By E. Marcel Pourtout, Editor
Its time for the 2015 NBA Free Agency Primer.
Music to listen to: Silently Falling by Chris Squire (RIP)
We’re less than 24 hours away from the most frantic period of the NBA offseason, free agency.
Unlike professional leagues such as the National Football League, National Hockey League and to a lesser extent Major League Baseball, its possible to buy yourself into a contender spot in the NBA.
If you look at the most consistent championship contending franchises of the past five years in the NFL (New England, Seattle, Green Bay), NHL (Chicago, Anaheim) and MLB (San Francisco, St. Louis), each of them drafted the top core players of their teams and have used free agency as a supplement.
There’s still value in drafting well in the NBA as evidence of the San Antonio dynasty and the current champions Golden State. However, we’ve also seen Miami get LeBron James and win titles. Houston traded for James Harden and signed Dwight Howard to become a conference finalist. It can be done.
The 2015 NBA free agency period will be interesting because while there isn’t a game changer like James or even Harden available, current and future All-Stars will have a chance to move. Furthermore, two of the biggest markets in the league will be major players which will begin our primer.
-What will the Knicks and Lakers do? Every major free agent will be linked to one of these two teams because they’ve hit their respective bottoms and have the money to rebuild.
For the Lakers, this the first offseason since 1998 where they will have to think about the post-Kobe Bryant era. He has one more year left on his contract and may retire at the end of this upcoming season. Its doubtful he’ll leave money on the table but Bryant’s time as an elite NBA player is over.
Los Angeles showed its hand in the NBA Draft last week when it took point guard D’Angelo Russell over center Jahlil Okafor. If the Lakers didn’t have the belief it was signing a front court player this offseason, it would have taken Okafor because while Russell is an elite guard prospect, Okafor has game-changing potential.
You will see either LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe or Kevin Love in a Lakers’ uniform next season. My money is on Love who we will address later.
New York drafting Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis last week wasn’t as large of an indicator as Los Angeles. It did show that Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ front office has an eye towards the future which won’t involve Carmelo Anthony.
When the Knicks become a title contender in two to three years, Anthony won’t be a part of it. He’s had some strong offensive years and showed he could be a competent defender when Mike Woodson was the head coach of New York but the 2015 version of him doesn’t fit the rebuilding plans the team really needs.
Every unrestricted free agent will be on the watch list for the Knicks from the ones mentioned earlier to DeMarre Carroll, Paul MIllsap, Marc Gasol. This is the reason the Knicks brought Jackson on. We’ll see if New York gets it money’s worth.
-Restricted free agency makes things complicated. The market for guys like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Golden State’s Draymond Green would be more open but their current teams have the ability to match any offer another team gives. Its more complicated than that but that’s the simplest way to put it.
I could see Leonard returning home to play for the Lakers, Thompson getting a major offer from Toronto (because all Canadians should play for a Canadian team, just kidding, or am I? and Detroit replacing Monroe with Thompson but none of those are probably going to happen. Expect each of those guys to stick with their original teams.
The wildcard to me is Leonard. Butler will be the main player in Chicago in two years in status and pay which the Bulls are aware of. Thompson’s agent represents James as well, that’s a package deal. I thought Green would leave the Warriors at the midway point of this season but he proved his value in the championship run. I expect Golden State to clear money with aging players like David Lee and Andrew Bogut to re-sign Green and eventually Stephen Curry in two years.
Everyone, including myself, assumes that Leonard won’t leave the Spurs. He’s a major player in that system, no state tax, winning franchise, etc. We’ve also been conditioned to believe that not only do the Spurs keep free agents, they re-sign their players to franchise-friendly deals. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and hosts of others have done that.
Leonard may be different but San Antonio has the chance to keep him, get Aldridge and re-sign Duncan. Unless the Lakers or a franchise we’re not thinking of (Knicks?) makes a massive offer the Spurs can’t match, Leonard will be a Spur.
-James, Duncan and Dwayne Wade aren’t going anywhere. All three of those guys are the best players in their franchises’ histories and are free agents only in contracts.
Expect James to sign a two-year deal that makes him a free agent once again in the 2017 offseason when the salary cap is expected to expand and the maximum deals will guarantee more money.
Duncan is on a year-by-year basis at this stage of his career. He’s not going to another team. The Spurs will offer him a respectable two-year deal at a fair market value that will probably be his last contract as an NBA player.
I hear the rumblings that Wade may sign with Cleveland to reunite with James but Miami can offer a longer contract with more guaranteed money than the Cavs. Its rare that an athlete leaves money on the table especially when he has injury issues like Wade.
-Love may pull a Howard. Two offseasons ago, many believed that Howard wouldn’t leave the Lakers. Winning franchise, southern California lifestyle, its the frickin Lakers and nobody turns them down. Furthermore, Los Angeles could offer more money and an additional year on the contract. Howard still signed with Houston.
Explanations ranged from no state tax in Texas (which matters to pro athletes) to playing alongside Harden (basketball purposes) to getting away from Bryant (reality). All of those were factors in Howard’s decision but he wanted to be happy playing basketball.
In covering athletes for the Inquirer the past few years, I’ve learned that they’re motivated by different things. Money, prestige, power, relationship with teammates, interaction with coaches all matter. However, comfort in your environment may be second only behind money/financial security for the pro athletes.
Love didn’t have a good year in Cleveland. Between injuries, struggling playing alongside James in Cleveland’s offensive system and experiencing the highest level of criticism ever experienced in his career, Love had struggles with the Cavs.
He can sign a one-year deal with the Cavs and give it another go with the top team in the East by a wide margin when healthy. Love can sign a long-term deal for financial security which is important because of his injury past and the chance to play alongside James and Kyrie Irving.
Or Love can just sign a two-year with the Lakers, the franchise he’s always wanted to play for in his college and home city (I know he’s from Oregon and went to high school in the state but work with me) similar to what Millsap did with the Hawks in 2013. Once that deal is up, Love is a free agent in 2017. My money is on this happening.
-What else is there to know?
- Atlanta has decisions to make. It will be tough to keep both Millsap and Carroll because both of them will get deals north of 10 million a year. Trust me, there’s a franchise we’re not even thinking of that make those offers. Both men want long-term deals due to age (Millsap) or the reality that their personal market will never be higher (Carroll). I believe that Carroll will return to the Hawks while Millsap will be with another franchise. Look for Atlanta to sign either Tyson Chandler or Omer Asik at center, moving Al Horford to the power forward spot.
- Marc Gasol will stay with Memphis. He’s been in the city his entire adult life and even went to high school there. The Knicks are too toxic for him and while his brother Pau had good years with the Lakers, I don’t see Marc leaving. The Spurs would be of intrigue though.
- Lighting-round predictions for where I think other top players will sign:
- Khris Middleton: Milwaukee
- Bismack Biyombo: Portland
- Brandon Knight: Phoenix
- Danny Green: San Antonio
- Goran Dragic: Miami
- Tyson Chandler: Atlanta
- Paul Pierce: Clippers
- David West: Indiana
- DeAndre Jordan: Clippers (watch out for Dallas)
Those are my thoughts, what are yours?