June 10, 2014
Every offseason in the National Basketball Association is full of intrigue and opportunity for teams. The right free agent could change a franchise’s fortunes. Signing a free agent that fits the squad turns mediocre teams into playoff teams, playoff teams into contenders, and contenders into champions. The wrong move in free agency could strain their franchise’s finances for years and stop any chance of improvement as a whole. The following deals are the best moves in free agency for the high profile free agents of 2014.
Houston Rockets – This deal is allegedly really on the table. James’ contract with the Heat is up, Wade has lost a step, and Bosh is now a set shooter instead of a polished post player with a deadly jump shot. The Miami Heat are on the decline, and Lebron’s legacy could be diminished if he sticks around South Beach. Houston makes a lot of sense for the King, because with the Rockets James would walk into another situation where he could win a championship immediately. He could still dominate the handling of the basketball and facilitate the offense, and Houston has younger, more complementary pieces in place than James had in Miami. James Harden has proven that he can defer when a greater talent is on the squad (as he did in Oklahoma City), and because James is excellent at scoring in the interior of defenses, Harden would get open shots on the perimeter. Dwight Howard would destroy defenses inside because the arrival of James makes him the third option on offense. No one could afford to double team Howard because that would leave Harden and James in single coverage. And, the arrival of LeBron James also would make the Rockets one of the most athletic teams in the NBA. The Rockets who play at a faster pace than most NBA teams could push their tempo to unreachable heights on both sides of the basketball. James would funnel players into Howard on defense which means that he could gamble more on the perimeter making him an even better defender. The Houston Rockets are frontrunners for a championship if they could pull off this trade.
Cleveland – “The Decision” to leave his hometown may be the only real blemish on James’ career and a trip back to Cleveland would fix that. If he won a championship in Cleveland, then he would definitely be considered in conversations about the best basketball player ever. And, there are good pieces in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving is an All-Star and could relieve LeBron of some of the play-making responsibilities and the strength of Irving’s game is his jump shot which would create creases for LBJ to move through when they are on the same side of the floor. Once again, their talents complement each other whereas James and Wade had to work to find balance since they played the same style of basketball. And, Cleveland has a great pick in this year’s draft so they could get a fluid center in Joel Embiid, a polished wing in Jabari Parker, or another athletic freak in Andrew Wiggins. Any one of the three could make the Cavaliers a contender again if they mesh well with James and Irving. Parker is the best fit. He is young, but has developed basketball skills and a high basketball IQ. However, he also has the lowest ceiling of the three rookies. Wiggins probably has the highest ceiling of them all. He is an unpolished wing, but his athleticism ranks nearly as high as LeBron himself. And, he showed flashes of what he could be during his short college stay when he put up 41 points in a 40 game. Wiggins is long, explosive, and knows how to score. However, he does not know when to take over a game. That’s why pairing him with LeBron and Kyrie could bring a championship to Cleveland. Having an NBA All-Star and a 4-time MVP to lean on should ease his transition into the league. But, the best proposed situation for Cleveland would be if they could sign James in free agency and draft Embiid. He is an extremely coordinated and athletic seven footer. Though he is raw on the offensive end of the court, he is agile and could develop into a great offensive force. His defense is already a few steps ahead and with better timing and positioning, a few more pounds, and polished footwork in the post Embiid could compete to be the last dominant center in the NBA. Combine a dominant big man with a skilled point guard and possibly the best basketball player of a generation and you have a legitimate contender.
Chicago – James would make the Bulls a contender with only his presence. They need a bonafide go-to player in the absence of Derrick Rose, and he fits the bill. Chicago plays the brand of defensive basketball that once took LeBron to the Finals in Cleveland, and he is as unselfish with the basketball as the rest of the Bulls. Old school team basketball could prevail if LeBron flies into the Windy City, however, if Derrick Rose returns there could be trouble healthy or not. Rose has to be ball dominant to be effective, and him having the basketball means that LeBron does not have it. If they could figure out how to share the basketball though, the Bulls could win it all with James.
Chicago – The Bulls are the perfect fit for Carmelo. He is a more than adequate defender when he is engaged, and Thibodeaux will take nothing less than solid defensive work. Anthony also gives Chicago the pure scorer that they need to go from playoff team to contender. Moving Carmelo to the Bulls makes them a favorite to take the Eastern Conference if the Heat take a step back with the aging Wade and both LeBron and Bosh possibly leaving town. And, if Rose returns to form this season, the Chicago will have another weapon to use in the playoffs. Carmelo takes more jump shots than Rose, so he and Rose are more likely coexist though they both need the basketball in isolation plays to be effective.
L.A. Clippers – The Clippers have great guard play, interior scoring, decent rebounding, and scoring from different levels of the floor. The Clippers do not have a wing who can score and defend, and Deng would bring much needed toughness and versatility to the Clippers. Though they are very talented, The Clippers are decidedly a finesse team. Deng makes them bigger, a little more physical on the perimeter, and gives the Clips a stronger identity.
