‘Wait till next year’ takes on more meaning for Lakers, and the NBA
There will be plenty of free-agent shopping by teams in the NBA this summer, with movement possibly including Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Let’s face it, though. The summer of 2014 is when the NBA can really be shaken up.
There are too many potential high-end free agents to count next year, plus one of the most appetizing draft classes in a long time, led by Canadian high-school phenom Andrew Wiggins, who last week declared himself a one-year rental for Kansas.
For starters, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could put an end to their days together in Miami, with all three able to terminate their contracts after next season.
Carmelo Anthony could also join them in free agency next year, as well as Zach Randolph, Andre Iguodala and Rudy Gay.
In addition, old-timers Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett are free to go wherever they want on July 1, 2014.
If it’s up-and-comers you need, John Wall, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe will be restricted free agents.
Still want more names? Luol Deng, Andrew Bogut, Kyle Lowry, Danny Granger and Marcin Gortat will be unrestricted free agents. Monta Ellis can join the crowd if he exercises an $11-million player option for next season, making him a free agent in 2014.
“Certain summers are league-changing and this summer doesn’t appear to be one,” said Steve Kerr, a TNT analyst providing color commentary for the Eastern Conference finals, which continue Thursday. “Next summer will be interesting, especially if the three Miami guys opt out. Teams that have a lot of cap space this summer, they might not spend it.”
All of this is without even considering the upcoming draft.
Kentucky center Nerlens Noel will probably be the top pick in the NBA draft next month — Cleveland holds the No. 1 spot. He didn’t finish his college season because of a torn knee ligament and might not even be able to play until December, which says a lot for what is shaping up as one of the weakest drafts in years.
Next year, however, will be Wiggins’ time. The 6-7 forward is being called the top prospect since James and he will potentially be joined in the draft by Duke signee Jabari Parker, Michigan swingman Glenn Robinson III and a string of good young Kentucky players (as usual).
Teams that don’t have a solid pick next year can still change their fortunes in one off-season.
Boston went from the NBA’s second-worst record to winning the championship after acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in summer 2007. Miami went from being a first-round knockout in the 2010 playoffs to consecutive NBA Finals appearances, with a title last year and a good chance to repeat in a few weeks.
With so many big names potentially heading for free agency in 2014, “you could see a dramatic power shift in talent,” said Kurt Rambis, an analyst for ESPN and Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
“You could go from Eastern Conference power to Western Conference or vice versa. Some of these are hypotheticals, but it could all change real quick.”
The Lakers will be only watchers this off-season, hoping to re-sign Howard and then forced to choose between waiving Pau Gasol or Metta World Peace via the one-time amnesty provision. Adding to their summer of pain — their first-round draft pick (19th overall) goes to Cleveland because of last season’s Ramon Sessions trade.
Next year, though, they go from languid to lively.
The Lakers will have a first-round pick for the first time since 2007, and they’ll also have plenty of free-agent money. Their only player under contract right now for 2014-15 is Steve Nash ($9.7 million).
If Howard bolts in July and Bryant retires after next season, the Lakers in 2014 will have enough purchasing power for two max-contract free agents and a third making pretty good money.
Even if Howard returns, the Lakers will have an estimated $30 million to spend toward 2014-15, which gets them a max-contract player and another very good one.
The exact amount of their spending money depends slightly on the to-be-determined salary cap for 2014-15, but early estimates for next season are $60 million, up from $58 million. Maybe 2014-15 goes up a bit further to about $62 million. More power to the Lakers, who will keep paying the NBA’s punitive luxury taxes as the league tries to put added pressure on big-spending teams.
“It’s the Lakers. It’s what they’ve always done,” Kerr said. “They’ve been very careful to preserve that money [for] next summer. I’d be shocked if they took on any real money this summer.”
And, hey, if the Lakers don’t get what they want next year, three lesser, but familiar, names will be free agents in 2014: Sessions, Kwame Brown and Trevor Ariza.
The Clippers, by the way, don’t shape up as major players next year … unless the unthinkable happens and Paul goes elsewhere this summer.
If that’s the case, they’ll have a little more than $25 million to spend in July 2014 after earmarking $17.6 million for Blake Griffin in 2014-15 and $11.4 million for the regressing DeAndre Jordan. They will also owe Jamal Crawford $5.5 million for 2014-15 and must figure out what to do with Eric Bledsoe, who will be a restricted free agent.
If Paul comes back this summer, though, the Clippers will be right at the salary cap next summer and non-players in the free-agency derby. Either way, the Clippers’ situation is not as clear-cut as the Lakers’.
That’s all more than a year away. At least one person’s happy about this off-season, though.
“We’re excited to have the top pick,” Cleveland Coach Mike Brown said. “It’s great for the city. It’s great for the franchise.”
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