We interrupt your regularly scheduled Wimbledon/World Cup/NBA Summer League coverage to ask... what the heck is going on with NBA free agency? I gotta admit, the view from the mountaintop is pretty breathtaking and everything seems so easy and carefree from up here, but you won't believe the shenanigans going down below, all these ne'erdowells scurrying about, trying to outmaneuver each other so their fans can feel what we're feeling right now. It's madness.
We're a week in, and it's just one big standoff with all the dominoes waiting on LeBron James, who, as near as I can figure, is trying to figure out the best way to get absolutely all the everything without hurting anyone's feelings. I mean, don't get it twisted. If he has to choose he's definitely going to make it about him first and foremost, as well he should. It's just a real head-scratcher form the outside looking in, because... um... how do I say this without it being offensive?
I'm not sure LeBron understands how math works. In fact, I'm not entirely sure he understands the concept of "other people," but I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.
By all accounts, a week ago James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had a lunch date before departing on vacations with their respective loved ones. At first, speculation was that the meeting was productive and an accord of some kind had been reached. Shortly after, all three guys opted out of contracts that would've paid them over $20 million apiece for each of the next two seasons. More recently however, it seems that the only thing that happened in the meeting was James informed his colleagues of his intentions to sign for the max, in Miami or elsewhere.
And now James' lack of clarity, flexibility or assurances of any kind is making it practically impossible for Pat Riley to sign the kind of free agents LeBron would presumably want. Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat are already off the market, and Anthony was always a pipe dream. The only quality guys still out there are Pau Gasol and Luol Deng, though I suppose that sign and trades are possible for Rajon Rondo or Kevin Love, but both of those are major stretches. Riley can't promise anyone that James is gonna be on the team even for the next season let alone long term and he's hamstrung about what he actually has to spend since neither Wade nor Bosh have come to an understanding on their salary floors either.
I suppose that Riley can work on a budget under the assumption that James is getting the max and tell a prospective free agent he can have X and then come back to Bosh and Wade with, "Well, we gave James the max and this much to get this guy, so this is how much is left over for you two under the tax, so figure out a way to split it," but that sounds risky, given the offers that Bosh is probably receiving. I don't quite buy the theory that Bosh will re-sign in Miami as long as James re-commits. Would he really stay if some other contender throws the max at him and the Heat can offer only $10 million?
It's looking like James wants to find a way to leave without being the bad guy. Hey, I gave Riley and Micky Arison a chance, they didn't sign anybody. Or he actually thinks all these other stars should be willing to play for the league minimum to bask in his reflected glory. You get the feeling that he wants Arison to have the kind of tax bill that Mikhail Prokhorov paid last season with the Nets, because that's the cost of doing business with the best, most marketable player in the world. If that's the case, I can't say I blame him. The league's salary structure is pretty messed up for the stars.
Either way, he's gonna get his and he'll put himself in a position to be surrounded with ample talent. The passive-aggressive LeBron isn't much different than Decision LeBron, just more self-aware.
In other free agent news, Anthony is reportedly gonna pass on the Texas teams and will choose between the max and non-contention in New York, the lesser-max and non-contention with the Lakers, and something less than the max and a decent chance at contention with Chicago.
This, to me, is plainly ridiculous for four obvious reasons:
1) Lin had to have been smart enough to realize from the moment he signed his contract that the Rockets were gonna try to move him so they wouldn't have to swallow paying $15 million in his final season.
2) Anthony is better at basketball than him and teams will do whatever is necessary to woo stars. See: Howard, Dwight and Harden, James.
3) Anthony and Lin were not close in New York and it's a virtual certainty that the latter would be shipped out if the former was acquired, for cap and chemistry reasons.
4) Dude, it's just a number. Whenever stars move teams they buy their numbers from the incumbents. This happens in every sport. Please don't act all surprised.
Not that Melo is totally blameless here. This passage from Woj's latest story just slayed me.
One thing that still bothers Anthony is Jackson had wanted him to take less than a max contract, sources told Yahoo Sports.
It sounds like something an overly-sensitive mob guy in some awful comedy would say, right? "You don't want to give me a max contract.... and that bothers me."
Finally, there's the rumor going around about Gasol trying to decide between returning to the Lakers, reuniting with Phil Jackson on the Knicks, or signing with one of Miami, Oklahoma City or the Spurs for the mid-level exception. Supposedly the Thunder are the favorites there, and even J. Gomez argues that they should be, but I just don't see it at all.
Gasol likes order and passing and culture, three things San Antonio has in spades over OKC. Furthermore, he's from Spain. Obviously he has to prefer the Spurs to the Thunder just for that. All Europeans love the Spurs and more and more Americans are starting to as well.
Oh no. I just realized the Spurs are soccer.