A quick primer as the NBA gears up for its annual free-agent frenzy, set to begin on July 1. We'll dive into the biggest storylines this summer, the latest trade and free-agent buzz and more as we preview the craziest slate of the NBA calendar.
What’s up, LeBron James?
To be clear: No one in the NBA thinks LeBron James is signing anywhere but Cleveland this summer. That heartfelt letter he penned—with an assist from SI’s Lee Jenkins—nearly a year ago were the words of a man committed to the Cavaliers for the long term. A defection from Cleveland now would be a stunning course reversal, something literally no one across the league expects James to make.
It’s not about money, either, as the maximum salary James can sign for this summer (around $22 million) is close to the salary he would have earned on the deal he opted out of. What this is about is control. By opting out, James can—actively or passively—have a heavy-handed role in the shaping of the team. He can use an intermediary—in this case his agent, Rich Paul—to inform the team on what he wants. He can ensure the Cavaliers pay full price for Tristan Thompson, slide a max contract in front of Kevin Love and (if he wants) pony up to keep the erratic J.R. Smith in the fold.
The Cavs need something from James, too. Cleveland has zero financial flexibility. It will be millions over the cap when the dust settles, leaving them with minimum contracts and the taxpayer exception—a slot at around $3.5 million. In todays ever expanding salary world—one executive told me recently that Tobias Harris (Tobias Harris!) will collect around $14 million per year this summer—that’s not much. The Cavs need James to become a recruiter. They need James to convince one or two useful players to take less and sign on to a team that will compete for championships for the next few seasons.
Let the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes begin
With Aldridge and the Blazers headed for a divorce—Portland’s pre-draft moves, notably the flipping of Nicolas Batum for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson and sending the rights to Rondae Hollis Jefferson to Brooklyn for Mason Plumlee, indicate they are bracing for it—Aldridge becomes the most attainable top free agent. Buzz around the league is that the fight for Aldridge will come down to two teams: the Lakers and Spurs. Aldridge keeps a home in Southern California and San Antonio is a contender in his home state. Two executives told SI.com that the Spurs—who are sending a contingent led by Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to recruit Aldridge—would be tough to beat. Aldridge, 30, is said to be influenced by Popovich’s reputation for maximizing the lengths of the careers of his players. A Duncan-Aldridge-Kawhi Leonard frontcourt? San Antonio would instantly become the favorite to win the Western Conference.
Where to, Greg Monroe?
We know one thing: It won’t be Detroit. Monroe told The Advocate—a New Orleans based newspaper—that the list of teams he was scheduled to talk to was down to New York, Boston, Milwaukee, Portland and the Lakers. The Knicks are considered a frontrunner here; New York has made Monroe a priority, according to league sources, and the Knicks have the position (center) and cap space (max) to make Monroe an enticing offer.
Will Boston get shut out?
It was a frustrating draft night for Celtics GM Danny Ainge, who was rebuffed by several teams he exchanged offers with inside the top 10. Ainge isn’t subtle about Boston’s plan: The Celtics want a star, a tent-pole player they can build around. Everyone—including prized rookie Marcus Smart—is available. But while Boston has a solid young core, roughly $20 million in cap space and a head coach, Brad Stevens, with a sterling reputation, free agency may prove equally as frustrating. An unofficial survey of three player agents revealed that while Boston is on the list of destinations for several of their top clients, it isn’t atop the list for any. One player who would fit in Boston? Robin Lopez, a physical, shot blocking center who would give Boston the interior presence to complement Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.
Could the Clippers lose DeAndre Jordan?
For weeks, there have been rumblings that a rift between Jordan and All-NBA point guard Chris Paul could lead to Jordan’s exit from Los Angeles. Still, those rumors have yet to be substantiated and the Clippers—with the ability to offer Jordan a five-year, $110 million deal and a roster Jordan fits with seamlessly—are in a strong bargaining position. Still, Dallas looms as a legitimate threat. Jordan is from Texas—he grew up in Houston and attended Texas A&M—and one of his primary agents, Dan Fegan, has enjoyed a close relationship with the Mavericks.
Could the Heat lose Dwyane Wade?
The Wade Alert was raised a level this week, when Wade formally notified the Heat that he was opting out of the final year of his contract. It remains hard to envision Wade leaving Miami; he has three rings, is a hero in the community and would return to a competitive team that could contend for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. But the salary gap between Wade and the Heat is considerable; Wade is seeking a three- or four-year deal worth at least $16 million per season. Could another team actually lure Wade away? L.A. will call and there is mutual interest, a source told SI.com recently. Still: Wade leaving Miami would be a major shock.
Can the Cavs get anything for Brendan Haywood?
Haywood—whose $10.5 million contract for next season is non-guaranteed effective July 1—is Cleveland’s best trade asset. One team to look at: Oklahoma City. The Thunder actively shopped Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Steve Novak the last few weeks, two executives who have spoken to the Thunder told SI.com. And while OKC was able to unload Lamb on Charlotte, the Thunder are still looking for takers for Jones and Novak. The problem: In the case of Jones, Oklahoma City is looking for a real asset in return, specifically a first-round pick. That seems unlikely. In Haywood, the Thunder wouldn’t get anything but they would shed valuable salary and create the financial flexibility needed to lock Enes Kanter up to a long-term contract.
Is Paul Millsap worth a max contract?
The two-year, $19 million contract Atlanta inked Millsap to in 2013 was a bargain by NBA standards, as Millsap added a three-point shot on to an already impressive offensive arsenal and made back-to-back All-Star appearances with the Hawks. But as Millsap enters free agency, it’s fair to wonder: How much is Millsap worth? Millsap is the quintessential elite complementary player. He’s not able to carry a team but for a team looking for a missing piece—like, say, San Antonio, which has thrived with skilled perimeter big men for years—he is an ideal fit. At 30, Millsap will undoubtedly be looking to score a big deal.
Will the Warriors find a taker for David Lee?
Shortly after the season ended, Golden State announced that it would work with Lee—the Warriors former starter who was a good soldier during a season where new head coach Steve Kerr significantly reduced his minutes—on finding a team to trade him to. That’s easier said than done. Lee is due $15.5 million next season, the final year of his contract. Most likely, Golden State will wait until the free agent frenzy is over and look to deal Lee to a team with leftover cap space. Despite losing his spot in the rotation last season, Lee, 32, is still a reliable double-double man. Lee may not like where he lands (hello, Philadelphia) but Golden State, with Green a free agent this summer, need all the cap flexibility it can get.
The NBA loves this
Two things the NBA loves about the NFL: Parity—which the league hopes to create more of once the salary cap jumps—and a year-round presence. July is going to be wild. Just what the NBA wants.