Free Agent Stock Watch Rumors

Free Agent Stock Watch: Luol Deng

April 18 at 12:32pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Luol Deng is eighth in the latest version of our 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, but there’s a strong chance that he’ll be the most valuable free agent changing teams. It seems that there’s at least a better shot of that happening than there is of Deng re-signing in Cleveland, given the rumors that have surrounded him since the Cavs brought him in via trade on January 7th. Cleveland was 19-21 with Deng in the lineup, and while that’s better than the team’s record without him, his arrival didn’t exactly bring about drastic change to a moribund Cavs franchise. Deng began to privately express displeasure with the Cavs shortly after the trade, and a dispatch from last month indicated that Deng was simply counting the days until he could leave.

Deng took a much more positive tone in public, saying shortly after the trade deadline that he was pleased with the direction of the franchise. Less than a week after Cleveland acquired him, he expressed a willingness to sign an extension and referred to the Cavs as an “amazing organization.” It wouldn’t be in character for Deng, the winner of season’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and a tireless worker in his days with the Bulls, to lash out or undermine his team in on-the-record statements. Still, it appears he holds some misgivings about the Cavs, given the reports that have leaked, and it’s telling that his most forthcoming statements about his future came months ago. Extension chatter has vanished, too.

The Cavs were in talks with several teams about flipping Deng at the deadline, a sign that the club isn’t confident about its chances to keep the small forward, who turned 29 on Wednesday. The Wizards, Pistons, Pacers, Kings, Warriors and Mavs were among the teams reportedly in the conversation, though the Cavs were apparently merely gauging the market and never closed in on a deal. Still, some teams seemed reluctant to take on a player who can walk away this summer, reflecting a greater sentiment of uncertainty over just where Deng is headed in the offseason.

The Lakers and Suns have interest, and the Mavs, Celtics, Magic and Bobcats are reportedly likely suitors as well. Deng, when asked, didn’t rule out the notion of returning to the Bulls, though that seems a long shot. Agent Herb Rudoy has publicly pointed to Andre Iguodala‘s four-year, $48MM deal with the Warriors as analogous to Deng’s value, and some believe Rudoy will seek annual salaries greater than the $13.5MM Josh Smith makes. Deng was upset with the assertion that he sought an extension of $15MM a year from the Bulls before Chicago traded him, so it would be surprising if Rudoy attempted to go that high. Still, Deng scoffed at Chicago’s final offer of three years at $10MM each, so he’ll almost certainly seek more than that in free agency.

The seventh pick in the 2004 draft put up numbers this season that were similar to the ones he had the past two years, when he was an All-Star with the Bulls, though much of that is a product of strong performance in the months leading up to the trade. He was scoring 19.0 points and dishing out 3.7 assists per game in Chicago this season, which would have been career highs in spite of him having played fewer minutes than he ever had under Tom Thibodeau. Those minutes took an even sharper decline once he arrived in Cleveland, down to his lowest rate in six years, and his production suffered accordingly. Some of that could simply be a regression to the mean after his hot start, but Deng’s half-season with the Cavs hasn’t been memorable.

Deng’s most valuable contributions are usually on defense, and indeed the Cavs were a better defensive team with him on the floor, giving up 1.1 fewer points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. He didn’t revolutionize the Cavs defense, which finished tied with the Magic for the 13th most points per 100 possessions allowed, but drastic improvement was probably too much to ask, considering the shortcomings of the rest of the team’s starting unit.

His half-season as a Cavalier probably didn’t hurt his value, since he had such a strong start with the Bulls that his performance essentially evened out. Some teams may worry that Deng was a product of an effective system in Chicago, and that he’d more closely resemble the Cleveland version of himself on most NBA teams, but Thibodeau, for all his accomplishments as a coach, is no offensive genius, and Deng’s defense has held steady.

The shock of a midseason trade and the turmoil in Cleveland, where GM Chris Grant lost his job just weeks after acquiring Deng, probably didn’t help him play his best. Injuries to his back, ankle and Achilles tendon all forced him to miss time, which helps explain his offensive drop-off, too. Perhaps the ailments signal that his body is breaking down as he nears 30, after having led the league in minutes per game the past two seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his suitors insist on non-guaranteed money at the back end of his deal.

