The week of June 22 the NBA free agency hit a major impasse. As expected, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony opted out of their contracts with their current teams, the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, respectively. Following suit, James’ teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh also announced they would opt out of their contracts not long after. As a result, while there have been moves within the NBA since the contract negotiations have begun, the league’s fee agency period has essentially been held hostage by two of its most popular stars in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony with many teams waiting until both make a decision.
As for James, it was speculated immediately after their loss to the San Antonio Spurs that the major motivation behind his impending opt-out was due to the lack of help on the team. As such, it was rumored that the four-time MVP along with Wade and Bosh would opt out of their contracts for less in order to add more depth to the roster. It was revealed later though that not only did James want a more well-rounded roster, but he also wanted a max contract likely worth as much, if not more than, what he would have made the last two seasons in Miami had he opted in.
This is the dilemma that James and Miami are both in. It is a most difficult sell for Riley to pull off more talented players on the squad when the big three are not signed on to play next season. Players would be foolish to take less money to play in Miami if the core of the team will not be re-signed. In fact, it is likely that if James and possibly the others do not return that Miami will not only be in rebuilding mode, but they may have difficulty in even reaching the playoffs.
Last week it was announced that the big three would hold off on pursuing other teams in order for Riley to make moves that are attractive enough for the big three to return to the team. However, due to the demand of Miami’s star players, it has created a dark cloud over the NBA as there are many teams with the potential to sign the former MVP due to financial flexibility. Considering that chance, even if a small one, many teams have withdrawn from signing many new faces. Sure, Miami did recently sign Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts onto the team. However, neither player truly should be considered attractive players to rope the big three in. Granger, who used to be an all-star in Indiana, is injury prone. McRoberts on the other hand is mediocre at best with only averaging 8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 4.3 apg last season. Needless to say, the possibility of James and company coming back to Miami is in flux.
Later last week it was reported that despite James stating he would wait on Riley, his agent has been putting pressure on the team. Offers for James have come from Phoenix, Philadelphia and most controversially, Cleveland, the team the former MVP played for his first seven seasons in his home state. Currently, Cleveland has been making moves to entice James. Not only do they have their surging point guard Kyrie Irving (20.8 ppg, 6.1 apg, 1.5 spg), shooting guard Dion Waiters (15.9 ppg) and the top pick in this year’s draft, Andrew Wiggins, but Cleveland executed a trade this week that gave them more financial flexibility by trading Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev and Tyler Zeller. Due to this move, Cleveland can offer James a max contract. The question though is whether this is a legit possibility that James is thinking or is it a smokescreen? After all, James had quite a bitter end with owner Dan Gilbert, where James was accused of being a trader and a narcissist. Considering that, it is still difficult to picture James coming back.
However, not only are these moves affecting other squads and the other 2/3 of the big three, but they are affecting Carmelo Anthony as well. Last week Anthony spoke with five teams, his previous team, the New York Knicks as well as the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks. Before the interview process, the forward stated that he wanted to make a decision quickly and would take the weekend to decide. Early last weekend it seemed likely as it was rumored that he would come back to the Knicks, but that was followed by another rumor of him going to the Lakers. Now, it is Wednesday of the following week and he has yet to make a decision. Rumor has it that he has not made his final decision because of James.
Both James and Anthony were drafted together and were without a shadow of doubt, the two best players in their draft class. As such, they became friends throughout the years, and because of this, there have been many rumors over the last few months that the two want to play with each other. This is why Anthony has most likely refused to make a decision on his future. He is awaiting on where James goes as there is a possibility, depending on where the 4-time MVP chooses, that his friend may be able to play alongside him.
Because both of the top choices in this year’s draft have not made a decision, the NBA is at a standstill. Miami cannot add many pieces due to players unwilling to dedicate themselves to the squad without at least James being on board. New York is also at a standstill. They conducted a trade that brought in Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert for Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler. However, the Knicks have not done much to better the team besides that. As such, they cannot make a move. Elsewhere, teams like the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and many, many more are handcuffed due to the unknown destinations of these players. Furthermore, the decisions of these players have essentially put the NBA at an impasse.
This impasse cannot last forever though. Today James will meet with Riley. Additionally, as of midnight Thursday, players can officially sign with squads. While both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James want to make the right decision, their unsure future that has held the NBA hostage will have to conclude within the next day or so. If not, teams that either one may have the desire to play for may give up and go for other players as to not sabotage the future of their respective franchise. Regardless of what happens, the next 24 hours could be an interesting timeframe that may change the future of the NBA.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey