We’d like to think NBA free agents are looking at free agency with open minds, balancing the ratio of maximum earning potential to basketball fit. However, that’s often not the case. And it goes both ways. Sometimes players make bad career decisions and team execs facilitate it.
The Detroit Pistons’ decision to clunk up their frontcourt by offering $54 million to Josh Smith is a testament to the general manager’s equivalent of a YOLO signing. Greg Monroe will wind up a casualty of Smith’s immovable anchor contract. Or the example of Hornets cashing out on a four-year $44 million deal for sixth man Tyreke Evans.
There are a flurry of rumors circulating around the NBA blogosphere recently. Most deals make sense; however, the cynic in the back of our cerebral sportexes has to consider the worst-case scenario. Behind that voice is a churlish old curmudgeon who considers the doomsday scenario. We’re that voice. Not including the teams that have first rights to restricted free agents, here is our look at best and worst case scenarios on the future of the NBA’s top 2014 NBA free agents.
PLAYER – (BEST CASE SCENARIO/WORST CASE SCENARIO)
LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers/Los Angeles Lakers
The nightmare scenario of LeBron and Kobe Bryant tugging for supremacy would make for a compelling storyline, but alas not a very happy one for James. Bryant can be very combative and James is naturally passive.
On the flipside, Cleveland offers a supporting cast that is poised for a breakthrough in the near future and has the flexibility to actually make a few tweaks that don’t involve installing walkers near the lockers.
The Miami Heat’s roster resembles The Picture of Dorian Grey. If James wants to be flanked by a pair of refined, and mature hardwood All-Stars who seem fine on the exterior, but behind the scenes are decomposing at an accelerated rate, then Miami is the spot for him.
If James wants a group of athletes that are slightly more athletic, but need a bit of refinement and mentoring, then Cleveland supplies everything he needs to finally conquer the NBA for the beleaguered city of Cleveland. It would be a challenge, but not as much of a challenge as taking the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers D-League roster to the NBA Finals.
Carmelo Anthony - Chicago Bulls/Houston Rockets
Houston offers better Big Three potential, but the Chicago Bulls are a more complete team. The Bulls make just too much sense, which is why Anthony gave Chicago a whole day to pitch while the Rockets and Mavs receive a timeshare on Wednesday. The Bulls need perimeter scoring to take the load for creating offense off of Derrick Rose’s. Unfortunately, the Rose-era Bulls have a tendency stay out of the impact free agent market like Chris Bosh stays out of the lane. How committed are they to inking Anthony?
The Bulls would have to execute a few tweaks to the roster including amnestying or trading Boozer and Taj Gibson but the risk is worth the potential reward in the long run. Chicago has bumped its head against the ceiling in its current form. The Bulls and Anthony need each other.
Houston sounds attractive when you take a look at win-shares and star power. Yet, there are three fundamental issues that could deter them from achieving a championship destiny; who plays point guard, how do you navigate the Western Conference gauntlet and is anyone going to play defense? Jeremy Lin has plateaued as a so-so point guard since his Lin-sanity zenith with the Knicks in 2012. Sure Anthony, Howard and Lin can share Mike D’Antoni horror stories during road trips, but is anyone besides Patrick Beverley going to play defense? If this does happen, perimeter scorers are going to lick their chops when they see Houston on the menu err… schedule.
Eric Bledsoe - Phoenix Suns/Los Angeles Lakers
Bledsoe may be built like a point guard, but he’s mentally charged to be a 2-guard. Dragic and Bledsoe are undersized, but play off each other like Kid N’ Play in a dance-off.
With that said, the Lakers would be an incongruent match for Bledsoe who spent his first three seasons in Staples Center as a Clipper. Bledsoe is a complementary piece, but he’s spent so much of his hoops career as a combo guard that pairing him with a ball-dominating 2-guard of Kobe Bryant’s ilk in the backcourt is like tossing in the same room for an entire summer
Gordon Heyward - Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers
Hayward is a restricted free agent, which gives the Jazz dibs on his rights, but he’s in a unique position as Boston currently employs his collegiate head coach. Hayward’s generated plenty of interest for a guy who doesn’t overwhelm opponents with any one particular skillset, but displayed impressive versatility across the board.