Deng is no superstar, and he won’t ask to be paid like one. He’s been a valuable starter for eight playoff teams in his 10 seasons, and he became an All-Defensive Second Team selection under Thibodeau’s guidance in 2011/12. He’s the sort of player who can help an established team that’s ready to start contending, and he’d be a better fit with teams like the Mavs, Wizards and Suns than the Lakers, Magic, or any other team with cap flexibility but without a semblance of a playoffs-worthy core. Deng might have to settle for salaries closer to Iguodala’s than Smith’s to fit into the sort of ascendant team that’s ideal for him, but that might be the best way for him to sustain his value for his next contract, particularly if his new coach watches his minutes. His signing won’t be July’s leading story, but it might make a significant difference come the following June.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Gordon Hayward

April 10 at 4:00pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Gordon Hayward has had no choice but to step into a leading role for the Jazz this season. Utah cleaned house this past summer, allowing Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and others to leave via free agency, and the team used the cap space to absorb Golden State’s toxic contracts in exchange for two first-round picks and three second-rounders. It was a clear indication that the Jazz are looking down the road, particularly since only one of those picks comes Utah’s way anytime before 2016. The Jazz ensured Derrick Favors would be a part of their future, inking him to a four-year, $48MM extension before the deadline to do so in October. Utah didn’t do the same with Hayward, a fellow 2010 draftee, setting him up for restricted free agency this summer, when he’ll be one of the top 10 players available.

Just how available the 24-year-old will be remains to be seen, since the Jazz have the power to match any other team’s offer and Hayward has said that signing a new deal to stay in Utah is his preference. The comments coming from Hayward, agent Mark Bartelstein and Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey in the wake of their failure to reach an extension deal were universally rosy. Lindsey expressed his admiration for Hayward and Bartelstein, who heaped similar praise on the Jazz. All of the three will surely look out for themselves this summer, but without any reports of private resentment behind their public statements, it seems as though the working relationship between the three is fully functional, at the very least.

The Jazz aren’t the only ones signing Hayward’s praises. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who doubles as the team’s primary front office decision-maker, said this past autumn that he has a “man-crush” on the former Butler star. The Celtics employ Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, and they showed interest in trading for the versatile swingman before the trade deadline. Many in the league have seen Boston as a strong candidate to pursue Hayward this summer. One NBA GM told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher before the October extension deadline that “the Jazz had better lock up Hayward,” a signal that there would be leaguewide interest this summer. League executives told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News in February that they generally feel as though the Jazz plan on re-signing him unless they wind up drafting a marquee small forward, in which case they believe that Utah will consider sign-and-trade possibilities.

It’s no secret that the Jazz covet combo forward Jabari Parker, a Mormon who would have inherent popular appeal in Utah, and small forward Andrew Wiggins looms as a possible draft pick for the Jazz, too. Still, Utah has started three small forwards for much of the season, grouping Hayward, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson together. Parker could slide in at power forward, and Wiggins, a strong defender, could cover the opposing team’s most potent offensive wing player, allowing the team to hide Hayward. The Jazz give up fewer points per possession when Hayward isn’t playing this season, per NBA.com, and that’s been true three out of the four years he’s been in the league.

Hayward nonetheless contributes in a multitude of other ways. He’s one of only five players in the league to average more than 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game this season, as Basketball-Reference shows. The others are Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams, putting Hayward in heady company. The opportunity to play outsized roles on teams with poor records surely has to do with the inclusion of Hayward and Carter-Williams on this list, but it nonetheless suggests Hayward’s wide-ranging value to the Jazz.

Hayward and Bartelstein apparently never asked for a maximum-salary extension from Utah, though they and the team were reportedly in talks for a deal worth more than what Favors received. Assuming the team was and remains willing to exceed $12MM salaries, and that Hayward and Bartelstein are still willing to accept less than the max, it would make for a small window of negotiation between $12MM and roughly $14MM. I’d be surprised if they couldn’t get a deal done, though there are a lot of “ifs” in that scenario.

The Jazz have no shortage of cap flexibility in the years ahead, with about $27MM in commitments for next season and only Favors under contract after that. Enes Kanter and Alec Burks will be extension-eligible this summer, but neither is likely to command the same sort of money that Hayward and Favors are about to make, and Utah should be able to keep all four if it wishes. Retaining Trey Burke and this year’s first-rounders might become an issue down the line, but Burke’s second contract would only overlap with the last season of Favors’ deal, so it shouldn’t be that much of a concern at this point.

Hayward is clearly a hot commodity around the league, but it would be a surprising about-face if he doesn’t wind up back with the Jazz, who hold most of the leverage with their right to match offers. Even if they didn’t, Hayward seems to feel comfortable in Salt Lake City and is giving every indication he intends to stay there for years to come.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Eric Bledsoe

April 2 at 1:50pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Suns owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby both said even before Eric Bledsoe returned from a torn meniscus in his right knee that they intend to match any offer for the restricted free agent this summer. That doesn’t preclude teams from challenging them to honor their word and making the Suns pay dearly to keep a 24-year-old who’s only started 69 games in his NBA career. Indeed, it appears the Lakers have considered overpaying for Bledsoe this summer to see if they can bring him back to L.A., where he spent his first two NBA seasons with the Clippers.