New Orleans – The Hornets are developing a NBA superstar in Anthony Davis. He is already one of the highest rated players in offensive efficiency in the league and he has not developed any definitive post moves. Once he hones his footwork and learns counters in the paint, he could be unstoppable. The Hornets need a player that can make life easier for the young star. Lowry is a gritty point guard who really defers when he has better talent, but understands when he needs to get a bucket himself for the team. Lowry is an intelligent and skilled point who brings a workman-like attitude. He creates turnovers, hustles for loose balls, and dictates pace fr his squad. The Hornets would be well-served to pursue him.
Chicago – This deal only makes sense if Derrick Rose really is healthy this season. The Bulls will only be marginally better with Love by himself, though he does add specific needs that Chicago has and he fits the system well. Love is a great rebounder and he adds much needed 3 point shooting to a squad that has struggled to hit long range shots for the last 4-5 years. His rebounding fits into what the Bulls like to do, shorten the other team’s possessions. But, Rose is the key to this being a lucrative deal for Chicago. Love would open up lanes with his sharp shooting and Rose and Noah would exploit the room that he created. On penetration from the point, Love would get wide open shots. Their styles of play could be very complementary.
L.A. Lakers – This seems like a great homecoming for Kevin Love. He is from the west coast and could team with Kobe to make the Lakers relevant again. Well, this trade also depends heavily on return of an injured superstar. Kobe was injured again, and he had slowed considerably before he was hurt. Kobe failed to share the basketball adequately with Dwight Howard in his one year in L.A. despite Howard being the best talent on the team. Love would be signing up for the same treatment. And, he is not the physical specimen that Howard was. He brings elements that the Lakers need like shooting and rebounding, but he lacks a go-to move and has not won when he was the sole star on a team. Love faces the same fate in two years when Kobe’s recent contract extension expires unless the Lakers sign another star.
Houston – Love fills a lot of holes for the Rockets. He gives them another three point shooter for their revolutionary offense. His shooting opens more lanes for Harden and guys who are better at penetrating like Lin and Parsons. He adds another elite rebounder to the squad that shoots more than anybody in the league. That should translate into more possessions for the squad. And, Love gives Houston a more polished low post presence even though he is less athletic than Howard. Love makes the Rockets tougher and more grounded.
Washington – The best decision for Marcin Gortat is not making a move in free agency. Washington could pay him the most money and they are building a great young nucleus for a team who has been the laughingstock of the league for a long time (barring the 2-3 seasons when Gilbert Arenas could have won a MVP). The Wizards are tough, athletic, and on an upswing. They are learning to win basketball games the right way. Gortat and Nene Hilario give them athleticism, scoring, and rebounding under the rim. Gortat can play high on the floor and shoot jumpers or feed the post from the top of the key. He can also post up himself and score in traffic. He is a good offensive rebounder and he has found a good spot in D.C.
Golden State – Gortat could hypothetically walk into the same situation that he had in Washington in Golden State. If Andrew Bogut is healthy, he could form the same type of versatile frontcourt that would be almost impossible to stop under the rim. The difference is that with the Warriors, Gortat would inherit the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. His presence, provided that he does not have a serious decline this season, could give the Warriors the athleticism, rebounding, and production under the rim that they desperately need to compete against the big men in the west.
Oklahoma City – Regardless of how talented Russell Westbrook is (And he is extremely physically gifted), the Durant – Westbrook experiment has run its course. His decision making in the most crucial moments in games has been detrimental to the Thunder, particularly because he often fails to get the basketball to Kevin Durant (2014 league MVP) in the waning moments of games. Rondo is a pass first point guard who is on the same level of athleticism, but has a different game. Like Westbrook, Rondo excels in blowing by a defender and getting into the paint, however he looks to distribute the ball instead of looking for his own shot unless he gets to the rim uncontested. He defers to the stars on his team the way a point guard should even if he is a star himself. Sergio Ibaka will benefit from having Rondo. He does not have to continue developing his footwork in the post with a guard like Rondo, though it help the team if he did. The Thunder could become favorites just by signing him.
Houston – If the Houston Rockets had pulled the trigger on this trade in the middle of the 2014 regular season, then they might still be playing for a title in the postseason. Rondo makes the Rockets a better team. He adds defense in the backcourt; he was amongst the league leaders in steals every year and played great on-ball defense as well. Rondo would clear Harden of his ball-handling duties and free him to catch and shoot more often. Rondo gives Houston a scoring option at point, but also gives them a facilitator who is more concerned with orchestrating than being the high scorer. Dwight Howard would get numerous more open looks under the rim because Rondo can make an entry pass (none of he Rockets have been proven capable of it so far), and he dishes the ball when he penetrates. Rondo would make this ball club better in every way imaginable.