The NBA free agency period has not even begun and talk has already centered on two prominent players opting out of their contracts and testing the open market. On Monday, Carmelo Anthony’s intentions were made clear. On Tuesday, LeBron James followed suit, opting out of the final two years of his six-year contract with the Miami Heat.
It is no secret that just about every NBA team would want elite talents like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony on their respective rosters. But, what about the notion that both could end up playing together in 2014 and beyond? Even more; would the Cleveland Cavaliers be one such team with the desire and salary cap flexibility to bring both to Northeast Ohio?
There are several NBA teams that will be able to free up ample cap space to sign at least one of the aforementioned star players. Initial teams that come to mind are Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles (both Lakers and Clippers) to name a few. One of the teams that should be considered part of the mix is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have a few items to offer pending free agents.
Putting their money where their mouth is
The Cleveland Cavaliers have many non-guaranteed contracts that can expire to free up money for one player. The potential exists that; with the first overall pick at their disposal, Cleveland could include the first overall selection (or first round picks in subsequent years) to jettison other unfavorable contracts. Through such maneuvers, the Cavaliers could free up anywhere between $30-35 million in cap space. This money would be a good starting point to bring two prominent free agents to town.
“Big Three” revamped
What would the allure be of signing with Cleveland; especially since LeBron James left town four seasons ago? Well, for starters, the Cavaliers have the allure of bringing in two star players; already increasing the talent base on a franchise that has lacked top-flight talent in the past. Additionally, the Cavaliers have one of the game’s best young guards in Kyrie Irving; a player the organization intends to sign to near-max contract extension as well. If not included in cap-relieving trades, there is other young talent in Cleveland with Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters; along with second-year power forward Anthony Bennett and sharp-shooting reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova. While neither of these two players are strong attraction points, they at least demonstrate that whoever comes to Cleveland, will not be coming to a barren cupboard.
In recent seasons, LeBron James has spoken about his NBA legacy and how he ranks among the greatest players of all-time. No one can argue that James is the best player in the league today and perhaps will retire among the top 10 players of all time. No matter where James goes, that fact will remain unchanged.
One important element of a player’s legacy is how their entire career transpires and how the player on and off the hardwood is viewed in court of public opinion. In this regard, one event that tarnished James’ image was his ill-advised “The Decision” back in the summer of 2010. Making a spectacle of the free agency process and his eventual announcement from Ohio that he was leaving for South Beach is something that he has had to live with ever since. Could a return to Ohio mean all is forgiven with Cavs fans? Perhaps not with everyone but most would welcome “King James” back with open arms.
Another and likely more prominent component of a player’s legacy is in his ability to win. While winning two titles in Miami is a good start, the allure of winning a title with the team he grew up with in his backyard is something that cannot be totally dismissed. Having a core three players the likes of James, Anthony and Irving could be the building blocks of another four to five-year conference dynasty. Not many teams can offer James that (perhaps other than Miami and remotely Los Angeles Lakers).
For Carmelo Anthony, pairing with LeBron James will give him his first real chance of contending than at any point in his prior 11 seasons as a pro. Anthony will be more driven by the appeal of contending, and pairing with James increases that chance ten-fold. If James were to go to Cleveland, the odds of Anthony going there increases as a viable option.
If I were a gambler, what are the odds that James and/or Anthony sign with the Cavaliers? Given the team’s cap flexibility and home state attraction, I would give the Cavaliers a 33-50% chance to sign James. For a player like Carmel Anthony, the chances are slim (10%) of him signing if James is not present. If James were to return home, it would likely only be if there was an assurance another top-flight star were coming to town as well. In this regard, chances of brining Anthony to Cleveland increase (25-33%).
In the end, the odds of brining these specific talents to Cleveland are low. It is more likely that all this talk of LeBron James will ultimately result in his return to Miami as part of a newly constituted roster and the city of Cleveland in general and Cavaliers fans in particular will feel slighted once again. But for the first time in a long time; the Cavaliers have the will and the wherewithal to make big deals happen. The likely scenario is the Cavaliers spending big money to bring in two prominent star players this off-season. James and Anthony together would take a monumental amount of things having to fall into place perfectly. Despite the chances being remote, the summer always presents a period of hope for many NBA fans. This summer is no exception.
HoopsHype.com NBA Team and Player Salaries
Basketball-Reference.com Player Profiles: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony