NBA AM: LeBron And the HEAT, Carmelo And the Lakers?

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Re-Grouping In Miami:  So just when all seemed lost and the Miami HEAT were doomed to break up, things changed. The HEAT reached verbal agreements with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger yesterday and have a few more things in the hopper. HEAT president Pat Riley is expected to meet with LeBron James possibly sometime today and it appears that all sides are headed toward new deals to remain together in South Beach.

There were reports yesterday that the Houston Rockets made an offer of a full maximum contract to Chris Bosh, however just as those reports started to take on a life of their own, Bosh’s camp is believed to have told Houston that they are waiting out James and the HEAT and despite the generous money being offered, the first choice is to stay in Miami and they would only talk with Houston if that doesn’t materialize.

There were also a couple of interesting developments that surfaced in the announcing of the agreements reached with McRoberts and Granger and that is that both are based on salary cap exceptions. In order to retain those exceptions, the HEAT wouldn’t be able to dip under the salary cap line or they would lose them, and given what’s on the roster the only way to preserve those exceptions is to re-sign the core players in Bosh, James and Dwyane Wade. If any of them were to leave for another team or take radically less money than they were earning, the HEAT would lose that flexibility.

While that’s far from a “firm” indication that all three sign new deals, it means that Miami isn’t planning for any kind of significant pay cuts.

Sources close to Bosh, Wade and fellow free agent Udonis Haslem warned earlier this week that the salary numbers being assigned to those players in the media were not accurate and that the salary ranges being reported had not been discussed.

This thing is far from decided in Miami, but it looks like it has a far more defined shape today and could have even more shape after Riley’s meeting with James.

The Lakers Are In This:  When free agency opened on July 1, the popular belief was Carmelo Anthony had zeroed in on the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets as the destinations that made the most sense if he were to leave the New York Knicks as a free agent.

Anthony spent more than 10 hours with the Bulls and another four to six hours with the Rockets. His Mavericks visit wasn’t nearly as long and his Los Angeles Lakers meeting was moved up to accommodate a later meeting with the Knicks.

To say the Lakers were sort of pushed out like a bad date is maybe an overstatement, but there was a sense last week that the Lakers were simply part of a process for Anthony.

However, today there is a real sense that Los Angeles is a bona fide suitor for Anthony, and that the decision to stay in NYC is not an easy one.

There was hope of a decision yesterday, which never came.

Today is not looking anymore promising.

One Western Conference executive cautioned yesterday not to dismiss the Lakers as a suitor for Anthony for a couple of reasons, the biggest being how they go about presenting to free agents. Some teams use pomp and circumstance to lure in a player emotionally, showing mock ups of the player in their uniforms, what they would look like in the team’s marketing materials and things like that. While the Lakers do some of that as well, but there is much more to Los Angeles’ pitch and it hasn’t gotten a lot of press.

When the Lakers have met with players, including Anthony, there have always been reports that Time Warner Cable executives have been part of the meeting. It always seemed curious that the Lakers’ TV partner would be so involved in pitching free agents because they cannot offer TV shows or endorsement deals as part of a signing package.

According to sources, the Lakers turn a large portion of their presentation over to the “business guys” who deliver a very defined and specific presentation on the earnings possibilities in L.A. as a Laker, detailing all the mechanisms and partnerships that are installed that a player like Anthony can plug right into.

Over the years, the Lakers have developed dozens of corporate partnerships that are tied not only to the Lakers brand but its players. And the opportunities are said to be impressive.

While a player like Anthony surely has great off-the-court opportunities in New York, what was interesting about the pitch from the Lakers is its done to achieve two things: off-set the enormous taxes in California (not that New York is a picnic) and to illustrate how leaving a fifth guaranteed year in New York isn’t as much of an issue as it may seem.

So basically what the Lakers have done is remove the money from the equation, so this really boils down to does Anthony trust in Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher’s vision of the future with the Knicks or do the Lakers offer a bigger brighter future?

There is no doubting that, when healthy, the Lakers have something interesting to offer. The problem is Kobe Bryant is coming off another basically lost season; Steve Nash is a shell of the player he was even three years ago and free agent Pau Gasol, who might come back, hasn’t necessarily been an iron man. Even rookie Julius Randle had concerns about his foot needing surgery, which have been cleared recently.

