NBA AM: Chaos Consumes Free Agency

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LeBron, The HEAT and The Circus:  The moment of truth is coming, the problem is it may not be today. After what could only be described as a circus of a day yesterday, things in South Beach took an interesting twist after a private jet said to be carrying a front office contingent from the Cleveland Cavaliers landed in Ft. Lauderdale for a supposed meeting with HEAT free agent LeBron James.

Immediately following said meeting, reports surfaced that James would be meeting with Pat Riley this week to resolve the situation and bring closure to the rampant speculation about James’ future in Miami.

There have been countless tweets and “sources” claiming to have it on authority that James would do this or James would do that, but the truth of the matter is that no one has a real sense of what James is going to do. Unlike 2010’s trip through free agency, where there was a wealth of information flowing from his side, this go around James’ camp has been mostly quiet, extremely guarded and absolutely non-committal to everyone on every subject.

Several NBA executives that are in Orlando for Summer League that tried to get an audience with James said frankly that they did not believe there was a window to obtain James away from Miami and that all the meetings and posturing from James’ side was more about agent Rich Paul using this uncertainty to get meetings for his other clients including restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe.

The holding pattern James has placed not only the HEAT but other would-be suitors in is real. No one wants to close off cap space or flexibility and then find that LeBron wants to seriously shop for a new team.

Equally, LeBron’s teammates in Miami have been holding the line on other conversations until James decided where he wants to be. There have been reports that HEAT forward Chris Bosh is in demand, and while that may rightly be so, Bosh himself has not taken any meetings or held any conversations.

Bosh’s agent Henry Thomas, who also represents Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem spoke with Ira Winderman in Orlando yesterday and did not seem to be buying into the hype surrounding the HEAT’s potential demise or more importantly his clients going elsewhere. Agents in their nature are not always the most honest and open people with the media, but there was a real ‘be careful what you buy into’ vibe.

There have been a lot of salary “demands” that have made their way into the process via the media that simply do not appear to be real, and league executive after league executive cautioned that everyone should slow down on this front and that the race to be in the front of the line on this story seems to be breeding some inaccuracies.

The prevailing thought around the HEAT as of yesterday was that Miami was not trying to clear cap space, that re-signing Wade, Bosh and James to large, market reflective contracts was always in the plan and that filling the roster out with cap exception type players was going to be the outcome. The HEAT still hold the Bird rights to all of their players, so exceeding the salary cap, including getting over the luxury tax line was always on the table.

The HEAT did approach players with a salary space based plan, but that was contingent on getting top tier guys to come to Miami. Plan A likely had the Big Three in Miami taking less to add a fourth upper tier player, but Plan B, which is likely what gets executed, is built around some of the names that have surfaced recently taking deals based on possible cap exceptions. That’s why guys like Marvin Williams, Anthony Morrow and Jameer Nelson are being linked to the HEAT because those guys could be had on Mid-Level and the Bi-Annual cap exception based deals.

The two most important things to know on this front are that nothing has been decided and there is a real rush to fill the void.

Closure on this subject is coming, hopefully this week, however there is no real sense of how this is going to play out, just a lot of people talking, and that’s not expected to stop until a decision is reached.

There is a void and it must be filled, because in the 24-hour news cycle, there can be no down time.

Carmelo, The Lakers and The Answer:  So stop me if you heard this one. Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love walk into a gym together…

No, it’s not the set up for a joke, it’s the set up for a speculation filled day regarding the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and a free agent named Carmelo.

As much as things went chaotic in Miami yesterday, the same happened in LA when tweets and reports surfaced that Bryant, Anthony and Love all played a pickup game together at UCLA. The fine folks at UCLA, never missing a chance to use such a workout to help their recruiting, gladly tweeted about it.

And with Anthony still undecided, there was renewed enthusiasm that he could be seriously leaning towards taking a maximum contract from the Lakers and joining up with Kobe full-time.

Anthony has said from the beginning of the process that he would be taking the holiday weekend to mull his options before making a decision; most have believed that to mean a Monday decision, although there were no hard fast commitments made on an answer to the teams Anthony has met with.

The Bulls, Rockets and Mavericks have started conversations back-up plans if they miss out on Anthony. The Mavericks are targeting Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, while Houston is trying to catch Chris Bosh if he falls out of Miami. The Bulls have shifted to Pau Gasol in some ways and have tried to reengage Luol Deng.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported last night that should Bosh really have interest in Houston, that the HEAT would look to Anthony as his replacement in Miami, casting more clouds and doubt on an Anthony decision today, especially with James not expected to meet with HEAT president Pat Riley until later in the week.

Lost in all the hype of Anthony and Lakers, is the continued prevailing belief that the Anthony frontrunner is still the New York Knicks.

The redoubtable Ramona Shelburne of is reporting that the Knicks see the Lakers as a real threat to land Anthony, but at the same time also acknowledge that the Knicks seem to be in the front seat regarding Anthony.

