Offseason Extra: Who's on the move?
Which free agents will make the biggest waves during this offseason? Our Joe Polito takes a look at a handful of the most interesting storylines.
The NBA offseason is a time of certain uncertainty. What's Stan Van Gundy going to do with the Pistons' roster? Which young free agents will leave the nest? How's this much-hyped draft going to shake out?
But the biggest questions may boil down to a handful of not-exactly-satisfied stars and what uniform they'll be wearing by the end of next season. I'll run through a handful of Fantasy stalwarts, weighing in on whether they're on the move, staying put or possibly even teaming up with one another.
ADP Rank: No. 1 overall
2013-2014 season: Finished third in total Fantasy points
As expected, LeBron James opted out of his current deal, forgoing $20.6 million and becoming an unrestricted free agent. Whether this means James is looking for a new home or simply hoping to renovate his current one remains to be seen.
His future likely depends more on Dwyane Wade and what he chooses to do with his player option. If he opts in, James will probably look for a team with more to offer in terms of cap room and a younger, hungrier roster. If Wade opts out, then it likely means the big three is working to stay intact. Bosh will likely follow suit.
Regardless, for Fantasy purposes, consider LeBron on the downturn. He's basically played five seasons' worth of games in the last four years. It's clear that he's worn out and could use some help. Therefore, it would make sense that all the teams that attempt to woo him, including Miami, will sell him on how they'll ease his burden and relieve some of the pressure he felt in the quest for a threepeat. Talent-wise, Houston and the Clippers make the most sense, but they represent completely different Fantasy outlooks. In Houston, he'd be the central facilitator -- meaning it's not far-fetched to envision 10-plus assists per game. But with the Clippers, Chris Paul would still run the show and James would be forced to play with a true point guard for practically the first time in his life.
Still, the most realistic scenario is a return to Miami with a younger, more athletic supporting cast. If that's the case, expect near identical numbers and efficiency from James. Younger Fantasy studs like Stephen Curry, John Wall and Blake Griffin are nipping at his heels, but I've always taken more stock in a player's situation than his overall talent level. James' decision No. 2 will likely have a ripple effect that changes roles and rosters across the league, so wait until the dust has settled to start assessing draft stock.
ADP Rank: No. 6 overall
2013-2014 season: Finished second in total Fantasy points
Kevin Love is as good as gone, but his destination isn't so clear. The Warriors came close, but talks stalled out. The Celtics have the picks, but Minnesota wants players too. Can Cleveland tempt them with the No. 1 pick? Will a draft-day trade ultimately decide his fate?
The thing to remember for Fantasy is that wherever Love ends up, he's not really going to be better statistically than he was last season. His usage rate in Minnesota this past season was in Blake Griffin/Al Jefferson territory, so he was already very much the focal point. The only thing to watch out for in reassessing his value is just how good the team around him will be. More All Stars equals fewer opportunities to dominate, which is great for a guy trying to make the playoffs for the first time in his career but not so great for his Fantasy value.
Right now he's a top-five pick, and he'll stay that way if he moves to Boston. But should the Celtics land other top free agents or Love get traded to a talented team like the Warriors or Rockets, you might consider dropping Love to top-ten range. I just can't see Love improving on, or even maintaining, 25-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and 4-plus assists per game in a crowded lineup. Only seven guys in the history of the league have achieved that line for a season. And of those seven, only Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were able to do it in back-to-back seasons.
Boston seems like the best spot for Love as far as Fantasy is concerned. He'll have basically a more athletic Ricky Rubio at the helm in Rajon Rondo and will still be an extremely high-usage player, as opposed to in a more crowded lineup with the Warriors. Those looking to draft Love next season should hope he avoids any big three/super team scenarios as not to cut down on his astronomical production.
ADP Rank: No. 9 overall
2013-2014 season: Finished seventh in total Fantasy points
As the Knicks' sad, sad season was winding down, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Anthony would choose to terminate his contract early and see what else is out there. Now he's done so, meaning he'll see what other teams can offer him before deciding whether or not to spend another highly lucrative waste of a year in New York.
Phil Jackson's already shown his inexperience in the front office by losing out on coaching candidate Steve Kerr (once thought to be a sure-thing) and by getting fined $25,000 in his pursuit of still-in-the-playoffs Derek Fisher. I'm still not convinced that Jackson actually cares about turning the Knicks around so much as he was bored and wanted back into the league without having to pinky whistle on the sidelines again. $12 million is a great cure for boredom.