A bet on the Lakers is far from a sure thing, but for the 30-year-old Anthony, it’s something he is weighing very seriously.

The fact that Anthony has not made his decision, means very little about his intention, there are some free agency situations playing out that could change the equation and the landscape, so waiting isn’t a sign of anything more than this being a harder decision than maybe expected when this started, and just as this is taking longer than expected, the Lakers are getting a much longer look than expected as well.

Check out Basketball Insiders’ free agency diary for all of the latest NBA news and rumors. We’re updating it constantly, so you don’t miss a single thing.

Is Kevin Love Next?:  As teams have held the line for both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, there is a growing sense that the teams that miss those two guys will ramp up efforts to acquire Kevin Love out of Minnesota.

The Wolves did the dance with Love around the draft and got really close to a deal with the Golden State Warriors, but as many deals do in the NBA, it caved in on its own weight.

The Warriors are not out of the discussion, but sources say they have sort of moved on and are focused on their own offseason needs. However, if the Wolves wanted to talk again, they’d listen for sure.

The Boston Celtics are still very interested in Kevin Love, however so are the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. The  Cleveland Cavaliers are in this as well.

There continues to be a sense that Timberwolves president Flip Saunders is holding out for his own King’s Ransom on Love and that until he gets that combination of proven veterans, salary cap relief and a future star, he’ll ride out the process.

However, when James and Anthony come off the board, there is a sense that Love becomes the next guy some of the would-be suitors pursue.

The Dance With Lance?:  After turning down a four-year, $44 million offer from the Indiana Pacers, Lance Stephenson is getting a little love from around the league from some of the teams that have swung and missed on other high profile free agents.

According to several reports, Stephenson is drawing interest from the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers as well as shockingly the Boston Celtics.

The Mavericks have been angling to get an offer sheet signed by Rockets restricted free agent Chandler Parsons, but that’s something of a process move as the Rockets will likely match any offer Parsons gets. Dallas’ fall back plan seems to involve an offer to Stephenson.

The Lakers are likely going to exhaust all of their free agent money on Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol if Anthony chooses the Lakers, which would pull L.A. out of the race for Stephenson.

The Celtics just reached a four-year, $32 million agreement with guard Avery Bradley a week after drafting both Marcus Smart, who signed his rookie deal yesterday, and James Young. It’s unclear why the Celtics would have interest in Stephenson, except to say you grab talent when you can grab talent. However, Stephenson would be an expensive grab.

Sources close to the process say the Pacers are not out of the discussion for Lance, but that his camp is looking for other opportunities.

While Stephenson has become an amazing on the court player, his antics off the court have some passing outright.

There is a sense that he is still one of upper-tier free agents, but even the teams that are linked to him have players they covet even more.

Channing Frye?:  The Orlando Magic continued their unexpected offseason spending yesterday, dropping a four-year, $32 million deal on Suns free agent Channing Frye. The move is puzzlingly in some regards, especially when the Magic characterized themselves as being value shoppers. In both agreements they have reached, the Magic paid top dollar for questionable fitting pieces.

Earlier in free agency, the Magic reached a two-year agreement with shooting guard Ben Gordon. Only one year of the deal is guaranteed and while the money seems a bit high for Gordon, what the Magic expect from him is not a lot. They are not expecting Gordon to play a leadership role or to play a ton of minutes, which makes the pricing even more puzzling.

Frye, on the other hand, just got a four-year deal. He will be expected to be a big part of the Magic’s future and that’s somewhat surprising considering that the Magic were linked to Detroit big man Greg Monroe.

In the end, sources say that stretch shooting was more valued by the Magic than an inside post player, and the belief that Detroit would match any offer on Monroe simply had the Magic move on to players they could lock in and obtain.

Another factor mentioned in the spending is that Orlando is offering a little more money and in Frye’s case an extra year to ensure they got the players they wanted.

There were several teams at the table with Frye, most offering full mid-level deals, that would have started near $6 million a year, making Orlando’s $8 million a year a little bit of an over pay. Sources say that’s what sealed the deal to land a veteran of Frye’s caliber on a team that is still in rebuilding mode.

Make sure to check out the 2014 NBA Summer League section for the latest from both Summer Leagues. Orlando’s Day Four gets underway this afternoon, while the Las Vegas League ramps up on Friday.

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