Five years have passed, but no single moment has trumped its magnitude and consequences.
LeBron James’ grandiose-style declaration that he would be taking his talents to South Beach during the now-infamous “Decision” remains the domineering image of the NBA in the past half-decade despite its fading place in time.
The event that rocked the NBA landscape happened not on a court or even in the midst of a shimmering trophy, but in the offseason, in free agency.
The sports calendar has fallen within the grasp of that altering period of time once again with the start of NBA free agency just days away. Free agency has become a unique spectacle, where value is determined not by skills, but by money, where Daryl Morey and Mitch Kupchak become more germane than Stephen Curry and where Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter account carries more weight than President Obama’s.
On the cusp of free agency, it’s appropriate to delve into the pool of the top free agents on the market and attempt to select each’s destination, likely to utter and absolute failure.
As the big fish of free agency, Aldridge has secured the spotlight that has continuously eluded him during his Trail Blazers tenure. While reports of Aldridge’s already-confirmed exit from Portland have been conflicted, the general sense is that he will not be back, and the early favorites to land his services are the Texas Trio and the Lakers. Aldridge will command the max 5-year $109 million contract offer from the Blazers and the max 4-year $81 million offer elsewhere. However, in what will serve as a theme during the free agency period, Aldridge may seek a shorter deal allowing him to reenter the market as the new TV deal continues to inflate the cap to a projected $89 million next year and $109 million in 2017. A 2-year deal with a player option for the second year may be the result, allowing Aldridge to opt out after this season and sign for the new max under the new cap.
Based on floating rumor, the Spurs seem to be at the top of Aldridge’s list, but San Antonio’s salary situation is in a state of limbo and roster modification will likely be required to create the cap space. The Lakers always lurk as an enticing option, but there is uncertainty surrounding how many years Kobe Bryant has left and the long-term fit with Julius Randle in the frontcourt. In Dallas, outside of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks roster is quite barren of proven commodities and Aldridge would likely want the security of another star accompanying him to Dallas before taking any Mark Cuban offer seriously. Also a return to Portland isn’t completely dead, but it seems it would require a change of heart from Aldridge, and based on Portland’s offseason youth movement so far, such a scenario has become discouraging. Aldridge will boast a plethora of suitors vying for his skills, but if the Spurs can successfully navigate their cap, the mutual interest may rapidly put an end to the courting process.
Prediction: Signs with Spurs for 4-year max.
Aside from Aldridge, Love is the most alluring free agent who may be willing to change addresses this offseason. The Lakers have been the most outspoken in terms of acquiring Love’s services, but Portland may also jump into the mix if its highly-acclaimed big man bolts and Daryl Morey’s telepathic powers are always capable of persuading any free agent that Houston is their optimal landing spot. However, Love has remained adamant a return to Cleveland is in his plans and the Cavs maintain its obvious interest in bringing him back.
That interest from Cleveland and Love may only go so far, however, as both may be apprehensive committing to a 5-year max deal after what transpired this past season. There is greater likelihood Love signs a 2-year max deal with a player option for the second year. This would grant Love maximum flexibility to weigh the pros and cons of playing with LeBron and friends for another year, while also enabling an exit route if he doesn’t find it to his liking. The financial benefit of reentering free agency with the increased cap next season would simply serve as sweetener.
Prediction: Resigns with Cavaliers on 1-year max deal with player option for the second year.
The Clippers are in the driver seat to resign Jordan based on the current circumstances, but Jordan will meet with teams and the Lakers (it’s getting a bit redundant), Mavericks and Bucks are the teams reportedly expected to make a strong push for Jordan. Jordan has hometown ties to the Mavs and would be a very compatible fit alongside Dirk, but again the lack of clarity surrounding the team’s roster may derail any homecoming. The Lakers will sift through the more prized options of Aldridge and Love before enlisting Jordan as a priority which could hamper their attractiveness to the defensive specialist. The Bucks are desperate for a center and growing with the young core may spark interest from Jordan, but Milwaukie is a far cry from the glitz, glamour and warmth of Hollywood.
The Clips seemingly have every advantage to retain Jordan. They are familiar to Jordan, possess championship aspirations, two superstars who carry the bulk of the offense and the blame for the team’s shortcomings and Doc Rivers who serves as DeAndre’s personal hype man as a side job to coaching and bestowing his genius-level GM powers upon the organization. The Clips are strapped financially, however, and resigning Jordan to the max using his Bird Rights would leave them with just the taxpayer midlevel exception ($3.4 million) to add another impactful piece to the roster. On the other hand, Jordan’s departure would be the equivalent of bringing a scythe to the Clips’ throats.
Prediction: Resigns with Clippers for the full 5-year max.