If Anthony stays, look forward to another ultra-high usage season where he's asked to do everything every game -- great for Fantasy. If he bolts, it will likely to try and form another "super team" in Chicago, Boston or elsewhere, meaning he'll get to relax and worry more about developing chemistry than dragging his team into the playoffs.
One thing to watch when he does decide is whether he'll stick to the stretch four he's been playing or move back to the perimeter where he began his career. Having the paint mostly to himself allowed Anthony to snatch a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game this past season. Expect that number to go down if he moves back to the three.
ADP Rank: No. 66 overall
2013-2014 season: Averaged 34.8 Fantasy points per game
If there's a blockbuster trade about to go down in the league, I'd put my money on the Celtics being a part of it. It's not just the plethora of first round picks in their back pocket. Rajon Rondo is no spring chicken anymore. At 28 years old and coming off knee surgery, he doesn't strike me as the patient type – especially considering he won an NBA Championship in his second year and continued to go deep into the playoffs for the next several years.
The East is weak, and Danny Ainge has the guile and assets to make major upgrades in the talent surrounding Rondo. Kevin Love makes the most sense, as we've already seen how productive he can be with a tall, pass-first point guard. Rondo is pretty much a more athletic Ricky Rubio. But rumor has it the Celtics could be gearing up to bring two big names to Boston this offseason. Carmelo Anthony maybe? Chandler Parsons possibly?
There's also a small chance that the blockbuster pendulum swings the other way and Rajon Rondo is dealt, pushing the Celtics to go all-in on the total rebuild. That doesn't seem like Ainge's style though, and something clearly has to give here. It just doesn't make sense to surround a 10-plus assist player with raw youngsters only to watch him walk away in 2015. That's why they'll value for him now by dealing him, or give him a reason to stay beyond next season by surrounding him with competitive talent.
Rondo was still awesome for Fantasy in the 30 games he gave us last season, but the frequent rest and the unpredictable teammates made conditions less than ideal. I'm hoping Ainge whips up some 2007 trade magic, allowing Rondo free lanes to the basket with ample targets to choose from. The waiting hands of Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Aaron Gordon won't be enough to keep Rondo or Fantasy owners happy.
ADP Rank: No. 68 overall
2013-2014 season: Finished ninth in total Fantasy points
Considering where he ended the season compared to where he was drafted, Lowry was easily the biggest surprise in Fantasy. But that production might not have been enough for him to get paid like a top-tier point guard.
One of the biggest problems is there aren't a whole lot of other situations that make sense for him. There are only so many teams that might offer Lowry in the first place. When guys like Jameer Nelson, Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings and George Hill are owed $8 million next season from their respective teams, it’s hard to find a franchise that would be willing to pay Lowry what he earned with last season’s production. Maybe the Lakers? Can the Heat afford him? Who knows?
ADP Rank: No. 53 overall
2013-2014 season: Finished 45th in total Fantasy points
Speaking of restricted free agency, the Rockets are leaning toward declining the super affordable team option for Parsons' contract, meaning he too could be on the semi-open market. Since Houston has also been rumored to be searching for another All Star, declining the Parsons option seems like an insurance policy in case they don't land anyone big.
If they pick it up, they'll pay him a tiny amount next season, but that could open the door for a huge pay day in unrestricted free agency next summer. Instead, they'll likely give Parsons a more moderate raise sooner, even if it means allowing him to field offers from the rest of the league. But unlike point guard, forward is not so deep, meaning an ambitious team could end up with Parsons next season if it pushed his price high enough.
One thing the Rockets would miss out on is his 4.0 assists per game, specifically when it comes to entry passes to Dwight Howard. With no true point guard, Houston relied heavily on Parsons' ability to handle the ball at 6-foot-9 -- much like recent championship Lakers teams did with Lamar Odom. It will be very interesting to see if this translates to a less talented team – the kind of team that might be inclined to pay Parsons more than the Rockets next season.
The majority of restricted free agents end up staying put, but this one seems like it has the best chance of going the other way. Parsons' basketball value was magnified by how little Houston had to pay him. I can't say for sure that the money needed to shake him loose will be well spent. In the end his fate will likely be determined by how the higher-priced trade chips fall – those being the first three guys of this column.
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