NBA

NBA Sunday: Five Offseason Stories To Watch

Here are five players and teams to keep an eye on as the NBA offseason gets underway … Consistency in question for Golden State Warriors?

Bill Ingram profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Five Offseason Stories To Watch

The big news heading into the last week before free agency kicks off is, of course, the expected opt-outs from the Miami HEAT’s three All-Stars. It’s amazing how one NBA Finals series can change the HEAT from the most dominant team on the face of the planet to an old team that needs to get more help for LeBron James, but that’s how the story has gone for the HEAT since their demise at the hands of the formerly “old” and “boring” San Antonio Spurs. Teams across the league are trying to angle their way into a conversation about one of the very few stars available in this summer’s free agent crop, but the bottom line is that there will ultimately be more cap space created than there are stars to use it up.

First of all, there’s LeBron James. If you watched any sports talk show over the last 48 hours you are already of hearing “experts” sound off on what LeBron is thinking and what it means that he is not scheduling meetings with teams next week. It’s pretty simple, really. LeBron James doesn’t need to meet with teams to know what’s on the table, and no, he doesn’t need to be in New York to get endorsement deals. Ask Carmelo Anthony how that theory worked out for him. LeBron is interested in competing for championships, and he is going to be well paid for doing that with whichever team he agrees to join. The Miami HEAT could have as much as $55 million in cap space, meaning they have plenty of room to re-sign LeBron and give him the supporting cast he needs to once again destroy the terrible Eastern Conference. That supporting cast will likely include, at drastically reduced rates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Second, there’s the Houston Rockets. Team owner Les Alexander ignited the fan base when he said he will add a marquee player again this summer, and general manager Daryl Morey has already begun clearing cap space by dealing Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans. That’s not nearly enough, but it is a strong start. The ever-stirring rumor mill has connected Houston to interest in LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony and even former Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry, but before they can hope to compete in the marketplace for a top-tier talent they are going to have to at least move Jeremy Lin’s contract off the books. As exciting as it is to think about LeBron or Love, in particular, joining Houston’s dynamic duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard, it might not be entirely realistic.

The Dallas Mavericks are also once again in the hunt for a superstar to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki. The Tyson Chandler trade gave them back the formidable front line they had when they won the championship in 2011 to go along with what could be roughly $19 million in cap space and perhaps $33 million before hitting the projected luxury tax threshold. For some reason, however, the Mavericks have had little luck luring top-tier free agents to town, even when they’ve had money to burn. There’s no question Nowitzki and Chandler can still be a championship-caliber front line and Rick Carlisle is second only to Gregg Popovich in terms of the NBA’s top coaches. Monta Ellis also gives them a dynamic, high-scoring backcourt presence. Add someone like Anthony or James and the Mavs would be contenders once again, but that, too, seems unlikely.

Carmelo Anthony is regarded by some as the other “big name” in free agency next to LeBron James, though the difference between the two is as wide as the distance between New York and Miami. In the right situation, Anthony could be a game-changer, but that’s not just any situation. Anthony needs a strong coach who will demand more from him, as well as a defensive-minded team to make up for his own shortcomings on that end of the floor. It’s possible that Derek Fisher could be that coach, and it’s possible that Knicks president Phil Jackson could put that kind of team in place this summer, but that, too, seems unlikely. Of all the big names mentioned heretofore, Anthony seems like the one most likely to change teams, and his best destination might just be the Chicago Bulls.

Last but certainly not least, is Kevin Love. Minnesota Timberwolves president and head coach Flip Saunders made it clear that he doesn’t want to spend next season answering questions about Love, and would rather deal him than risk losing him to free agency. There was rampant speculation that Love would be moved on draft night, but that obviously didn’t happen. There have been protracted talks with the Golden State Warriors, who would love to switch Love for David Lee, but those talks have strayed and perhaps reached an impasse due to Klay Thompson not being included in Golden State’s package. Love, too, would be outstanding in Chicago, where his ability to spread the floor, score from anywhere and vacuum up rebounds would be a perfect complement to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Of course, the Bulls would need to sell Minnesota on Carlos Boozer’s ending deal, which could prove problematic. Still, Love is extremely unlikely to re-sign in Minnesota, so the reality is that Saunders will need to find a deal, and a motivated power forward with an expiring contract might be too tempting to pass up.

The Question of Consistency

In the modern NBA, trades and free agent signings are often considered to be the best approach to building a championship team. With every move, teams are expected to be immediately better and closer to winning a championship. Of course, the teams that are consistently among the NBA’s elite are not the teams that make the most moves, as attested to by the success of the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. Even the Miami HEAT only managed to squeeze two championships out of the heralded “Big Three” they assembled prior to the 2010-11 season and that group included two of the top five players in the entire league.

The Golden State Warriors are now sitting at a crossroads, trying to determine if they should stay the course with a young group that has grown together over the last few seasons or make a radical change to try and expedite their rise to the ranks of the West’s contenders. The question now facing the Warriors is whether or not they should trade David Lee and/or Klay Thompson in an effort to land an All-Star who might better suit their style of play in Kevin Love.

Since drafting point guard Steph Curry in the summer of 2009, the Warriors have been on a steady upward climb, going from a 26-win team during Curry’s rookie season to the 51-win team they were this past season. At the heart of that growth has been the trio of Curry, Lee and Thompson. While it might be tempting to break up that trio with the arrival of new head coach Steve Kerr, there is something to be said for allowing the same core group to continue to grow together.

“I love Klay. I love playing with him as well as David Lee,” Curry said at his recent basketball camp. “Those are my teammates, the guys that I love. We’ve fought so hard the last three years together growing, and it would be very, very difficult to see that end. As great as Kevin Love is, it would be very hard to see your teammates and your brothers leave at this time. So we’ll see what happens, but it’d definitely be a tough situation.”

It would likely be a very tough situation, with the new player or players, presumably starting with Love, having to learn how to play with his new cast of teammates and the team as a whole trying to establish a new identity. If the pattern of the most consistently good teams in the NBA is a basis for comparison, as it should be, perhaps the Warriors are better served by allowing their new head coach to get a feel for what he has before they start mixing things up. Change for change’s sake isn’t always a recipe for success. In fact, it is often a recipe for disaster.

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Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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