Jan 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) dribbles the ball as Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) defends in the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agency Friday: Predictions!

The Boston Celtics are done in free agency…unless they make a major trade for Kevin Love. That’s not going to happen until the dust settles around the major free agents and the Timberwolves have a clear outlook of what all potential trade packages may look like. The dust isn’t going to settle until LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and the Houston Rockets/Chris Bosh all make decisions. We can camp outside houses, search for hidden meanings on websites, and consult owls all we want but it’s not going to help.

I’m going to add to the speculation cesspool by giving my predictions for where the major free agents will land. Hopefully LeBron doesn’t decide in the next hour or so and make this a complete waste of time.

I want to start by saying I do not believe LeBron is leading anyone intentionally on or trying to draw attention to himself in any way. Other than a bunch of reports, LeBron hasn’t given Clevelanders anything that should make them feel betrayed should he sign somewhere else. If fans want to act crazy and TV Networks want to analyze his every move, that’s not really LeBron’s fault. He’s handling like this like a consummate professional. He’s thinking like businessman and a bloodthirsty athlete. He’s behaving like the face of the NBA.

And he should behave like the face of the NBA. Because he is.

As for his actual destination, I’ve never believed he was going back to Cleveland…yet. There’s still a ton of bad blood between he and the ownership. Just a month ago everyone in that city was rooting for him to suffer an epic defeat and laughing at the leg cramp. LeBron is the ex-wife Cleveland always speaks ill of. Until they realize that there may be a chance she comes back. Then it’s all “I promise I’ll put the seat down” and “No more weeknight trips to Larry Flynt’s Hustlers Club”.

And besides, I think the potency of this Cleveland roster is being over-hyped. It doesn’t make sense for LeBron to go back right now.

Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins are nice pieces moving forward but they don’t provide the reliability of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. David Blatt may very well go on to become a great NBA coach, but LeBron is familiar with the Erik Spoelstra-dynamic. There’s no guarantee that Cleveland would trade for Kevin Love if they sign LeBron. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters are talented young players that could develop into exceptional role players in a LeBron-Kyrie-Wiggins/Love core. But we don’t know that for sure.

There’s just too much mystery surrounding this Cleveland roster and until the front office proves it can put together multiple effective off seasons in a row, going back to Cleveland today is too big of a risk for LeBron.

Which is why some, including myself, expect LeBron James to return to the Miami Heat on a 2-year deal at max level with a player-option for a third. This is the best move for LeBron for three reasons. First, it gives him the best chance to win now. Miami went to four finals in four straight years, winning two of them. Wade is taking a lot of heat for his performance in the Finals, but he was actually very good last year and is still one of the 15 or 20 best players in the NBA. Bosh has made it clear that’d he’d return to Miami for less than the max if LeBron was there. The Eastern Conference hasn’t gotten any better this offseason. Going back to Miami with the old gang gives LeBron the best chance to get back to the Finals in the next two years. That’s all you can ask for as a title-seeking player.

Second, signing a two-year deal with Miami gives you a chance to see how the league plays out. You can see how good Wiggins really is. You can see if Dwayne Wade really is falling off a cliff. You can see where Kevin Love, and possibly even Kevin Durant, land. LeBron is at the peak of his powers and is going to be getting max money two, four, or six years from now unless a major injury strikes him. Before you commit yourself to a franchise long-term, you should see what that franchise really has to offer.

Who knows? Kobe Bryant will likely be retired by then. Maybe LeBron can take his talents to Hollywood. Maybe Durant can too.

Third, the NBA’s TV contract expires in two years. A new TV Contract means higher revenues. Higher revenues mean a significantly higher salary cap and higher max contracts. The big buyers right now won’t be the same big buyers two years down the road. LeBron can see what teams give him the best chance to win after the league’s financial structure changes (again).

LeBron has all the leverage in the world. He could ask for a two-year deal with a clause in it that let him disappear to Mexico for two months every season and he’d still have a line of suitors. The Phoenix Suns are a dark horse. In fact, anyone that can pair LeBron with Eric Bledsoe should be a dark horse. I would throw Philly in the mix too still. But my money’s on Miami.

Who will sign LeBron James?

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LeBron James Odds:

  1. Miami Heat (65%)
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers (20%)
  3. Phoenix Suns (5%)
  4. Philadelphia 76ers (5%)
  5. Starts His Own League (5%)

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) hugs forward Chris Bosh (right) late in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Spurs defeated the Heat 104-87 to win the NBA Finals. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

If that happens, you can expect Chris Bosh back with the Miami Heat as well. Unlike LeBron, Bosh probably isn’t going to receive a max offer four years from now. Though he projects to age well, this is his last chance to really cash in on his talents. That makes this interesting. The Heat can’t afford to sign him to a two-year max deal like LeBron, and Bosh probably wants more certainty than two years anyway. But would Bosh be willing to sign a long-term deal at less than the max and effectively end his chances of ever receiving max money? The question becomes even more interesting because he currently has a max-offer from Houston on the table.

