LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony’s silence regarding their respective destinations in free agency may speak volumes about their future intentions.
Among most basketball pundits, conventional wisdom holds that both superstars will forgo lengthy lists of suitors to re-sign with their most recent teams -- James with the Miami Heat, and Anthony with the New York Knicks. Since the 2014 NBA free agent period officially began on July 1, neither player has rushed to put pen to paper.
Knicks executives expected Anthony to make a decision about his future by Monday, and reports suggest that the franchise’s front office was confident that he’d bought into Phil Jackson’s vision for the future. But Anthony flew to Los Angeles last week to meet with top Lakers representatives, including future Hall of Fame forward Kobe Bryant.
By Sunday, the Lakers and the Knicks were roughly even in the race to acquire Anthony, while the Chicago Bulls represented a third option. As of Tuesday morning, Anthony still hadn't said where he planned to sign.
Like Anthony, James opted out of his existing contract ahead of July 1 to test the free agent market. While most league executives expect James to return to South Beach for the 2014-15 season, the four-time MVP is intent on exploring his other options.
James plans to meet with Miami team president Pat Riley as early as Tuesday but will also have face-to-face interactions from several other franchises, ESPN reported. Rich Paul, James’ agent, has been in contact with representatives from each of these teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets. The Phoenix Suns are also considered an active suitor for his services.
James decision could affect where Anthony, as well as the other two members of the Heat’s “Big Three” -- Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- sign their next contracts. As Anthony continues to delay his announcement, some Knicks executives have come to believe that the 30-year-old star is waiting for James to make his decision to determine the feasibility of playing with him next season.
The Knicks remain confident that Anthony will ultimately buy into Jackson’s plan for the future. But as the New York Post notes, the franchise was also confident that it would be able to hire Steve Kerr as its next head coach, only for the former Jackson protégé to snub his mentor in favor of the Golden State Warriors.
Anthony could also use the Lakers’ interest as leverage in a bid to join the Bulls. Unlike Chicago, the Lakers can sign Anthony to a max contract without having to juggle their present roster. As such, if it became apparent that Anthony planned to leave New York, the Knicks could chose to agree to a “sign-and-trade” with Chicago, which would net some form of compensation, rather than allowing their franchise player to go to Los Angeles for nothing.
Like James, Wade and Bosh are each expected to re-sign with the Heat this offseason. A conversation with James reportedly convinced Bosh to explore “Plan Bs” of his own, a source told ESPN. The Houston Rockets are in heavy pursuit of Bosh, offering the 6-foot-10 forward a four-year, $88 million max contract on Monday.
Bosh’s preference is to return to Miami to play with James, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports. He’s also reportedly “open” to Houston’s offer, which is more lucrative than Miami’s most recent proposal. To re-sign James -- who has made it clear that he’ll accept nothing less than a max contract -- and Wade, Bosh would have to accept less money than he would otherwise command on the open market.
At the same time, if Bosh decides to sign with another franchise before James makes his decision, the Heat could make a push to use their newfound cap space to sign Anthony, thus forming a new “Big Three” alongside Wade.
Ultimately, James could decide to return to Miami, Anthony could re-join the Knicks, and all of these potential free agency scenarios could be rendered moot. But the longer the pair -- and, to a lesser extent, Bosh -- delay their decisions, the more clear it becomes that they’re exploring options outside of their expected paths.