All the anticipation. All the rumors. All the speculation.
It all comes to a head beginning at midnight Eastern time, when the NBA free agent market officially opens. And much of it could be for naught.
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are all available, having opted out of their contracts with the Miami Heat. But the safe bet is all three did so with the idea of staying in Miami and making some financial sacrifices together to allow Pat Riley to go out and bolster a team that was steamrolled in its fourth straight NBA Finals appearance by the San Antonio Spurs.
The air of inevitability is doing little to dull the fervor.
Players can begin meeting with teams on Tuesday, but they cannot sign contracts until July 10, a moratorium that is established while the league works to set the salary cap for next season.
All eyes are on Miami to start. Riley specializes in closing deals, and he may not stop with his three All-Stars. But here are five other teams to watch in the early going.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: GM Daryl Morey is one of the most aggressive in the game. Two years ago, he traded for James Harden. Last year he won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. And he's not done. Morey wants a third star in Houston to help the Rockets challenge the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers atop the Western Conference. Never one to settle, Morey has James and Anthony at the top of his list.
CHICAGO BULLS: Tom Thibodeau's proud team has overachieved the last two seasons while superstar Derrick Rose has been sidelined by knee injuries. They've done it with a defensive intensity that has been unmatched, but even with Rose expected to be ready to go for training camp and Doug McDermott added on draft night, the Bulls still need some help to put the ball in the basket. Nobody does that better than Melo.
ATLANTA HAWKS: They have quietly made the playoffs for seven straight seasons, an achievement that comes with an asterisk since they play in the woeful Eastern Conference. But the Hawks made a trade Sunday night with Toronto that helps them free up some $15 million in cap space, which is enough to land a big-time free agent for promising second-year coach Mike Budenholzer.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: Nowitzki figures to take a large paycut to help his team free up some cash to bolster a lineup that gave the Spurs a harder time in the playoffs than any other team. They traded for Tyson Chandler to grab the attention of stars looking for a winner and owner Mark Cuban told a Dallas radio station last week that ''we're going to swing for the fences.''
PHOENIX SUNS: In his first season on the job, GM Ryan McDonough helped engineer a remarkable season for a young Suns team that won 48 games. McDonough can offer free agents the chance to play for an innovative coach in Jeff Hornacek and with a dynamic backcourt in Goran Dragic and Bledsoe, presuming he returns. The Suns also have the best medical staff in the league and are armed with draft picks and young players going forward to make the future in Phoenix as bright as the logo on their court.
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