that's a long-term extension or simply opting in for the final year of his contract, either would take him off the board.
With that said, he still seems the most likely of the three to be on the move next summer.
I'm happy to stay, happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or two. This has no impact on my interest in staying in Portland. I just want to get a five-year deal. I feel like that's the best decision on my part.
I don't want it to be perceived that I'm not happy or I'm not staying on because I'm not signing a three-year deal. It's just financially smarter to wait ... and I'm looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes.
Gasol sounds just as disinterested in seeking out different pastures.
"I've always said Memphis is my home away from home," the Spaniard told Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal. "Robert (Pera, Griz controlling owner) knows that. I know that. My teammates know that and that's all that matters. I live day to day but I don't see myself anywhere else."
Obviously, these should be considered fluid stances. Anything can happen when it comes time to put pen to paper, as James' return proved.
Outside of the 2015 class' big three, which other players will draw interest?
For clubs in the point guard market, Rajon Rondo is headed for unrestricted free agency. Goran Dragic could join him assuming he declines his $7.5 million player option for 2015-16.
Out on the wing, Rudy Gay could attract interest from those looking for steady scoring and athleticism. Wesley Matthews is another unrestricted free agent worth keeping an eye on. Scoring guard Monta Ellis and swingman Luol Deng both hold player options, so one or both could be on the move.
Versatile power forward Paul Millsap has only one year left on his deal, as do athletic center DeAndre Jordan and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler. Al Jefferson, an All-NBA third team selection this past season and Brook Lopez, an All-Star in 2012-13, could test the waters if they decline their player options.
Teams looking to mimic the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs could have the chance to do a lot more than that. The contracts of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all expire after this coming season. It's hard to imagine any of them outside of San Antonio, but maybe Parker would consider leaving if Duncan and Ginobili retire.
The Spurs also need to decide the future of Kawhi Leonard who, along with his 2011 draft classmates, will be up for an extension this summer. If those extensions don't come, players like Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Kenneth Faried and Markieff Morris will be headed to restricted free agency.
The talent is obvious, and it could be plentiful.
But these names aren't the only things to look for next summer.
Storylines to Follow
Major markets will have money again.
The Los Angeles Lakers participated in Carmelo Anthony's cross-country recruiting tour, and general manager Mitch Kupchak scored a meeting with LeBron's agent, Rich Paul. However, LA came up empty in both pursuits and turned its focus to maintaining future flexibility.
Kobe Bryant's salary will rise to $25 million for 2015-16, via ShamSports.com, but that will be the only significant deal on the Lakers' books. They have moderate commitments made to Nick Young and Julius Randle, but the majority of their offseason additions came on one-year contracts or with deals that included team options.
That didn't happen by coincidence.
The Lakers never backed themselves into a corner where major spending this summer would have been a necessity. Wiggle room was left open for a reason.
"The Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents," Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding wrote in March.
The franchise has tremendous flexibility. Considering the Lakers ended 2013-14 season with the second-lowest winning percentage in their history (.329), that flexibility needs to yield a cornerstone piece, and the Lakers will have the means of landing one if it's available.
That last paragraph could almost be copied and pasted for the New York Knicks.
They're still on the path to flexibility. With Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani still chewing up gobs of cap space next season ($23.4 million and $11.5 million, respectively), the Knicks are still a year away from having sufficient funds to snare a superstar sidekick for Melo.
Anthony took slightly less than the maximum available to him, increasing the hope of team president Phil Jackson to find his difference-making free agent.
"He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do," Jackson said of Anthony, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley. "Give us a break in the early part of his contract so that when we have some wiggle room next year, which is hopefully enough wiggle room, we can exploit it."
Time will tell if Anthony left enough money on the table, but the Knicks should be positioned to be buyers next summer.
A second narrative worth following is the impact of the league's impending television negotiations.
The league's current TV deal expires after the 2015-16 season. ESPN Insider Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) detailed the current financial situation and how it could change in the near future:
The NBA currently receives an annual $938 million as part of its eight-year, $7.5 billion agreement with ESPN/ABC and TNT/Turner that will expire in two years. But early estimates suggest that the annual payout could see an increase of 50 percent or greater to nearly $2 billion. For reference, the previous deal, signed in 2007, saw a 20 percent boost over the previous one.
That potential boost in revenue could trickle down to the players quickly. For those struggling to figure out why a superstar like James signed off on a two-year deal, this was the motivation.
"Bigger TV deal, bigger salary cap, bigger payday for James and the rest of the league's elite looking for max contracts," Haberstroh wrote.
It's hard to say how much impact the TV deal will have on next year's crop of free agents. If James gave it some thought while signing his contract, though, it's reasonable to assume others could follow his lead.
If that wasn't enough for players to process, there's also the reality that both they and the league can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017.
Players could look to collect now before more stringent restrictions (a hard salary cap, possibly) are put into place. Others may opt to wait and see if players are able to broker a more favorable deal (the elimination of max contracts?).
Again, those answers won't be known before next summer.
For now, just appreciate the time available to process all the player moves that could be made, where they might wind up and what kind of deals they'll accept.
That might not hold you over for another year, but it doesn't have to. There will be another season for us to enjoy before then, when we can find out who made the right decisions this summer and who needs a mulligan for next year.
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