Unlike a draft class, which is defined by its biggest names, a free-agent crop is remembered for its biggest movers. The 2010 group will go down in history not because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were all free agents, but because the trio of perennial All-Stars decided to consolidate their star power in Miami, thereby reshaping the NBA's landscape for years to come. Had James and Bosh simply re-upped in Cleveland and Toronto, respectively, 2010 is downgraded from seismic to blip status.
That brings us to 2014, when the NBA could be facing either: 1) the largest redistribution of power since 2010, or 2) a relatively ho-hum free agency period defined by re-signings rather than roster reconstructions. The same names that turned the league upside down four years ago -- James, Wade and Bosh -- are front and center this summer, even if the relative power balance between the threesome has shifted somewhat during their time together. Everyone else in the league -- even stars like Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki -- will take their cues, directly or indirectly, from the Heat's Big Three.
Below is an all-encompassing ranking of this year's free agency class. Statistical production (including advanced numbers such as Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares), individual honors, team role, contributions to team success, postseason play, age and health were all considered in forming this ranking of the top-25 free agents.
1. LeBron James | Heat | F | Age: 29
'13-14 stats: 37.7 MPG, 27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 29.3 PER, 15.9 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used early termination option (ETO) after fourth year of six-year, $110 million contract
Humbled by the Spurs in the NBA Finals, James at least enters July as the league's undisputed King of free agency. Kevin Durant won MVP, surpassing James in PER and Win Shares, but the Thunder forward has yet to supplant LeBron as the league's best and most dominant all-around player. A premier playmaker, thinker and physical specimen, James was named All-NBA first team and All-Defensive second team, and he guided the Heat to a 12-3 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Miami is the clear front-runner to sign James, who surely understands that the Heat would be strongly favored to make a fifth straight Finals trip if they simply bring back a similar cast. That said, "How much will James cost?" and "Will he leave money on the table to help Heat president Pat Riley build out a deeper roster?" remain open questions. Wade, Bosh and longtime Heat power forward UdonisHaslem all joined James by opting out, which makes for some real intrigue. Given that San Antonio isn't going anywhere next season, a little financial sacrifice from Miami's stars -- James included -- could be key to their 2015 title hopes.
2. Carmelo Anthony | Knicks | F | Age: 30
'13-14 stats: 38.7 MPG, 27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 24.4 PER, 10.7 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used ETO after second year of three-year, $64 million contract extension
No A-list free agent has as much motivation to seek out new digs as Anthony. In 3½ seasons with the Knicks, the 2013 scoring champion has just one playoff-series victory. One of his best individual years was overlooked because of his team's nightmare 37-win season, and he has had to keep himself busy by shark fishing while his fellow 2003 draft classmates -- James, Wade and Bosh -- have made deep run after deep run in the playoffs.
Now, Anthony is confronted by a regime change in New York, where first-time president Phil Jackson and first-time coach Derek Fisher prepare to set a new course. Jackson has mentioned the possibility of Anthony's taking a pay cut for the sake of the organization, and yet he also traded starting center Tyson Chandler, a sign that he's heading toward rebuilding rather than aiming for contention. Meanwhile, Chicago and Houston, among others, have positioned themselves as possible destinations if the allure of the Big Apple has waned for Anthony.
3. Chris Bosh | Heat | F/C | Age: 30
'13-14 stats: 32.0 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 19 PER, 8 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used ETO after fourth year of six-year, $110 million contract
Bosh's numbers have taken a hit because of his role in Miami, but he's still one of the league's best two-way big men. A key piece in the Heat's preferred small ball approach, Bosh has become a bigger three-point threat, hitting 40 percent on nearly four attempts per game during the playoffs.
Though he might lack the bulk to guard traditional centers, he is a quick and intelligent team defender who can check power forwards and switch out onto wings. With Wade in and out of the lineup last season, Bosh played the second-most minutes on the Heat, and coach Erik Spoelstra often refers to the nine-time All-Star as Miami's "most important" player because of his versatility. Of the Heat's three stars, Bosh has been the most vocal about wanting to stay put, and Miami's mass opt-outs set him well to do just that.