Chris Bosh Odds:

  1. Miami Heat (65%)
  2. Houston Rockets (35%)

I expect Bosh to sign a deal with Miami at something around $16.5 million a year for three years with a player option for the fourth. This gives him, and Miami, a little more flexibility in case LeBron really does want to leave at some point. Dwayne Wade would then likely return to Miami at something between $13-$14 million a year. The length of that deal depends on what he wants, really.

Dwayne Wade Odds:

  1. Miami Heat (90%)
  2. Discounted return home to the Bulls in Chicago (5%)
  3. Whatever Team Will Overpay Him in an Attempt to Sell Tickets (5%)

Call me boring, but I also think Carmelo Anthony is keeping his current zip code. We thought this was as good as done but then reports emerged that Anthony is still deciding between the Knicks, Bulls, and Lakers. The Knicks ability to offer Melo $129 million over 5 years certainly helps their cause, but I don’t think the extra money is the sole reason he returns to New York.

Going to the Lakers makes no sense to me. Not only is Melo’s skill set likely to clash with Kobe’s, but the Lakers would be stuck in a hole if they signed Melo. He has better chance of winning a title in New York, once Amare Stoudemire is off the books, in Phil Jackson’s triangle (which he’s a perfect fit for) than he does on with the Lakers franchise the way it is right now.

Who will sign Carmelo Anthony?

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Chicago is certainly an option. Melo would be a great fit there. He’d give them the scoring they need. They’d be able to hide him on defense thanks to Jimmy Butler and their weak-side strategies. He’d still be in the East. In fact, if you put Carmelo on Chicago I think they’re the favorites in the East right away unless Cleveland was able to get LeBron and swing a deal for Love. The problem is that even after amnestying Carlos Boozer, the Bulls would still need to move Taj Gibson and then some to be able to afford Melo. If Melo is willing to take a Bosh-like pay cut to go for titles in Chicago this scenario becomes much more likely, but there’s no indication that he is. New York seems more realistic.

Carmelo Anthony Odds:

  1. New York Knicks (65%)
  2. Chicago Bulls (15%)
  3. Los Angeles Lakers (10%)
  4. Retires, starts reality TV career (10%)

Again, this is all speculation and meant more for fun than anything. Here’s where I have the remaining big-names free agents going (assuming everything plays out as I predicted above).

Eric Bledsoe returns to the Phoenix Suns on a max-level contract for a player with his experience (25% of cap). I just can’t see Phoenix letting their best player, and one of the most under-rated players in the league, walk.

Greg Monroe is a good offensive big man but he doesn’t seem to fit on a team with Josh Smith. Detroit is trying to bring him back on a 5-year/$60 million deal but I think another struggling franchise is going to throw close to the max at him. I’m going out on a limb and going to say the New Orleans Pelicans use Ryan Anderson to do a sign-n-trade with Detroit and acquire Monroe. Monroe’s weakness is his rim protection. That won’t matter next to Anthony Davis.

The Utah Jazz will reportedly match the offer Gordon Hayward got from Charlotte. I expect the Houston Rockets to match the offer Chandler Parsons got from Dallas as well. Both those offers were at max-level money.

What surprises me is how quiet the market appears to be around Lance Stephenson given the offer Hayward and Parsons got. Once Houston matches the offer for Parsons, I think the Dallas Mavericks will turn the full attention to Stephenson. That’s where he’ll end up. I’m thinking something like a 3-year/$32 million contract.

Mar 23, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas (22) celebrates after a basket against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas is unlikely to go back to the Kings seeing as the signed Darren Collison. He’s reportedly visited with the Suns, but I think the Los Angeles Lakers will surprise some people and sign Isaiah Thomas. 4-year/$35 million range.

Pau Gasol remains a bit of a mystery. I think he takes a slight discount for Phil Jackson, signs with the New York Knicks, and gets back in the triangle. 3-years/$27 million sounds good.

Luol Deng has been talking to Miami and Houston but ultimately neither of them will likely be able to afford them. The Atlanta Hawks could give him something along the lines of a 3-year/$36 million deal. He might a missing piece for them. Good team, he gets his money, Hawks don’t bury themselves. Makes sense for all parties.

Trevor Ariza will ultimately return to the Washington Wizards. He’s reportedly not seeing the money he wants and he’ll probably have to take something like a 4-year/$36 million deal to get it done.

I see Paul Pierce joining Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Staying in Brooklyn is certainly still an option, but a 2-year/$17 million a deal is a nice value for LA and Pierce should enjoy returning home.

Signing out.

Waiting for the needle to drop.

 

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Tags: Boston Celtics Carmelo Anthony Kevin Love Lebron James NBA Free Agency 2014

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