The National Basketball Association’s free agency period begins today with four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James on the open market for the second time in four years.
James, who led the Miami Heat to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals, winning two titles, opted out of the final two years of his contract to become a free agent. Joining him were Miami’s Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, while Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Pau Gasol are among the other prominent players to become free agents.
The decisions by the Heat’s three top players don’t signal an end of Miami’s dynasty or preclude them from resigning. The moves give the Heat $55 million in salary cap space to try to strengthen a team that lost in the NBA Finals and was outscored by the San Antonio Spurs by a total of 70 points, the largest point differential in league history.
“We are an organization that’s strong, we’ve got great leadership, great coaching, great discipline,” Heat President Pat Riley said during a news conference this month. “I didn’t come down here 19 years ago for a quick trip to South Beach and get a sun tan. I don’t think they did either.”
The odds of James re-signing with the Heat are 1-6, according to online sports book Bovada.lv, meaning a winning $600 wager would return only a $100 profit. The odds give Miami a 61 percent chance of bringing back James, according to online handicapping information website Pregame.com, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers, with whom James spent his first seven NBA seasons, at 12 percent and Los Angeles Clippers at 9 percent.
Players are able to sign new deals beginning July 10.
James, 29, was set to collect $22.7 million next season if he opted into his contract with the Heat, while Bosh, 30, was set to make $23 million and Wade, 32, $22.5 million. James, who as a free agent in 2010 took a slight pay cut with a six-year, $110 million contract, can now receive a new five-year deal from the Heat worth about $129 million. The maximum he could get from another team is $95.8 million over four seasons.
If James, the NBA’s MVP four of the past six years, gets a maximum value deal, Wade and Bosh may have to take lower salaries for the team to add other talent via free agency. The Spurs, who beat the Heat in five games in the NBA Finals, paid their core trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili a total of about $30 million last season. Their increased depth was evident in the NBA Finals, as San Antonio’s bench outscored Miami’s reserves by an average of more than 16 points a game.
Former Portland Trail Blazers assistant general manager Tom Penn, now an analyst for ESPN, said the Spurs have perhaps the best-managed salary cap in the history of sports. Duncan, a two-time NBA MVP who’s won five championships over 14 seasons in San Antonio, will make about $10.4 million next season.
“This whole thing of him opting in for $10 million and we’re talking about other players having to settle for mid 20s, it’s sort of laughable that Duncan is not getting what he should be getting, for all that he means to that franchise,” Penn said on a conference call. “But he’s given back. The others have followed his lead. So their cap situation overall is very well managed and well positioned for the long haul.”
After James, the most coveted player on the free agent market is probably Anthony, a seven-time All-Star with a career scoring average of 25.3 points a game.
Anthony, 30, opted out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks after missing the playoffs last season for the first time in his 10-year career. The Chicago Bulls, who have made the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons, are even-money favorites to sign Anthony and team him with All-Stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, according to Bovada.
The Knicks are the second favorite, with 2-1 odds of keeping Anthony, followed by the Heat at 5-1. The Houston Rockets, Mavericks, Lakers and Atlanta Hawks are among other teams interested in him. Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson said that he talked with Anthony in advance of last week’s trade that sent Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, who won the NBA’s 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year award in New York, to the Mavericks for four players and two picks in this year’s draft.
“He saw the value in it and was appreciative of it,” Jackson was quoted as saying on the team’s website about his conversations with Anthony. “I wouldn’t use the word consulted, I would use the word informed when we talked to Carmelo about this a couple weeks ago when we met with him.”
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