Overpaying for Bledsoe would almost certainly entail a maximum-salary offer, and even that sort of money might not be too much for a player with his upside. The Rich Paul client is only eligible for a starting salary worth approximately 25% of the salary cap. The precise figure won’t be known until after the July Moratorium, but it’ll likely be close to $14MM, based on last year’s numbers. That would give him more money than fellow point guards Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson but less than elites like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. He’d have the same salary as John Wall, who shared a backcourt with Bledsoe in their lone season at the University of Kentucky.

Wall received his max via an extension with the Wizards this past summer. The Suns were wary of handing out a lucrative extension to Bledsoe, whom they’d just acquired via trade with the Clippers. The former 18th overall pick had never been a full-time starter, and so GM Ryan McDonough and company took a cautious approach, even though it seems likely they could have extended Bledsoe for significantly less than the max. The Suns gave him a chance to prove his worth this season, and when healthy, he’s done just that, averaging 17.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. The Suns give up 3.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bledsoe on the floor, thanks in part to his team-leading 1.5 steals per game. In hindsight, the decision not to extend Bledsoe looks like a mistake.

There’s still plenty of room for him to improve, as his 3.1 turnovers per contest demonstrate. Still, it’s about the same rate of turnovers per minute as he’s committed throughout his career, so it’s no sign of regression. He shot nearly 40% from behind the arc last season and is making just 34.2% on such attempts this year, but apart from last season’s small sample size of 78 attempts, he’s never been a top-flight shooter from long distance. His assist numbers aren’t eye-popping because he shares ball-distributing duties with Goran Dragic.

The presence of Dragic complicates matters to some degree. The pairing of two point guards has certainly worked so far this season, but Bledsoe and Dragic have only shared the floor for a total of 716 minutes, or the equivalent of about 15 full games, a sample size that might be too small for the team to draw definitive conclusions. Dragic, not Bledsoe, has been the team’s most productive player this season, and if Dragic turns down his $7.5MM player option after next season, he can become a sought-after free agent in the summer of 2015. Dragic is also three and a half years older than Bledsoe, and the Slovenian has never played nearly as well as he has this season, so a regression could be in order for next year. If Dragic continues his sterling play, the Suns face the prospect of paying nearly $30MM a year to retain both of them.

The Suns have the benefit of cap flexibility if that scenario emerges. They’re tied only to about $23.6MM for next season and less than $1MM in the two seasons that follow. That doesn’t include rookie salaries for the slew of first-round picks coming Phoenix’s way in the new few years, but those are fungible assets that the Suns would have little trouble sending away if they want to pursue a marquee to add to Bledsoe and Dragic.

Plenty of teams would love to forestall the rise of the Suns, who play in an attractive, warm-weather city, as a title contender, and Bledsoe will draw plenty of attention this summer, as he did last year when he was on the trade block. The Raptors, Pelicans, Pistons, Magic, Mavericks and Celtics all expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe this past summer, with the majority of the talk surrounding Orlando. The Magic’s interest might have been overstated, and while the team seems committed to a slow rebuild, I wouldn’t be surprised to see GM Rob Hennigan float an offer to the point guard. The Magic would have little to lose in doing so, since even if Bledsoe signs an offer sheet and the Clippers take the maximum three days to match, Orlando probably wouldn’t miss out on any of its primary targets during the 72-hour holding period.

Sacrificing $14MM worth of cap maneuverability for three days is probably a worthwhile endeavor for other teams, too, but it’s certainly no given that Bledsoe would entertain signing an offer sheet. His contract could run for five years, with 7.5% raises, if he signs with the Suns outright, but he’d only get four seasons and 4.5% raises on an offer sheet with another team. Given the team’s stated intention to match any offer, Bledsoe and his agent have reason to negotiate with Phoenix first. That might be why Sarver and Babby have both said publicly that they’re willing to match offers, though I’d expect Paul to shop his client elsewhere if the Suns don’t at least come in with an offer equivalent to what other teams can make.

Ultimately, I don’t expect Bledsoe to change teams for a second consecutive summer. He’s only appeared in 35 games for the Suns, but his success, and the success of the team, is enough to justify the Suns keeping the No. 4 free agent in our 2014 power rankings around at any price.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Greg Monroe

March 27 at 4:03pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Most restricted free agents as valuable as Greg Monroe is are virtual shoo-ins to return to their teams. That’s not the case with the 6’11″ former Georgetown Hoya whose departure would appear to offer the Pistons the easiest way to dismantle their clumsy, super-sized frontcourt. Much hinges on just who the Pistons will have running their basketball operations this summer, with the job security of Joe Dumars in doubt. Most would probably conclude that the teaming of Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith has been a failed experiment, but even if Smith and Drummond continue to be unmovable assets, for completely different reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean Monroe is a goner.

The Pistons could sign Monroe this summer and trade him at the deadline, although his statistical decline this season suggests that his value would take a hit if Detroit continues to play him with its current set of misfit parts. His points, rebounds and assists per game — and per minute — are all down, and his PER is at a career-low 17.9. Monroe no doubt bears some responsibility for his own declining numbers, but it seems most logical to suggest that playing out of position and amid tight offensive spacing has been the primary reason behind his regression. He might not be all that enthusiastic about playing under these conditions for another year, but the Pistons wield the power to match any offer Monroe takes from another club.

