With the NBA Free Agency period beginning midnight on July 1st, many teams were out pitching their benefits to potential players. Sean Francois, (@seanfrancois) Halifax-based writer and co-founder of basketball blog HoopHeadsNorth.com, signs up for the Three-Man Weave this week with Duane Watson and Will Strickland from TSN 1050's "1 On 1 With Will & Duane", as we look at where some of the stars may land and asses the early activity.
How important was the Kyle Lowry signing for Toronto?
Strickland: Rhetorical. It would have been a nuclear winter in the T-Dot had Raptors President and GM Masai Ujiri not re-signed Lowry. DeMar DeRozan is the the best player on the team and an All-Star; Kyle Lowry is the MVP of the Raps. This is not necessarily up for debate.
Francois: I believe that Kyle Lowry's signing is a BIG deal. The fact of the matter is that he re-signed with a Toronto team that had success this past season and has a bright future with a young core, so he's envisioning what he can do to help take the Raptors to the next level as a leader and key contributor. The Raptors franchise as a whole (players and management) cannot afford to rest on their laurels though. They must continue to improve individually as players, and management and coaches need to continually look for ways to improve the team in order to maintain and exceed this new found level of success on the court. To me, Lowry's re-signing helps quell the notion/misconception that players don't want to play in Toronto. Like in the heyday of the Vince Carter-era, if the team is winning, players will want to stay.
Watson: After drafting and developing the likes of Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, only to head south of the border once their game blossomed, it was important for the franchise to keep their own talent. Definitely a statement that Toronto is a destination for free agents, as Lowry drew interest from Miami, Houston and the Lakers. It was the right deal and he is the leader of the ball club and Masai Ujiri didn't have to overpay to keep him here.
Will the Heat be able to retain their Big Three and improve their roster?
Strickland: Tough to say at this point. LeBron James has been flying solo on this mission, rightfully demanding max money as for the first 11 years of his career, never has he been the highest paid player in the NBA or on his own team. Bosh opted out, then asked for a five-year, $90 million deal, which definitely won't happen in Miami. Dwyane Wade opted out and seems to be willing to do what's necessary to retire on South Beach. All that said, Pat Riley needs to bring in a Pau Gasol-type big, a solid PG and a competent bench with a mixture of youth and experience or we may have seen the last of the Heatles.
Francois: I believe that the Miami Heat will be able to retain their Big Three, but only for another one or two seasons. With the reported contract demands/expectations from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, I do not anticipate there being enough money available (under the salary cap) for Pat Riley to bring in significant pieces to placate James for the long haul. Therefore, I suspect LeBron will stay in Miami, but on a short term deal so that he has flexibility to go elsewhere in short order if he sees fit to do so.
Watson: The numbers don't add up, LeBron James maintains he wants a max contract, deservedly so, but expects Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to take less than their value AND are expected to find key players to add to the roster? It's not going to happen and I don't see James staying to play with the same team again, even with a max deal.
Where will LeBron James end up?
Strickland: The initial feeling is that if Riley can't work magic with record cap space available, The King signs a one-year tender and starts the process again next July. Other options include Cleveland and Houston having the inside track to sign LeBron. There are long shots like Chicago and Dallas, an intriguing scenario in the Valley of the Sun that involves James and Carmelo Anthony in Phoenix and the most explosive of all - Miami and the Clippers do a straight sign-and-trade with LeBron for Blake Griffin.
Francois:I believe LeBron James will ultimately stay in Miami, but on a short-term deal so that he has the flexibility to go elsewhere in short order if he doesn't believe the Miami Heat can continue to build and maintain a competitive roster. Pat Riley will need to work some magic to be able to attain players that can truly keep the Heat competitive and at a Championship-calibre level, considering the high percentage of cap space that the Big Three will command - even if it is at a "reduced" rate.
Watson: LeBron leaves Miami unless he takes a short-term contract to stay, say, one or two years. When he does, it only makes sense that he returns to Cleveland. If he's going to leave the comfort and stability of the Heat, it would only make sense to do so if he returned home. They have young and dynamic pieces in Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, etc, which is already a better Cavaliers team that he took to the NBA Finals in 2007.
Where will Carmelo Anthony end up?
Strickland: History speaks to 'Melo being about his money and max dollars exist by staying in Metropolis, learning the Triangle with ghost coach Phil Jackson (Sorry, Derek Fisher...we know what this is!), then waiting on Kevin Love and/or LeBron to show up in Gotham for the 2015-2016 season. Chicago seems like a fit for a better opportunity to win now, even with the unknown of Derrick Rose and his health. Houston and Dallas feel like gratuity stops on Melo's Wine & Dine Tour 2014. And the writing was on the wall when Kobe couldn't make it back from his annual blood spinn... ahem, pardon me, "vacation in Europe" to meet with Anthony.
Francois: I would enjoy seeing Carmelo Anthony in a Chicago Bulls uniform, but I do expect now that he's finished speaking with the Bulls, Mavericks, Rockets, Lakers and the Knicks that he will ultimately stay where he's been for the past three-and-a-half seasons. I feel that the maximum money that the Knicks can offer, which no other team can (and the fifth-year on a contract), plus his wife and family being settled in New York City and enjoying everything the city has to offer, will ultimately keep him in the Big Apple.
Watson: The best scenario is for him to wind up in is Chicago, with a defensive-minded coach and a complement of stars in Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and defensive pieces like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, however it will likely be the most complicated. 'Melo can get max money in New York if he stays, but he wants to win. Can he attract a marquee free agent to come play with him there, knowing he won't pass the ball? I think he will opt for the long money (five-year max deal) and stay in New York.
Which free agency move thus far, quietly makes their team better?
Strickland: Toronto. Ujiri's continues to be solid and respectful of the cap dynamic, fan dynamic and team growth dynamic by re-upping Kyle Lowry to a very reasonable deal for a player of his calibre. With a 2017 lockout looming and, as usual, Washington D.C. affecting the current economy by grossly overpaying Wizards centre Marcin "The Polish Hammer" Gortat, the Raptors are building in a fiscally responsible fashion that should engender confidence for Ujiri's next moves.
Francois: With a lot of free agents still unsigned or undecided on their team for the upcoming 2014-15 season, the answer to the most underrated free agent signing is probably still to come. That said, to answer the specific question of what free agent signing has quietly made their team better, I believe the Spurs re-signing of Patty Mills is very key. Unfortunately, he now has to recover from rotator cuff surgery, but a lot of teams certainly had him on their radar for his shooting prowess and point guard abilities. This helps keep the San Antonio Spurs' core and group of impactful role players intact, while giving the Spurs a fantastic opportunity to keep the Larry O'Brien Trophy in their possession.
Watson: While none of the big names has signed yet, Lowry is the biggest name to lock up, but that has already been addressed. Danny Ferry's Atlanta Hawks traded Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira to the Raptors for John Salmons, who they will likely waive for $1 million providing cap space. They also acquired Thabo Sefolosha for three years and $12 million, who provides solid perimeter defence to platoon with Kyle Korver, the league's best three-point shooter. The cap space may also pave way for Luol Deng to sign with the Hawks, as well.