NBA Saturday: Update on the Star Free Agents

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NBA free agency 2014 is four days old and we seem to be on the verge of the first really big domino falling in the form of a commitment from Carmelo Anthony. Once Anthony makes his decision, LeBron James and the rest of the All-Stars on the market should not be far behind him. Here’s a look at the latest information we know on all of the top-tier free agents on the market.

Carmelo Anthony – Anthony has been done with his free agent meetings since Thursday. He heard pitches from the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. Of those five teams, the Lakers and Knicks have made it clear that they are offering him the max, while the other three teams would require him to take a pay cut, although his chances to compete for a championship with them would be greater.

According to USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, the only teams viewed as a legitimate threat to the Knicks’ chances to keep Anthony is the Rockets and Bulls, citing executives involved in the process.

The Knicks helped their chances greatly by putting a max contract offer on the table of five years and $129 million. However, Marc Berman of the New York Post is reporting that Anthony may be willing to stay in New York for less than that in order to give team president Phil Jackson added financial flexibility to build a contender. According to Berman, Anthony could take the max in year one, but have his contract descend in year two to give the Knicks maximum cap space.

Despite the fact that they’re regarded as one of the favorites to land Anthony, the Bulls seem to be in the process of moving on, focusing on former draft pick and European sensation Nikola Mirotic along with Pau Gasol since their meeting with Anthony.

Anthony is expected to choose sometime this weekend, meaning we could hear his decision as soon as today, late Sunday, or early Monday at the latest.

LeBron James – Up to this point, teams hoping to sign James have only been able to speak to his agent Rich Paul. Paul has reportedly met with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers while the Miami HEAT work on getting James the help he asked for after their Finals loss. The Houston Rockets also sought out a meeting with Paul, but only had a phone conversation with him.

While Paul has been handling the preliminary stage of free agency, James is set to get involved soon. He has his skills academy beginning next week and ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported that he would probably like to have his decision out of the way before then.

However, James’ decision is looking like it could become more difficult as the HEAT struggle to find the fourth star-level player he was hoping for. They’re actually in a holding pattern with their ability to recruit new free agents being hampered by James’ status. Free agents are reportedly hesitant to commit to Miami without knowing if he is going to be there or not. Plus, James’ stance on only accepting a max contract really puts a dent in the HEAT’s cap space. Between James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who don’t seem open to massive pay cuts, they could end up being close to capped out if they all come back.

The HEAT remain the heavy favorite to retain James, but we’re four days into free agency and they’ve yet to make any kind of considerable splash. Marcin Gortat and Kyle Lowry, two of their initial targets, have committed to stay with their respective teams. HEAT president Pat Riley has moved on to the likes of Luol Deng and Pau Gasol, but could end up having to settle for multiple role players instead as neither of them seem very interested in playing for Miami on a seriously discounted rate either.

Nobody seems to be giving anyone other than the Cavaliers a chance to land James. With every day that passes without Riley making a big move, their chances increase. Because right now they have a lot of young talent that could be used to help acquire another All-Star caliber talent (i.e: Kevin Love), ample cap space to offer James near the max and an All-Star point guard locked up for the next five years in Kyrie Irving. If Miami stands relatively pat, the scales could tip in their favor.

Chris Bosh – According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, once James and Anthony come off of the board max contract offers are going to come Bosh’s way. The Houston Rockets are interested in adding Bosh alongside James Harden and Dwight Howard, while the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be a serious suitor as well. James’ decision will impact Bosh’s more so than Anthony. The HEAT are still hoping to persuade Bosh to take a discounted, long-term deal, but it could be hard for Bosh to pass on more money from a team that is also positioned to contend. Bosh could throw a real wrinkle in free agency and commit before James does, but that seems unlikely since his most significant offers won’t come until after James and Anthony decide.

Dwyane Wade – There has been absolutely no talk whatsoever about Wade so far in free agency. The last we heard on Wade was that he would opt out of the final two years and $42 million remaining on his contract. Since then, there was only a rumor that he agreed to take $12 million a year on his next deal, but that was quickly dismissed by his agent. There’s little reason to think that Wade wants to play elsewhere or that the HEAT would let him get away on the open market, but until James makes a decision, he likely has to play the waiting game. The HEAT are going to ask him to make a major financial sacrifice it looks like. If he’s unwilling to do so, his days competing for a championship could be over, because that could force James to walk.

Pau Gasol – Consider Gasol the most popular free agent on the second tier, with the Miami HEAT, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder hot in pursuit. It’s important to note, though, that the Lakers have his Bird rights and Kobe Bryant aggressively calling for his return. Gasol is said to be looking for the best combination of money and ability to contend for a championship. If they miss out on their top targets, the Lakers could give Gasol a high-dollar, one-year deal in hopes of staying out of the lottery next year.

The Bulls are hoping to engage the Lakers in a sign-and-trade discussion for Gasol, using the expiring contract of Carlos Boozer ($16.8 million) and multiple draft picks to entice the Lakers. The Lakers are without their first-round draft pick next year due to the Steve Nash trade. Meanwhile, the Bulls not only have their own 2015 first-round pick, but the Sacramento Kings’ along with the right to swap picks with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Luol Deng – Deng is also one of the top options in the second tier along with Gasol. His best financial offer could come from the Atlanta Hawks, who have signed Deng’s friend Thabo Sefolosha and enlisted him in their recruiting efforts. Deng has several other suitors better positioned to contend, though, including the L.A. Clippers and Miami HEAT. The Lakers could also come with a short-term, big-dollar offer depending on what happens with James and Anthony.

The Best of the Rest – The other top guys on the market, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons and Eric Bledsoe are all restricted free agents. Up to this point, there has been little movement on offer sheets, but that should change once the first tier of free agents come off of the boards. The most likely scenario with each appears to be them staying with their own teams, although Detroit would likely need to do some roster shuffling if they were to match a max offer for Monroe. Either way, max offers, or very close to them, seem likely for all. Pacers unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson was hoping for something in that range as well, but the Pacers have not budged off of a five-year, $44 million offer.

For every rumor on every free agent, make sure to check out our free agency diary early and often!