The Lakers are pitching a win-now scenario built around a core of Anthony, Bryant, a re-signed Gasol and incoming rookie Julius Randle. On paper this sounds great, however the total number of NBA games played by those players over the last two seasons minus Anthony is hardly confidence inspiring. Bryant missed all but six games last season, and logged 78 games the season prior. Gasol was good for 60 games last season and just 49 games the season before.

Much like James and the HEAT, the Lakers are in something of a holding pattern waiting on Anthony, and given the very fluid nature of what’s happening around the league, nailing down what he’ll do still remains very unclear and more importantly there is no real sense of when he’ll make his decision either.

Notes From Summer League:  The annual Summer League in Orlando is entering its third day today and while it hasn’t been the prettiest basketball, it is basketball. In many cases, it’s been a chance to see some of the rookies get some run, and to see some of the second-year guys play bigger more expanded roles.

Basketball Insiders will drop a daily “Studs and Duds” for each day of Summer League, you can check out Day One here, and Day Two here.

With a large chunk of the league’s executives in one place, getting fresh intel is one of the by-products of enduring summer ball.

The Sixers’ Plan:  The Philadelphia 76ers have a plan. They have a plan for pseudo rookie Nerlens Noel and for first round draft pick Joel Embiid.

Last year, the 76ers traded for Noel, knowing that he may not play his first season in the NBA as he recovered from an ACL tear in college. The 76ers mapped out a set of milestones with Noel, and they worked towards them aggressively. Noel could have played the final 10 games or so of the regular season, but both Noel and the 76ers decided that it would be better to take the entire offseason and prepare from a fresh start with Summer League.

The Sixers are not going to be foolish with Noel in Summer action; they sat him yesterday simply to give his body time to recover from his first game action in 18 months. There is no point in throwing too much at Noel in Summer League, instead they’re going to ease him into game action over the course of the next few weeks. Philadelphia is playing in both Summer Leagues, so Noel is expected to log some significant game time, but not at the expense of over doing it.

The Sixers’ plan to use the same approach with Joel Embiid. The plan is to craft a series of accomplishments and milestones and when Embiid has cleared all of those milestones, he’ll play. There is no artificial timeline for that. It will happen when it happens and it will happen when its complete – other factors will not be a consideration as the Sixers take a long-term view of Embiid’s rehab and plan to be ultra conservative.

The sad news of Summer League is always injuries and the Sixers suffered a massive one to Pierre Jackson who ruptured his Achilles after about six minutes of game action on Day One.

The 76ers have flown Jackson back to Philadelphia to see their doctors and develop a plan for potential surgery and rehab. The Sixers are somewhat limited in what they can do for Jackson without signing him to a contract. The Sixers will likely take care of all of Jackson’s medical and rehab, but the question remains will they sign him to a contract and guarantee him a little money? That is very much up in the air at this point, but the expectation is that Jackson will get taken care of and given an opportunity to showcase for Philly once he’s healthy.

Ben Gordon And The Magic:  On the surface, the pending signing of Ben Gordon in Orlando did not make a lot of sense. However, after talking with Magic sources and with Gordon himself, the decision makes a little more sense.

The Magic had identified an offseason need for a veteran shooter, someone they could put on the floor in limited minutes that could knock down shots. After watching guys like Jodie Meeks land monster paydays, the Magic sensed a pricey market for shooting was coming and made the deal with Gordon.

Gordon has some history with Magic executives, who had him in Chicago and Detroit respectively. There was a real comfort level with Gordon as a person, and they really felt like he would fit into their locker room without much issue.

There is no doubting that this is a low-risk contract even at $4.5 million, with the second year being an option year. The two comments that rang true about the pending deal is that Orlando does not expect Ben to play the veteran leader role, that’s just not who Gordon is as a player. They also don’t expect that he’ll play a ton of minutes.

There is a sense that Gordon needs this to work for his future in the NBA as much as Orlando needs the signing to pan out.

If Gordon becomes a problem, which the Magic don’t expect, they could always waive him or send him away, but both sides are coming into this with their eyes wide open and with an honest understanding of what is needed and what is happened in the past and the Magic seem to be giving Ben a fresh start.

Gordon talked with several reporters yesterday in Orlando including our own Alex Kennedy about his decision and what he expects from his time in Orlando.

Brooklyn’s Roster Spots:  There were a couple of prevailing thoughts around the Brooklyn Nets’ summer squad. The first thought being that Brooklyn is going to have some open roster spots; and given where they are capwise, filling those spots with NBA minimum guys is expected.

Several guys on the summer squad commented that they were told that its possible Paul Pierce is gone, although Pierce is still weighing his future. Guard Shaun Livingston has already agreed to a deal with the Warriors and free agents Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson are questionable on their return as well.

The Nets have nine guaranteed contracts on their roster for the upcoming season worth a whopping $88.4 million. Any new money they give out to their free agents would be taxed, so that is said to be weighing on how aggressive the Nets will be in retaining guys from their roster last season.

Basketball insiders will keep you up-to-date on all things Summer League including news, notes and interviews. You can find all the summer league action here: 2014 NBA Summer League.

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