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NBA Sunday: LeBron James’ Best Free Agency Options

LeBron James’ best shot at a title may no longer be in Miami. A look at his top options … Derrick Rose near 100 percent, and pushing for Kevin Love?

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LeBron James’ Best Free Agency Options

Now that the 2014 NBA champions have been crowned, the countdown is officially on for the NBA draft. The festivities in San Antonio are just starting to wind down, and while fans in South Texas are still buzzing about the stunning performance of their Spurs in postseason play, fans in South Beach are wondering if they have seen LeBron James play his final game in a Miami HEAT jersey. Thankfully, LeBron himself has been quiet about his intentions, so the endless speculation has been somewhat limited, but the time for him to decide is coming soon. Here’s a look at the different situations that offer the best chance for him to get back to the NBA Finals.

1) Miami HEAT – There is every reason to believe that James could be back in Miami next season, either if he doesn’t exercise his early termination option or if he opts out and reaches a new agreement with the HEAT. If all three of Miami’s heralded stars opt out, the result should be a much bigger piece of the pie for LeBron and lesser amounts for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. There is even a strong case to be made that Miami should break up the Big Three as currently assembled in favor of signing younger, more productive talent like the oft-rumored Carmelo Anthony. Given how weak the Eastern Conference is, staying in Miami might be LeBron’s best shot at getting back to the Finals. It would certainly be the easy path.

2) Houston Rockets – When a team falls as drastically short of expectations as the Rockets did this season, there are basically two ways to go. You can start firing people, like the head coach or the general manager, or you can radically upgrade the talent on the team. The Rockets will certainly not fire Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale is inexplicably safe, as well. That leaves the radical upgrade option. While the rumors involving Houston have primarily involved the aforementioned Anthony, LeBron solves problems for the Rockets that Anthony could never solve. First, of course, LeBron’s defense would immediately elevate the Rockets from one of the worst defensive teams in the league to one of the best. His willingness to pass the ball, even in clutch situations, would allow Dwight Howard to flourish in the post, something he would struggle to do with the ball-stopping Anthony in the lineup. Finally, the presence of Howard and James Harden would give LeBron two stars in their primes to feed off of and lean on in his quest to capture another title.

3) Cleveland Cavaliers – If you have driven by Quicken Loans Arena lately and noticed all of the people out wandering around the parking lot and staring at the ground, those are the folks who burned their LeBron James jerseys after the “Decision” fiasco. Now they’re looking for the ashes, hoping to somehow put them back together into jersey form if LeBron makes a triumphant return to his hometown team. There is certainly a case to be made for LeBron’s return, as well. Kyrie Irving is one of the best young floor generals in the game, the Cavs have a new general manager who has experience in building deep playoff teams in David Griffin and they have a new head coach who is celebrated in the Euroleague ranks in David Blatt (for more on Blatt, read here). Add a franchise-changing No. 1 draft pick to the mix and the Cavaliers could very well be back in contention in the LeBron sweepstakes. Of course, Irving’s injury history is an issue and the player Cleveland drafts might not be ready to change the team immediately. There will almost certainly be a learning curve for Coach Blatt, as well. LeBron returning to Cleveland would be a feel-good story, but it seems like more of a fairy tale than a likelihood at this point.

4) Chicago Bulls – Call this the dark-horse scenario, mostly because it relies on two questionable scenarios. First, the Bulls would have to unload enough contract baggage to sign LeBron. Second, they would need Derrick Rose to come back at 100 percent, and it’s hard to imagine that happening after so much time away from the game. But let’s just say those two things happen. LeBron playing alongside MVP Rose and ever-emerging big man Joakim Noah would be a scary team, especially in the pathetic East. Add to that the fact that LeBron would be playing for Tom Thibodeau – one of the NBA’s best coaches – and the Bulls suddenly make a lot of sense for him. Again, this is the dark-horse scenario, and while it’s fun to think about,  it’s so remote that thinking about it is almost a waste of time… Almost.

These aren’t the only teams that will be involved in the daily LeBron James rumor mill, but they are the only ones that put him back in the NBA Finals in the foreseeable future. At the end of the day, the Miami HEAT probably have the best chance of keeping him in town, even if they are not necessarily his best shot at another championship.

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The Derrick Rose Front

One of the worst things that has happened to the NBA over the last few years is the loss of Derrick Rose to injuries. Not only was Rose one of the most dynamic forces on the basketball court, he was also one of the more selfless stars who put his fans and team ahead of his own self interest. In short, Rose is one of the great young stars around which the NBA was building its business, and his prolonged absence has been as bad for the business of the NBA and the competitiveness of the Eastern Conference as it has been for the Chicago Bulls themselves.

There is good news of late on the injury front, and as reluctant as we might be to believe that Rose could actually resume his dominant play, that’s what Bulls fans dare to hope. Ken Berger of CBS reports that “Rose is playing 5-on-5 on a daily basis, and, according to one witness, ‘looks like the old Derrick Rose.’ So much of the Bulls’ future is tied to the former MVP regaining his form and health, but the team’s focus now is getting him some help.”

Berger goes on to discuss the persistent rumor about Carmelo Anthony landing in Chicago, and while the idea that head coach Tom Thibodeau could push Anthony to be more than just a scorer is intriguing, there is someone else who would help the Bulls in many more ways.

Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reports that, “[a]ccording to sources close to Kevin Love, Rose’s preference is for the Bulls to work out a deal as soon as possible for Minnesota’s All-Star forward because he sees Love as more of a team player than Anthony.”

According to Lawrence, Rose isn’t planning to actively recruit either one, which would be consistent with the way Rose has conducted himself in the past. Joakim Noah is trying to work the Anthony angle, but there’s no question Love would be the better fit if the Bulls could land him.

Before the multiple injuries to Rose, the Bulls were a team on the rise and seemingly on the cusp of another string of trips to the NBA Finals. If they could not only get Rose back at 100 percent but also add an additional star to the lineup, they could most likely resume that meteoric rise. It would certainly reward the ever-loyal Bulls fans for their persistent fandom through what has been a difficult couple of years.

NBA Chat with Bill Ingram
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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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