How 2014’s Top Free Agents Fared

In a vacuum, the Heat had a tremendous offseason. They came away with three members of the top 10 from the final edition of the Hoops Rumors 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, and no other team signed more than one. Of course, Miami started the summer with three of them, and wound up exchanging LeBron James, No. 1 on this list, for Luol Deng, who occupies the ninth spot. So the Heat took a hit this summer, but team president Pat Riley and company still came away with a fairly impressive haul.

LeBron drove this summer’s free agency, one that included several surprises, particularly on the restricted market. Gordon Hayward quickly scored a max offer sheet while Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe, whom I’d listed higher, languished much of the offseason. Hayward, at No. 6, and Chris Bosh, at No. 3, were the only players in this top 10 to sign true max deals, though LeBron will make the maximum salary over the two seasons on his contract.

Here’s a look at what each member of the top 10 in our Free Agent Power Rankings came up with this offseason:

  1. LeBron James (Cavaliers: two years, $42.218MM) — It appeared the smart money in early June was on the Rich Paul client staying on South Beach, but James was careful never to give any hints, much less make any promises, and, to Paul’s apparent delight, he decided to return to the Cavs. The four-time MVP limited his maximum-salary deal to two years with a player option after year one, though he insists that he did so merely to take advantage of projected increases in the salary cap, and not to leave Cleveland, where he says he intends to stay for the rest of his career.
  2. Carmelo Anthony (Knicks: five years, $124.065MM) — The high-scoring forward met with the Bulls, Rockets, Mavs and Lakers, but none could convince him to leave the media spotlight in New York. The Knicks even managed to convince Anthony and agent Leon Rose to take less than the maximum, though the discount only amounts to $5.071MM over the life of the deal.
  3. Chris Bosh (Heat: five years, $118.705MM) — He’ll make the same salary as LeBron will this season, and Anthony will see more money on his deal, but Bosh was the only free agent to sign a five-year contract for the maximum amount allowable under the collective bargaining agreement. The Henry Thomas client appeared on his way to Houston for four years at the max until the Heat took advantage of their exclusive ability to offer a fifth year to reel him back.
  4. Eric Bledsoe (Suns: five years, $70MM) — None of the negotiations around the league this summer appeared as contentious as the talks between the Suns and Paul, the same agent who helped grind the NBA to a halt while LeBron made his choice. The Bucks were in the discussion early and the Wolves jumped in late, but ultimately it was a staredown between Bledsoe and the Suns, who could match all offers for the restricted free agent. Phoenix made the greater concession, agreeing to a deal closer to the max than to the Suns’ four-year, $48MM offer, demonstrating Paul’s growing power.
  5. Greg Monroe (Pistons; one-year, $5.48MM) — The cost of converting restricted free agency to unrestricted free agency in a year’s time is steep, but Monroe and agent David Falk are betting that it’s worth it. They rejected offers from the Pistons of five years and $60MM and four years and more than $54MM to make Monroe the most prominent name among the 17 others to sign a qualifying offer since the institution of rookie scale contracts in 1995. Monroe and Falk reportedly sought only sign-and-trades rather than offer sheets out of fear the Pistons would match, but no swap amenable to them, the Pistons and another team ever materialized.
  6. Gordon Hayward (Jazz; four years, $62.965MM) — Restricted free agency was much more straightforward for the Mark Bartelstein client. A visit with the Cavs didn’t bear fruit, but a trip to Charlotte soon thereafter resulted in a max offer sheet that the Jazz matched. Hayward was the only restricted free agent to come away with a max deal, even though Bledsoe ended up with more money spread out over a longer period of time.
  7. Dwyane Wade (Heat; two years, $31.125MM) — It was hard to predict just what would happen with Wade, who opted out of the final two years and $41.819MM on his deal in the hopes that re-signing at a discount would help persuade LeBron to stay in Miami. Wade, who shares Thomas as his agent with Bosh, still wound up with a two-year deal that entails significantly lower salaries than he would have made if he’d opted in, but it wasn’t quite as drastic a sacrifice as some reports suggested he’d make.
  8. Kyle Lowry (Raptors; four years, $48MM) — The Heat, Rockets and Lakers all sought an upgrade at the point with the Andy Miller client, but Lowry instead chose to sign with the team that was prepared trade him to the Knicks in the middle of this past season. The Raptors banked on the notion that his career year last season wasn’t a fluke, and Lowry surely has similar hope that Toronto’s resurgence isn’t a mirage.
  9. Luol Deng (Heat; two years, $19.86MM) — Deng insists he isn’t replacing LeBron, but it wound up as de facto trade that saw the client of Herb Rudoy and Ron Shade go from Cleveland to Miami while a more decorated small forward took his talents back to Northeast Ohio. The revelations of the Hawks/Danny Ferry scandal cast Deng’s free agency in a new light, but the controversy also showed that Deng almost ended up in Atlanta. The Suns, Mavs, Wizards and Bulls were interested, too, but even though Deng was looking for at least $12MM a year, he wound up taking less.
  10. Zach Randolph (extension with Grizzlies; two years, $20MM) — The Raymond Brothers client decided not to hit free agency, opting in to his $16.5MM salary for 2014/15 and signing an extension that will reduce his pay starting in 2015/16. It seemed inevitable that he’d have to take a pay cut on his next deal, and while he might have secured more money over the long term if he’d opted out and signed a new deal, opting in and signing the extension gave him the best of both worlds. He’ll receive more in the next three seasons than the $30-35MM over three years that the free agency market appeared ready to bear.

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