Just after Tuesday morning dawns, NBA free agency will get underway with a ferocity unique to this season.
At the top of the list — of everybody’s list — is LeBron James, of course. He chose to exercise his termination option and is seeking, according to ESPN, a maximum contract. Unlike four years ago, James is not setting up meetings with other teams; he’s letting his agent handle inquiries. Speculation has it that the Heat remains the front-runner, although team President Pat Riley wasn’t tipping his hand as he prepared to deal with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James — all free agents. “I’m going back upstairs and crunch some numbers,” Riley told reporters Monday afternoon.
He’s not the only one figuring out who will be available and at what price. Beyond the Heat guys, here are 10 other big-name players who are expected to hit the market:
Carmelo Anthony — The other Big, Big Name, he opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks and, unlike the three Heat players, seems to actually be available. Does he want to join a team with a chance of winning a title or does he want money?
Once James and his Heat buddies and Anthony give a hint of where they’ll land, other teams and players will go to their Plan B. Two of the more intriguing teams are the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets and their free-agency situations.
Eric Bledsoe — No one expects Phoenix to part with Bledsoe, a restricted free agent. The Suns intend to match any offer for him and the intriguing possibility is that they will ardently pursue James and Anthony. They have cap space in which to make a big splash, no matter how unlikely the James/Anthony scenario is and they bear watching throughout free agency.
Chandler Parsons — Like the Suns, the Rockets are poised to do some maneuvering in free agency. They’d like to retain Parsons, a restricted free agent, but they’re likely to try to sign other big-name players first. He may get a big offer, but the Rockets would be likely to match it. The Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves are likely to be interested.
Dirk Nowitzki — An unrestricted free agent, the Mavericks’ star isn’t likely to leave Dallas, if owner Mark Cuban has his way. Instead, he is expected to take a pay cut that would give the team salary-cap space.
Kyle Lowry — The Toronto Raptors may want to retain the unrestricted free agent, but they aren’t likely to be able do so — particularly not with a certain South Florida team making salary-cap space and the Lakers showing interest.
Greg Monroe — The Detroit Pistons’ restricted free agent is “consistently puts up respectable numbers,” Drew Sharp of freep.com writes. “He doesn’t visibly complain, although he occasionally moped during games last season when he didn’t see the ball enough. But it’s crazy thinking he’s a star simply because he provides strong character to a team apparently lacking internal leadership.” Free agency gives the team a chance to alter some of that culture.
Lance Stephenson — He made headlines for blowing in James’s ear during the playoffs and his antics might hurt his value after a season of moments both exhilarating and exasperating. But not every team can get what it wants in free agency, which would make Stephenson, an unrestricted free agent, valuable later. “Lance wants to be here, there’s no question about it,” Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said (via the IndyStar). “He wants to be here. So now it’s just about getting the terms right and trying to get him back.”
Trevor Ariza — He may be a priority for the Washington Wizards to re-sign, but, after a solid season, he is an attractive possibility for a number of teams. Specifically, the Heat might be a good fit. Or the Los Angeles Lakers. Or that other team in L.A.
Luol Deng — An unrestricted free agent, Deng is drawing interest from Atlanta especially, as well as Chicago and Houston.
Pau Gasol — The Lakers aren’t ruling out his return, but this is one unrestricted free agent who could fit nicely with a number of teams. Will he return to L.A., now that Mike D’Antoni is gone, or go elsewhere?