Still, part of what makes Monroe such an intriguing case is the strong possibility that other clubs find him significantly more valuable than whoever will be making basketball decisions for Detroit does. Agent David Falk is averse to extensions for less than the maximum salary, and it never appeared as though the Pistons were willing to go that high. Still, Monroe is only 23 years old, and with averages of 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game with a 19.8 PER over the past three seasons, there’s plenty of reason to believe that at least one team would be willing to give him the max. That’s especially true since Monroe qualifies for a max that’s equivalent to only 25% of the salary cap, significantly less than the max salaries that more experienced players can make. The precise amount won’t be clear until after the July Moratorium, but it will likely entail a starting salary close to $14MM a year.

Falk has mastered the art of linking a client with the team that holds him in higher regard than most, having done so most recently with Roy Hibbert of the Pacers. Hibbert, who like Monroe is a former Georgetown big man, wasn’t widely considered worthy of a max deal when the Blazers agreed to sign him to an offer sheet for that amount in 2012, forcing the Pacers to quickly swoop in with an identical offer to retain him.

Five Eastern Conference teams are reportedly already planning to pursue Monroe, and one of them is probably the Wizards, who would apparently like to bring him back to the same city where he played his college ball. The Bobcats and Warriors had interest in trading for Monroe at the deadline, an idea that Detroit resisted short of an extraordinary offer. The resistance to part with Monroe in advance of his free agency indicates that Dumars and company are by no means anxious to see him go. The Pistons are hoping to re-sign him to a contract similar to the four-year, $49MM deal the Thunder gave Serge Ibaka in 2012, as TNT’s David Aldridge wrote in February. Aldridge believes the team will settle for paying the max if another club makes him such an offer, but given Detroit’s inability to find a taker for Smith, it’s not unreasonable to believe otherwise. A max deal for Monroe would require a commitment of nearly half the salary cap to two parts of a three-man unit that simply hasn’t worked.

The possibility of a sign-and-trade is in play. The Pistons could use their ability to match offers as leverage to gain assets from Monroe suitors. Dumars was on the other end of such a transaction this summer, when he acquired Brandon Jennings for three players including Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton, a pair of inexpensive young talents with upside. Detroit can’t expect to receive a player of Monroe’s caliber in this sort of swap, but the big man’s status as a restricted free agent means the club could reap assets more valuable than the ones conveyed in many sign-and-trades.

Monroe is certainly no superstar, but a young, productive interior player who stands 6’11″ needn’t be a marquee name to command a max deal. His down year this season raises legitimate concerns, but I think he’ll nonetheless be able to sign a max contract in the summer. Whether it’s the Pistons or another team that winds up shelling out the money depends on just who is running the front office in Detroit. If the new GM is a confident, aggressive sort who feels like there’d be an avenue to solve the team’s frontcourt mess even with Monroe on the books for max money, the big man will stay put. If owner Tom Gores installs someone who wants to play it safe and take the path of least resistance, Monroe will be wearing a different uniform.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Kris Humphries

March 24 at 7:39pm CDT By Zach Links

So far in our Free Agent Stock Watch series, we’ve profiled Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James.  Today, we look at Celtics forward Kris Humphries.  While it’s true that one of these things is not like the other, the 29-year-old big man could get some serious attention when he hits the open market this summer.

Humphries, a late lottery pick of the Jazz in 2004, had a rather unremarkable career until January of 2010 when he was traded by the Mavericks along with Shawne Williams to the Nets for Eduardo Najera.  The Nets quickly discarded Williams, but Humphries was given an opportunity to shine in New Jersey and made the most of it, posting 10 PPG and 10.4 RPG in a then career-high ~28 minutes per contest.  Over the next two years, he proved that his stint with the Nets was no fluke as he proved to be a reliable low post scoring option and brought the tenacity on the glass that center Brook Lopez seemed to lack.

The move across the Hudson River over to Brooklyn may have been a step forward for the organization, but it was quickly apparent in the 2012/13 season that Hump left his best basketball in the Garden State.  While he was supposed to be a fixture in the Nets rotation after inking a two-year, $24MM deal in July, he was bounced from Avery Johnson‘s rotation and couldn’t reclaim his spot under his replacement, P.J. Carlesimo.  After a season to forget, Humphries found himself on the less-glamorous end of one of the biggest trades in NBA history.

Once again, Humphries was able to make the most of his situation as he was (eventually) able to get significant playing time with the rebuilding Celtics.  In 20.2 minutes per contest, Humphries has averaged 8.5 PPG and 6.1 RPG and put up a PER of 18.5, an even stronger mark than his best years in New Jersey.  The veteran has said that he would like to stay in Boston, but he could see lucrative offers come in from multiple suitors.  It’s tough to say where Humphries will wind up, but in a league where size and toughness are valued, the big man should be in line for a nice payday.

Free Agent Stock Watch Series

March 19 at 8:58am CDT By Chuck Myron

The NBA’s regular season ends in four weeks. That means players on expiring contracts are running out of opportunities to prove their worth, and that’s especially true for anyone on a team that isn’t bound for the postseason. So, it’s time to start looking at soon-to-be free agents across the league and gauge their value.

Hoops Rumors will examine several players who are a part of the 2014 free agent class. Our Free Agent Stock Watch pieces will explore what a player brings to a club, what sort of earnings he can expect on his next contract, teams that could be in the market for the player, and where the player might want to end up, along with any other relevant factors.

Below is a list of the players we’ve profiled so far. They’re in alphabetical order by last name, and potential restricted free agents will have an (R) by their names. You can find this list, which we’ll continue to update, anytime on the right sidebar under “Hoops Rumors Features.”

Free Agent Stock Watch: LeBron James

March 18 at 4:59pm CDT By Chuck Myron

If LeBron James has learned anything in the nearly four years since he took his talents to South Beach, it’s not to create another frenzy about his next free agent move. This time, the four-time MVP’s choice will simply be a decision, and not “The Decision,” the title of the ESPN telecast on which he announced his intention to sign with the Heat in 2010. James told media at the beginning of the season that he wouldn’t address his ability to opt out of his contract and hit the market this summer, and he’s largely kept his word. The vacuum of information from James himself has led to speculation and rumors, but not nearly as much as has revolved around Carmelo Anthony, who made it clear before the season that he wants to opt out and become a free agent.

Another reason why there hasn’t been much hype around James is the success that he and the Heat are enjoying. There’s been no 27-game win streak like last year, but the Heat remain a strong title contender, and if they win their third straight championship, it would seem counterintuitive for James not to try for a fourth. James, in a rare break from his silence about his potential free agency, said last month that he couldn’t envision himself leaving the Heat, though he insisted that he won’t make up his mind until the season is over. A report soon thereafter from Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio indicated that most NBA executives reportedly feel as though it’s a two-team race between the Heat and the Cavaliers, with the Heat way out in front. Amico wrote much the same today, though he cautions that most of it is merely educated guesswork from people around the league.

A confidant of James recently revealed to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News that Phil Jackson‘s arrival in New York would prompt the superstar to at least consider signing with the Knicks. That wouldn’t have otherwise happened thanks in part to James’ falling out with the Creative Artists Agency, his former representation and a firm with close ties to the Knicks. New York remains a long shot regardless of Jackson and CAA because the Knicks lack cap flexibility for next summer. The team would surely do all that it could to trade away salary and clear room for James if he wanted to sign there, but that wouldn’t be an easy task, particularly with Amar’e Stoudemire‘s cap-clogging $23.4MM salary for 2014/15.

Still, a lack of cap flexibility didn’t stop Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com from writing in February that the Clippers are “perhaps the most serious competitor” the Heat have for James. A source close to James told Windhorst and Shelburne that the 29-year-old will consider teams without cap room. That means the Heat would have to cooperate in a sign-and-trade, and executives around the league think they’d ask for Blake Griffin from the Clippers if James insisted on such a move. Miami would probably hold out for similar ransoms from other capped-out teams, and James could be less inclined to sign with those clubs if they’re stripped of other significant talent. The Clippers could work out salary-dumping moves with other teams to open cap space, but those trades would also probably mean parting with a key contributor or two.

James, like the other two Heat stars, isn’t planning a hometown discount for the Heat, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, and that suggests that the Rich Paul client is looking for the maximum payday wherever he goes. He could make slightly more than $115MM over five years from the Heat and close to $85.5MM over four years from another team, as Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors explained before the season. That nearly $30MM chasm would be mitigated by a new contract that gives James the maximum salary in what would otherwise be the fifth year of a deal with the Heat, meaning the difference is actually only about $6MM. Still, that doesn’t take into account changes that could come about if the league and players, as expected, opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in the summer of 2017, when James would only be three years into his next deal. There’s no telling if James will still be an all-world force after four more years, when he’ll be 33. So, a legitimate financial incentive exists for James to sign a new five-year max deal with the Heat this summer.

Stll, the most lucrative path might be for James to opt into his current deal for at least one more season, since that would give him a higher 2014/15 salary than he could get in any new contract. Amico’s latest report casts that as unlikely, given the general assumption that most NBA players enjoy being the subject of free agent recruitment. It’s certainly no given that James will opt out, however. I wouldn’t be surprised if he opts in, particularly since it would allow him to make as much money as possible next season while still granting him the flexibility to make a choice again next summer, when he’d hold a player option for 2015/16.