Besides LeBron, of course, Gasol is the diamond of the free agency pool. However, like LeBron it is improbable Gasol leaves his current team and hometown in pursuit of greener pastures. Gasol has left the window of his departure from Memphis open, but with not much more than a sliver. It would be surprising if Gasol’s impending free agency results in anything but a continuation of his role as the linchpin of Memphis’ Grit-n-Grind rallying cry.
Prediction: Resigns with Grizzlies for the full 5-year max.
Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton
All four are restricted free agents whose play has warranted a max contract extension from their respective clubs. Middleton is the least qualified of the foursome, but he is one of the premier 3-and-D wings in the league with some added offensive creativity, and even if the Bucks don’t view Middleton as being worthy of the max, one or more teams probably do, forcing the Bucks to match or watch Middleton walk which would fall under the category of asinine.
In Green’s case his value and skillset is maximized in the Warriors’ system, and they would certainly oblige in matching any outside max offer to Green. A report yesterday claimed Green said he had interest in meeting with other teams, but it’s unclear if those organizations would be willing to make an offer to Green and tie up their cap space for possibly three days until Golden State surely matches the offer to retain the brash heart and soul of the Bay Area. Essentially, it’s a near guarantee Green will be back in Golden State, it’s just a matter of what gymnastics routine will be necessary to ensure it.
A year later, Butler’s decision to bet on himself and refuse a lower extension last offseason is going to see his bank account reap additional millions. Butler will receive a max-level offer, but he has expressed interest in signing a non-traditional shorter deal in an effort to reenter free agency as the cap climbs. Butler has expressed his preference is a Chandler Parsons-style deal which is a 3-year deal with the 3rd year being a player option. The Bulls desire that Butler sign a standard 5-year extension as it’s more of a bargain down the line with the increased cap and proposes a lengthier tenure in the Windy City. Like Green, it’s iffy whether or not Butler will actually receive an actual offer from an opposing team simply because the Bulls aren’t letting him get away. However, for Butler’s hopes of getting that Parsons-style deal he craves an outside offer will be essential because it would pry the Bulls from their firm stance on the 5-year extension in order to match the contractual specifics and keep him in Chicago.
Leonard’s situation is interesting because while he is the Spurs’ most valuable asset, he is not their primary priority. The Spurs will place their initial effort with resigning Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, if they are indeed coming back, to remove their cap holds, which are surely more lucrative than a future contract. The Spurs must perform these Duncan, Ginobili negotiations quickly to free up the necessary cap space to make a push to sign Aldridge. All of these priorities would supersede Leonard’s extension in an optimal world for San Antonio as they could then exceed the cap to resign Leonard by utilizing the luxury of his Bird Rights.
Knowing this, it is likely a team with gobs of cap space will quickly make an offer to Leonard, forcing the Spurs hand. Under this scenario the Spurs would have to either facilitate deals with Duncan, Ginobili and Aldridge within the 3-day time frame or scratch their hopes of acquiring Aldridge altogether to match the opposing team’s offer to Leonard.
This also gives Leonard a bit of leverage dictating the length of his extension as he could ask for a deal similar to the one Butler is seeking or even opt for the one year maximum qualifying offer and reenter free agency next offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Leonard could promise the Spurs his refusal to sign an offer sheet with another team with his demand being that his voice will represent the sole decider regarding the terms of his extension. It’s a tricky overall situation, one that will test the Spurs respected front office to operate efficiently if they are to create an Aldridge, Leonard duo to lead the post-Duncan renaissance.
Other FA Destination Predictions
Greg Monroe PF (Pistons)- Knicks
Rajon Rondo PG (Mavericks)- Kings
DeMarre Carroll SF (Hawks)- Hawks
Paul Millsap PF (Hawks)- Celtics
Dwyane Wade SG (Heat)- Heat
Brandon Knight PG (Suns)- Suns
Brook Lopez C (Nets)- Nets
Robin Lopez C (Trail Blazers)- Lakers
Tyson Chandler C (Mavericks)- Mavericks
Tobias Harris SF (Magic)- Pistons
Danny Green SG (Spurs)- Suns
Monta Ellis SG (Mavericks)- Hawks
David West PF (Pacers)- Raptors
Wesley Matthews SG (Trail Blazers)- Pacers
Enes Kanter PF (Thunder)- Thunder
Reggie Jackson PG (Pistons)- Pistons
Tristan Thompson PF (Cavaliers)- Cavaliers
Another post may be coming soon highlighting some of the more interesting team free agency situations focusing primarily on the Spurs, Hawks, Cavaliers and Heat.
 Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets
 AKA The LeBron Influence
 If you can’t identify the sarcasm in the comment regarding Doc’s GM acumen stop reading this immediately.
 Gasol is originally from Spain, of course, but much of his upbringing was in Memphis.
 Starting at $15.8 million this season.