On the other end of the free agent scenario spectrum involves Hayward becoming Cleveland’s alternative to LeBron, if the Akron Kid opts to remain under the South Beach umbrella, I’m not so sure another swingman is what they need to throw cash at. But don’t tell that to Cleveland.
Cavs believed to be preparing a max offer sheet for restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, sources said. Yahoo reported he is visiting today— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 2, 2014
The money would be irrestistible for Hayward, but the accompanying expectations would not bode well for his tenure in Cleveland, their roster flexibilty in future offseasons or on their overall win total.
Isaiah Thomas - Boston Celtics/Detroit Pistons
The Celtics have reportedly been interested in Thomas for months, after trying to swing a deal for the pint-sized dynamo with a big scoring punch before the trade deadline. However, they now have an opportunity to acquire him outright. This does create a jam at point guard for the Celtics, but if Thomas ends up in Celtic Green, this inches the hand on Rondo’s time in Boston towards midnight.
Reportedly, the Detroit Pistons have also expressed interest.
It’s not clear if the Pistons realize this is not the Isaiah Thomas that won a few titles ? Thomas is a feisty two-guard who was a fantasy basketball demi-god, but is extremely undersized and would mesh with Brandon Jennings.
Hopefully, these rumors are just a case of mistaken identity for the new regime
Thomas is an undersized guard with a knack for creating his own shot. The Pistons are already an incompatible roster and the addition of Thomas would tip their combustible roster towards midnight on the doomsday clock.
Pau Gasol - Phoenix Suns/Los Angeles Lakers
The Heat are reportedly interested in poaching the Lakers perennial All-Star center/perennial trade block resident. After years of sitting on a trap door waiting for Mitch Kupchak to pull the lever uncertain of whether he’d be shipped off for a younger, cornerstone player, heading back to Tinseltown on a much more reasonable contract makes him even more attractive trade piece down the line. Gasol needs stability.
The Suns have the most need for Gasol and could take advantage of his versatility in the post and his end-to-end mobility in transition.
Lance Stephenson - Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Lakers
Indiana and Stephenson are reportedly miles apart on negotiations after Indiana lowballed the 23-year-old with a five-year $44 million offer. That averages out to approximately $8.8 million per season. For comparison’s sake, Celtics guard Avery Bradley signed a four-year, $32 million deal on Wednesday that calculates out to $8 million per year. There are two ways for Stephenson to shove that offer back in Larry Bird’s grill.
Sign with the Lakers. Unfortunately, the Lakers already have an assortment of eccentric personalities populating its frontcourt. Which makes sense given
Signing with the Hornets would also be an auxiliary F.U. to Larry Bird, whose group was the runner-up to Bob Johnson’s bid to buy the expansion Bobcats in December of 2002.
The Kemba Walker-Stephenson tandem frontcourt reeks of kinetic New York City playground hoops energy and gives Charlotte another piece to build upon in the Eastern Conference. If Noah Vonleh evolves into an All-Star as many scouts anticipate, and Al Jefferson remains healthy, watch out for the Hornets rise in the East.
Kyle Lowry - Miami Heat/Houston Rockets
The Rockets expressing interest in Lowry is quietly the most amusing development of free agency thus far. Why? Because Lowry was a Rocket for _- seasons and butted heads with head coach Kevin McHale—who is still holding down the head coaching position.
After the season, Lowry went so far as to tell the Houston Chronicle that he didn’t see himself returning the next season and that "If things aren't addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved."
Conversely, the Heat give Lowry his best chance to win a championship. This is simple. If Lowry is being wooed by the Heat, then it’s likely that Bosh, Wade and LeBron will be joining him. A point guard in his prime can’t turn down that opportunity.
Greg Monroe - New Orleans Pelicans/Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks learned nothing from the Billy Knight era. Apparently, Al Horford and Paul Millsap aren’t enough. They’re still interested in hoarding forwards like they’re going out of style. Monroe isn’t escaping a clogged frontcourt in Detroit just to land in a similar one in a football town.
Conversely, a potential sign and trade involving Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson could benefit Monroe, the Pelicans and Detroit. Anderson is more of a stretch-4 while Monroe is a traditional four who can operate in the high post as a poor man’s Pau Gasol. A frontcourt of “The Brow” Anthony Davis, Monroe and Omer Asik.