The notion that James might not even become a free agent this summer makes every team aside from the Heat something of a long shot to sign him. The Cavs make sense as the leading non-Miami candidate for him, since James has spent the vast majority of his life in northeast Ohio and still owns a house in his native Akron. Of course, James also has a house in South Florida, too, and he didn’t win a championship until he fled Cleveland. The Cavs don’t appear anywhere close to title contention these days. The odds that they’ll overtake the Hawks for the final playoff berth this season are growing worse, seemingly by the day. Kyrie Irving is already a marquee player, and former No. 4 overall picks Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are on the rise, but even with James, the Cavs wouldn’t approach the sort of “super team” label that was affixed to the Heat in 2010. The presence of James would ostensibly make Cleveland a more attractive free agent destination, but no superstars signed with the team when James was there the first time.

There’s a team that’s even lower in this year’s standings that might have a better shot at surrounding James with free agent talent. There’s been precious little talk connecting James to the Lakers since a July report from Shelburne and Windhorst noted that the Lakers had him in their sights for 2014. That was before the Lakers signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5MM extension that kicks in for 2014/15, compromising the team’s cap space. They’d still have enough room for James this summer, plus perhaps another top-tier free agent in 2015, when Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and others could become available. Bryant’s ability to recover from a season lost almost in its entirety because of injuries could be the stumbling block to their pursuit of James, since he won’t have a chance to see the 35-year-old shooting guard perform in an NBA game this year. If there’s fear about how Wade, at 32, will hold up, the same is true about Bryant.

The uncertainty over where James will end up next season will make his choice a major story at some point, regardless of how little insight he gives us about his intentions. It won’t be like 2010, but James probably won’t exactly get to enjoy a quiet start to his summer vacation. At least a few teams will probably hold off on other business until they know what James is going to do. I expect he’ll attempt to defuse the hubbub with as quick a decision as possible, and if he feels strongly about staying with the Heat, he might make an announcement well in advance of July 1st, when he’s set to become a free agent. As soon as the Heat are either eliminated from contention or lift the Larry O’Brien trophy, the attention will zero in on the league’s pre-eminent star. What happens from there will shape the 2014 free agent market, the 2014/15 season, and, depending on his choice, the 2015 free agent market, too.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Chris Bosh

March 6 at 9:36pm CDT By Charlie Adams

Chris Bosh didn’t command as much star power as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade when the trio grouped together in the summer of 2010, but he’s played a huge part in the Heat’s three consecutive finals appearances and might have surpassed Wade as the second most productive member of the Big Three. In fact, the first installment of Hoops Rumors’ 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings has Bosh ranked as the third biggest name set to test the market this summer behind only LBJ and Carmelo Anthony. Bosh’s contract will afford him the option to remain a member of the Heat if he so chooses, but a report has indicated the big man will likely choose to exercise the early-termination option on his contract and enter free agency to seek a max deal.

After being selected fourth overall in the 2003 NBA draft, Bosh quickly made a name for himself in Toronto. The club saw him as its cornerstone to build around after Vince Carter was shipped off to the Nets in 2004, and he lived up to the expectations, to be sure. He holds the Raptors franchise records for points, rebounds, blocks, and minutes played. He helped lead the Raptors to their first division title and quickly found himself as a fan favorite north of the border. However, after seven seasons in Toronto, Bosh’s desire to win a championship led him to decide to sign in Miami so he could play with LeBron and D-Wade.

A report earlier today indicated that Bosh would like to play until he’s 36 years old, and that desire might factor into his decision to opt of his contract early. Although still a very efficient player, Bosh’s best years might be behind him. He turns 30 years old this month and is likely interested in locking up a long-term deal. If he chooses to stay in a Heat uniform with his current contract, he’ll have next season guaranteed at $20.6MM and a player option for the 2015/16 campaign worth $22.1MM. It’s tough to turn down a guaranteed $42MM, but opting out would give a team the chance to offer Bosh a four- or a five-year contract on which the big man could stand to make even more money over a longer period of time.

Waiting until his pact with the Heat is up means risking serious injury or a production drop-off, which would hurt his ability to secure a lucrative deal down the road. It’d certainly be possible for Bosh to exercise his early-termination option only to land another long-term deal with Miami. However, although the Heat could technically offer Bosh more money in free agency than any other squad since they own his Bird Rights, doing so would greatly limit their flexibility in signing other players in years to come, so they might be hesitant to do so. Bosh took a discount to play with James and Wade in Miami in 2010, and reports have indicated he won’t be interested in giving up guaranteed money this time around.

Bosh has said he’d like to remain in Miami for the remainder of his career, but we know that such statements don’t always hold true. Rumors have circulated suggesting that he’s actually the most likely of the Big Three to leave Miami this summer, due in large part to the temptation of taking on more of a leading role for another squad. The Heat haven’t utilized Bosh in the same way the Raptors did. His usage rate dropped from 28.7% during his last year in Toronto to 23.5% in his first year in Miami, and his value has often been overshadowed by the success of James and Wade. Bosh has made it known that his main priority is playing for a winning team, but it’s tough to imagine that a chance to play in a leading role isn’t one of his top wishes as well.

