NBA is facing quiet free-agency ahead of salary rise

Jay Asser 01:47 01/07/2015
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Playing clever: LeBron.

The NBA free agency frenzy is here, but despite the depth of marque names, the player movement at the top is expected to be minimal.

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This will be the final off-season before the salary cap shoots skyward as a result of the nine-year, $24 billion TV deal, which will cause maximum contracts and player salaries to inflate considerably.

That means this summer, teams will try to lock-in players for long-term deals which will look more and more fiscally appealing, while players will attempt to position themselves for another trip to free agency in 12 months time.

The player most representative of that trend is LeBron James, who has already been planning ahead for the salary cap escalation.

When he departed Miami for Cleveland last summer, James didn’t ink a long-term contract. He signed a two-year deal, which was essentially a one-year deal that included a player option for the second season.

James has elected to decline that option, not necessarily to switch uniforms, but to maximise his worth for the coming year with a modest raise – from the $21.6 million player option to more than $22m for 2015-16.

The four-time MVP will likely give himself another out for next summer to be in line for the higher ceiling on maximum contracts and other players are sure to follow suit.

James’ team-mate, Kevin Love, could opt to go in either direction. Following a trying first season in Cleveland, Love was considered to be up for grabs this summer. Whether it’s due to a sense of incompleteness after suffering a season-ending injury in the first round of the playoffs or seeing the Cavaliers fall just two wins short of a title without him, Love is eyeing an extended stay in Ohio.

Cleveland will reportedly offer the 26-year-old forward a five-year, $110m maximum contract and although Love could seek long-term insurance, a shorter deal, similar to James, would mean more options.

Love is part of a loaded big man free agent class, which also includes stars like Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan. While Gasol, who was named to the All-NBA 1st Team last season, is expected to remain in Memphis, Aldridge and Jordan could be heading south to Texas.

The Portland Trail Blazers, after being one of the league’s best teams over the past two years, are in the midst of a major overhaul.

Nicolas Batum has already been traded to Charlotte, while Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are all likely to sign elsewhere.

Aldridge and Jordan were both born in Texas and played college basketball there, so San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are all contenders to bring the frontline players home.

For Aldridge, the Spurs make sense from a win-now perspective with Tim Duncan, as well from a future outlook with Kawhi Leonard. Jordan is already a major piece on a constant contender, in the Clippers, but has failed to go further than the second round of the playoffs.

The team most likely to lure the 26-year-old away from Los Angeles are the Mavericks, who are reportedly joined by New York and the Los Angeles Lakers.

As two of the NBA’s premier franchises, the Knicks and Lakers will be aggressive in acquiring talent and turning around their lowly efforts of this past season when they both finished in the bottom four of the league.

Despite drafting Latvian 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall in last week’s draft, the Knicks are still looking for a big man to anchor their defence and function in the triangle offence.

For Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant will be surrounded by young players. The Lakers drafted point guard D’Angelo Russell second overall in the draft, perhaps with any eye on the quality of big men available in free agency.

Teams and players can currently negotiate, but signings can’t be official until the July moratorium period ends next Wednesday.

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