As the theatre and drama of the NBA Free Agency Season unfolds with LeBron James' Decision 2.0, TSN Radio 1050's hosts of #1On1 with Will & Duane, Will Strickland and Duane Watson incorporate the help of long-suffering Cleveland sports fan and a host of TSN 1050's 'Game Night' and 'Game Day', Andy McNamara to sort out where the dominoes fall for the rest of the NBA and its prime free agents.
What does LeBron James's return to Cleveland mean to that city and the league?
Strickland: It would seem that Ohio's Prodigal Son returning to the place where his professional success began would be a significant part of his career narrative. The legend grows even more so if James is able to unite and sow the seeds of ultimate glory in the game with his new teammates to lead them to a title. LeBron exhibited how he could lord his power over the NBA with this decision and create semi-seismic ripples in league's landscape. But the deeper, more meaningful aspect of this all is LeBron Raymone James had to leave, grow, learn to understand what may be his greater purpose in life. In his own words: "My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."
McNamara: For the City of Cleveland LeBron's return means everything. The city nearly shut down on Friday to celebrate. Billboards were raised and t-shirts were released. It means a return to legitimacy, not just in the NBA, but in the North American sports scene. When LeBron left bars, restaurants and tourism suffered. LeBron's letter provides commitment and hope to a struggling region and erases the pain of the last four years. For the NBA LeBron's return provides a phenomenal feel good story and gives hope to an underdog franchise. It's great for the league and freshens up a stale Eastern Conference scene.
Watson: It allows James to make a return home, make peace with the City of Cleveland and makes them viable contenders in the Eastern Conference. It's a storybook ending, really, and a chance for James to cement his legacy if he brings a championship to Cleveland. Oh, and more jersey sales for the league as it's rumoured he will change his number to 32.
In LeBron's open letter to the NBA in Sports Illustrated, he mentions several of his Cleveland teammates, but not Andrew Wiggins. Cause for alarm?
Strickland: No. Alarm for whom? Canadian hoops fans who would like to see the four Canucks on that team, especially Wiggins, be integral parts of aiding the Cavaliers in their NBA title quest. Understandable. But, this is a business. And this is a business that requires deft asset management skills, those often lacking in the front office decision making in Cleveland. So, do the Cavs move Andrew Wiggins, an unproven commodity on the finest of hardwood courts in The Association as yet, but with an absolutely meteoric upside for a highly coveted three-time All-Star, 3-point shooting, voracious rebounding Olympic Gold Medalist entering his prime who accelerates your team's championship aspirations?
McNamara: I don't believe the exclusions of those names was a secret message or hint of things to come. It was definitely interesting that the #1 overall draft pick was left out though. Maybe LeBron doesn't know Wiggins and mentioned people with whom he was more familiar.
Watson: No. Despite his talent, Wiggins is a rookie and still has to prove his worth in the NBA.
The balance of power shifted in the Eastern Conference. Who prevails ad why?
Strickland: While Cleveland automatically becomes a prohibitive favourite with That Guy on their roster, consider Washington's impressive showing in the playoffs as well as retaining centre Marcin Gortat in free agency, note that Miami's not completely dead and the Toronto Raptors won't creep up on anyone next season. However, after "meditating it", the Chicago Bulls hold the most intrigue. Pau Gasol may still be the most all-around skilled big on the planet, even at 34. Teamed with 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, they could be the best passing bigs in the league. Rookie Doug McDermott, the solid Jimmy Butler & the emerging Taj Gibson all help Coach Tom Thibodeau's plans of Eastern Conference supremacy. A healthy Derrick Rose makes this close to a forgone conclusion.
McNamara: As it stands now the East is completely wide open, which makes for real interesting storylines that don't involve who will lose to Miami in the Eastern Conference. As it stands now, the major players have to include Cleveland (obviously), Indiana and Chicago. Free agency moves and trades can alter this of course. Right now I give the nod to the Cavaliers as favorites, but that takes into account a lot of assumptions that include whether Wiggins stays, if Wiggins can step in and contribute day one, how Bennett bounces back, and what trades or signings still take place.
Watson: I don't necessarily know if it has shifted, I think it is just far more open and even overall. Every year the Heat were the dominant force to beat and now there isn't an overwhelming favourite. Teams have improved, (Bulls, Cavaliers), while others have are looking to take the next step after last year's success (Raptors, Wizards), if some teams can figure it out, they can be dangerous (Pistons, Heat) and some have regressed (Heat, Pacers). The landscape has balanced out and it's not as easy to call, with some free agents still unsigned, and moves to be made, it's too early to call.
Which player won the most this free agency period?
Strickland: With spirited nods to the Madison Square Gardener, Carmelo Anthony (five years/$130M), Chris Bosh (five years/ $118M), Gordon Hayward (four years/$63M) and Chandler Parsons (three years/$46M), who all cashed out in dramatic fashion, LeBron James reigns here. The King didn't max out as he could have at two years/$42.1M. But the social/community currency, along with his personal peace of mind, may have the longest lasting impact and value.
McNamara: No doubt LeBron. He looks like a superhero returning home and is savior to a city and region. Plus he goes to a team with assets to trade for a proven vet or just grow a stable of young studs.
Watson: Chandler Parsons was a second round pick that earned $926,500 this past season with the Houston Rockets. Now the Dallas Mavericks are paying him $12 million a season on a three-year near max contract, talk about a pay day! He's the Mavs highest player, but he's not the key to taking the Mavericks to the next level. Mark Cuban overpaid to stick it to his cross-state rival. Parsons is good, but not near-max money good. You're the real MVP Chandler Parsons.
Which player lost the most this free agency period?
Strickland: Luol Deng, hands down. After dismissing several deals at $10M per year, which he felt were too low considering his stature and value, the oft-injured 29-year-old former All-Star signed a two year/$20M deal to "replace" LeBron James in Miami. More potentially lucrative offers existed with the Rockets, Mavericks, Hawks and Wizards. Negotiation is an art. Deng and his agents seem to be finger painting. And, as hard as it is to call $10 million per year "finger painting", tough to find kinder words for how this all shook out for Deng.
McNamara: Chris Bosh. Why, Oh Why would he go back to Miami? There is no possible way he will be seen as anything other than a complete failure if he doesn't lead the Heat back to the Finals. Bosh going to Houston made much more sense since he would get a fresh start and different expectations on him. The only positive for CB about returning to South Beach is the extra year he gets on his contract.
Watson: Chris Bosh signed a max contract with the wrong team, electing to sign a five-year $118 million to return to the Miami Heat (sans LeBron James). The Houston Rockets offered the power forward a four-year deal for $88 million to play alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden and stretch the floor and play defence in his home state, but he passed. Now he will have to work twice as hard, with Dwyane Wade on part-time duty and carry the Heat, as James made it easier for everyone on the team. He will effectively have to earn that salary, and bring his level of play back to what he did in Toronto.
The Three-Man Weave contributors are co-hosts of TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) and Duane Watson (@byDuaneWatson) and guest Pancakkon King (The second "k" is silent) Andy McNamara (@AndyMc81).