The Mavericks are one team said to have interest in Bosh, and a move to Dallas would make a lot of sense for the Creative Artists Agency client. Bosh was born and raised in the Lone Star State, and the Mavs will likely have the flexibility to retain Dirk Nowitzki and target another big name since we’ve heard that Nowitzki won’t be asking for an outrageous contract this summer. Bosh mostly played the four earlier in his career, but he’s recently been more of a center, and a frontcourt pairing of Dirk and Bosh would have the potential to be a headache for opposing defenses.

Nothing is written in stone, and Bosh might very well end up deciding to remain a member of the Heat for at least one more season by choosing not to exercise his early-termination option. His value isn’t the same at age 30 as it was at age 26, but he’s shooting an impressive 52.7% from the floor and a solid 36.6% from beyond the arc. With efficiency numbers just a smidgen below his career marks, Bosh will likely be able to garner a sizable level of interest from teams around the league this offseason, and he’ll be able to make his money whatever he decides to do. It’s just a question of whether he feels like staying in Miami or taking his talents elsewhere.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Carmelo Anthony

March 5 at 3:57pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Carmelo Anthony may be only No. 2 on the debut edition of the Hoops Rumors 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, but no one’s summer plans have generated as much chatter as his have. Last year’s scoring champion touched off the conversation before the season when he declared he’d exercise his early termination option and hit the market after 2013/14. The refusal of LeBron James to discuss his own opportunity for free agency has combined with the New York media spotlight to put a sharp focus on Anthony ever since.

The Knicks star is no stranger to all the attention, having been at the center of “Melo-drama” as he pushed the Nuggets to trade him during the 2010/11 season, the last time he faced the prospect of unrestricted free agency the following summer. He signed an extension as part of the deal that brought him to New York, and he’s not putting nearly as much pressure on the Knicks as he put on Denver last time. He told reporters during the All-Star break that his priority is to remain with New York, and that he’d be willing to do so at a discount. At the same time, he said that he’d meet with Knicks management to discuss their plans to return the club to contention before making his final decision.

It’ll be hard for the Knicks to construct a convincing presentation for Anthony if he’s indeed focused on what the team can do this summer instead of 2015, as Tuesday night’s report from Frank Isola of the New York Daily News indicates. New York’s commitments for next season exceed the projected salary cap, and that doesn’t even take a new contract for Anthony into consideration. The team rejected an offer of a late first-round pick from the Thunder for Iman Shumpert before the deadline, demonstrating that while there are trade chips of at least moderate value on the Knicks roster, the team isn’t particularly anxious to use them. New York has little other assets capable of enticing a team to give up an intriguing player or draft pick in return. Tyson Chandler is questioning whether he’d want to re-sign with the Knicks in 2015, but if the team wants to get out ahead of the market and trade him this summer, it likely faces an uphill battle finding palatable offers for the 31-year-old who’s showing his age.

The Knicks appear stuck for 2014/15, capable of making only lateral moves, at best. That’s seemingly why so many New York-based writers have portrayed it as increasingly likely that Anthony would leave this summer with each successive loss this season, interpreting nearly every one of his postgame remarks as another hint at his intentions. When Anthony addressed the subject directly at the All-Star break, he made his affection for the Knicks clear. It’d be surprising if anything the Knicks do on the court between now and the end of the season influenced Anthony’s belief in the club’s long-term future. The concern is what happens once 2013/14 is in the books, and that’s cause for legitimate worry.

Anthony’s assertion that he’d take a discount to stay in New York suggests the financial advantage the Knicks have might not be as valuable as it would be if money were his chief concern. He can sign a five-year deal worth slightly more than $129MM if he stays with the Knicks, or a four-year contract worth nearly $95.9MM with another team, as Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors detailed earlier this season. Anthony could make up much of that more-than-$33MM difference in the first year of the contract that follows, but Anthony would still come out ahead financially if he took the max from the Knicks. He could be in line for even more money if he opts in for next season, when his contract calls for a salary higher than the one he’d make next year under a new deal, but Anthony has said multiple times he intends to hit free agency.

A recent report suggested the Knicks were the only team willing to make a max offer to the Leon Rose client, indicating that Anthony would have to give up quite a bundle of cash to pass on New York. I’d be surprised if a maximum-salary suitor doesn’t emerge at some point between now and July, even if there isn’t a team planning such an offer now. Still, some of the most appealing destinations might not be in play for the former No. 3 overall pick. The Lakers appear lukewarm, at best, on Anthony, and while he reportedly views a Chicago address as more tempting than L.A., the Bulls would have to unload key players via trade to clear room for a maximum-salary offer, making their pursuit unlikely. The Clippers would have to perform even more complicated salary cap gymnastics to accommodate a max deal for Anthony.

