The Butterfly Effect: NBA Free Agency

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Once July 1st came around, NBA free agency period was on the clock. While 2010 was rich with expectations and helped cultivate today’s “rockstar” free agency atmosphere, 2014’s recruiting period has a very different feel to it.While the initial thinking was that the biggest fish -LeBron James- is the biggest domino, that is recently called into question. Everyone wants to figure out who the domino is. What will kick this whole bonanza off? Whomever it is, they’ll produce a sizeable butterfly effect.

It’s totally Josh McRoberts.  Just kidding.

Sure, we’ve had trades and offer sheets signed- all of which won’t be official until July 10th. But it won’t really start until one of the top free agents (James, Anthony, Bosh) makes their decision. Players’ preferred destinations change by the minute, and can be based on anything BUT basketball. “Sources” get in the ears of anyone within shouting distance, and all of a sudden a player is moving halfway across the country because he liked a restaurant’s dish. News isn’t so much actual facts but conjecture. Fans of the league eat bread crumbs for the first week in hopes of an entree sooner than later, and may even become borderline delirious with hopes and theories on why a certain player will choose their team and not others.

Four years ago, LeBron James became likely the biggest free agent in history, complete with an absolute spectacle. It was one of those “you know where you were” moments in sports history. That made way for Dwight Howard and his one man show last summer. One minute he wanted to be a Rocket, and the next he was on a plane supposedly changing his mind for the Lakers. We all know how that turned out. This year it is anything but a one man show (similar to 2010), but the future is misty as ever for all players and teams involved.

Time passes. Teams and the basketball landscape as a whole have changed. Most importantly, LeBron has changed. He isn’t some baby-faced prodigy looking for rings. He’s a four-time league MVP with two titles still in his prime. He’s once again the most sought-after player, but no one outside of his inner circle have any idea what he wants to do. And even they don’t know exactly what he’s thinking.What we do know is James opted out first, having not discussed his move prior with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Whether or not that was a tell remains to be seen. Soon after, they followed suit.

What we also know? James wants a max contract- and I don’t blame him.

I’d like to think LeBron is one step ahead of the curve not only on the court but also in the big picture of the NBA. There were those who argued the Heat were frontrunners to land James, or that he’d even sign a short term deal to give Pat Riley time to piece together a contender. James is in his prime, but not  a spry 22-year old with time to waste on uncertainty.

“If LeBron leaves again, he’s just running away,” some people say.

Loyalty as we know it is dead in pro sports- outside of San Antonio that is. It’s not one side’s fault. Players have to make as much money as they can while they can. Teams have to make business decisions to stay relevant and meet the bottom line. LeBron leaving Miami wouldn’t be personal- and it wasn’t in Cleveland. That was a business decision, and so would leaving again be. James is not one who would settle or remain with a team for the sake of it. His silence and unpredictability haven’t gone unnoticed. That might end up forcing Bosh’s hand, as he explores his plan B.

For all the talk of LeBron and Carmelo setting the tone, Bosh’s move could end up as the butterfly effect of 2014. He’s been vocal that he wants to remain in Miami with James, but doesn’t let him get in the way of making his own decisions- and more importantly, money. Bosh was offered a max four year, $88 million contract by the Rockets Monday afternoon. While not the team’s first option, it could end up being the best fit for Houston. Bosh’s game compliments both James Harden’s and Dwight Howard’s quite well. His ability to stretch the floor on offense while providing a mobile and effective option on defense could prove invaluable for a team in sore need of a stopper. Bosh has proven he can fit in and has no ego, and knows what it takes to win. He is not necessarily worth max money, but it’s the price of doing business and getting a player who meshes perfectly.

On a side note, the one monkey wrench for the Rockets could be Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a restricted free agent and Houston has the option to match any offer sheet he gets, but it would screw up their chances of trying to keep him using his Bird Rights and adding Bosh. One would think Houston has made it clear they want to keep him once the dust is settled, but the possibility of Parsons leaving for say, Dallas, is still real.

And if Bosh signs with Houston? That could all but seal the deal for LeBron, who could look to make a triumphant return home- despite this super sweet letter from one Dan Gilbert four years ago. The one other team in the running for The King are the Phoenix Suns, rich with young talent, cap room and assets for future trades.

What about that other guy who was supposed to make his decision Monday? Oh right- Carmelo Anthony. Anthony was pursued heavily by Houston at first, then visited Dallas. Now recent reports have him deciding between the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls. Phil Jackson offered him a 5 year, $129 million dollar contract. While money isn’t everything, the Knicks are in good hands with Jackson and could give Anthony a chance to help fix their recent woes. The Lakers can only offer four years, but Anthony lives there in the off-season and is close with Bryant. Their ability to coexist would be prime media fodder, and would make for an interesting dynamic.

The last team (Chicago) seems the most reasonable on paper. They are a team with superb defense, one of the best coaches in the NBA and one of the best point guards (when healthy) in the league in Rose. Anthony could provide the scoring they need and if James were to go West, that potential Bulls squad would have to be favored to come out of the East- even if Derrick Rose went down again.

For now, it all remains to be seen. This article, like a message in Mission Impossible, could end up self-destructing tomorrow once Bosh chooses Miami and LeBron decides to return. The ball is in your court, fellas.

 

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