There are ways to acquire marquee free agents even for franchises that are capped out, as the Warriors demonstrated last season when they snagged Andre Iguodala via sign-and-trade. Such a move would require Anthony and at least two teams to come to an agreement, and other players and teams might have to get involved in the negotiations, too. Such an arrangement is hard to pull off, so Anthony will likely be limited to either re-signing with the Knicks or joining a team with cap space. There are plenty of intriguing clubs with a relatively easy path to clearing the room necessary to throw a max deal at Anthony, and perhaps the Heat could target him if Miami’s stars go their separate ways. Still, there’s been no legitimate suggestion from either the Heat or Anthony’s camp that any of them have seriously considered that.

Anthony won’t be without options. Just how many there will be for him likely depends on how much of a discount he’s willing to settle for. The future of the Knicks would look increasingly brighter with each dollar Anthony gives up, but that’s for 2015 and beyond. Anthony’s commitment to New York will likely be tested not just by his willingness to make a financial sacrifice, but also by his patience to play for a winner. He turns 30 on May 29th, a little more than a month before free agency begins. Whether he sees that milestone as just another day or as a warning that he’s on the backside of his career could be the most important question of the NBA’s summer ahead.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Daniel Gibson

September 22 2013 at 12:58pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The man affectionately known as "Boobie" seemed destined for a lengthy NBA career when he started a pair of NBA Finals games as a rookie for the Cavs in 2007. Daniel Gibson had enough staying power with the Cavs to remain with the team longer than nearly everyone else on that Finals roster, but the 27-year-old's NBA career stands at a crossroads now that he and Cleveland have finally parted ways. The Sixers are the only NBA team that's been reported to have interest in Gibson this month. The Rockets abandoned their pursuit from the summer, and while the Knicks, Pacers and Bucks were mentioned in connection with Gibson in July, they appear no closer to signing him more than two months later.

Gibson's role in the Cavs offense has declined precipitously the past two seasons, even though he didn't play too many fewer minutes per game last season than in 2010/11, when he poured in a career high 11.6 points per contest on nearly 10 shots a night. He averaged only 5.4 field goal attempts in 2012/13, eliminating his penetration game in favor of three-point shooting. He took only 29 shots all season from less than 10 feet away from the basket, according to Basketball-Reference. Alas, he shot just 34.4% from three-point range last season, the worst mark of a career in which he's made 40.7% of his treys. He wound up scoring fewer points per minutes played last season than in any of his seven NBA seasons.

Gibson has proven a valuable team defender for most of his time in the league, but last season, the Cavs gave up fewer points per 100 possessions with Gibson on the bench than they did with him in the lineup, per NBA.com. That's only been the case during one other season in his career, as Gibson generally remained attentive to the defensive end even after the Cavs replaced coach Mike Brown with the more offensively oriented Byron Scott.

Some teams may perceive last season's performance as a warning that Gibson's quickness is dissapating, even though he's still two and a half years shy of his 30th birthday. At 6'2", he's too short to guard many of the league's shooting guards, so he must display the ability to keep up with point guards. The Cavs have played him extensively at both guard positions, but he's never been the pass-first sort. Still, he showed he was capable of efficiently distributing the ball during the season after LeBron James left, averaging 3.0 assists and 1.2 turnovers per game, the only year in which he's approached a 3-to-1 ratio. If he demonstrates in workouts that he's capable of duplicating that level of efficiency, he'll significantly improve his chances of finding another NBA job. 

I can't imagine there won't be another NBA team that gives him a shot, even if he isn't someone who can embrace the role of a passing point guard. Front offices probably give last season's defensive slippage more credence than his off year from behind the arc, since it would be odd for his touch to vanish long-term, even though his three-point percentage has declined in each of the last three seasons. Perhaps that has to do with where those three-point shots are coming from. In 2009/10, when he made a career-best 47.7% of his three-pointers, he clustered his attempts in the left corner. He began taking them from all around the arc under Scott, and last season he made significantly more from the right corner than he did from the left. Finding the right coach with the right system that can get Gibson to where he's most comfortable on the floor will be key.

Guys who can stick 40% of their threes are a commodity in the NBA, so Gibson and his representatives at ASM Sports shouldn't go without an offer this season. He might not receive a training camp invitation, but if he stays in shape and doesn't sign an overseas deal without an NBA out, he'll likely find himself back on an NBA roster at some point this year. He said in the spring that he'd be open to returning to the Cavs, and even though the team has no apparent interest, that doesn't rule out a reunion between Gibson and Brown, who coached him for four seasons. Hawks GM Danny Ferry, who drafted Gibson in the second round in 2006, is another who could give him a shot, though that's just my speculation.