NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Cavs trying to get in position for LeBron offer; James listening to offer? — Seemingly from the start of last season, there has been talk that perhaps and just maybe, Cleveland could find a way to bring Ohio native LeBron James back to the team that originally drafted him. Although James would have nothing to do with such talk — or any free-agency chatter — during the season, the notion remained out there. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports, the Cavs are doing everything they can roster-wise to be in position to sign LeBron if he so chooses to return to them:
At the urging of LeBron James’ agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are pursuing a maximum contract salary slot to bring back the free-agent superstar, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Rich Paul, the president of Klutch Sports, has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in strong position to lure James from the Miami Heat, sources told Yahoo Sports.
For years, Paul has confided to people that bringing back James to Cleveland has been something of a mission for him, and he’s encouraging Cavaliers officials to offer no restraint in the recruitment of James, sources said.
Paul will be joining James for a sit-down meeting with Miami president Pat Riley early this week, when there could come more clarity on James’ future with the Heat. Riley has been recruiting free agents to join Miami, but has been limited in salary cap space to make competitive offers and limited in the ability to promise players they’ll get to play with James.
For the Cavaliers, the shedding of contracts to create salary-cap space isn’t a tremendous risk. For James, a four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion, the stakes are far higher. If Paul gets up the hopes of the franchise and Northeast Ohio without delivering James’ return, Paul risks playing a part in turning James into a villain all over again.
Nevertheless, the Cavaliers have little choice but to dutifully make the moves necessary to make James an offer. The biggest obstacle remains unloading the contract of Jarrett Jack. The Cavaliers have found a landing spot for Jack and his $6.2 million annual salary in the Brooklyn Nets, but only if the Cavs can find a third team to take on Brooklyn’s Marcus Thornton, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Cleveland is offering Thornton and future draft considerations as incentive to absorb his $8.7 million expiring contract, sources said. The Cavaliers need to unload more contracts and have made 2013 first-round pick Sergey Karasev, among others, available in deals, sources said.
ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein report that James may in fact be listening to the Cavs’ offer, but they have work to do to land the former MVP:
After more than two years of planning, the Cleveland Cavaliers, believe they have LeBron James legitimately listening to their pitch to leave the Miami Heat and return to his home state in free agency, according to sources close to the process.
There has yet to be a firm indication that James actually is ready to leave Miami after four years and two championships with the Heat, but sources told ESPN.com that the four-time MVP is increasingly considering the Cavaliers as an option as he moves into the final stages of deciding which team to sign his next contract with.
A critical face-to-face meeting looms with Heat president Pat Riley on a day to be determined this week, sources confirmed Sunday night, so that James can hear the Hall of Famer’s plans for the Heat’s roster. But James’ agent, Rich Paul, has already sat down with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in what is regarded as the first formal step toward trying to shrink the gulf between James and Gilbert after the ocean of hard feelings stemming from James’ departure from Cleveland in 2010 to sign with the Heat.
Sources say that the Cavs’ pitch made to Paul last week — which they also hope to make this week to James in their own face-to-face meeting — revolves around Kyrie Irving and the other young prospects they have, in addition to the numerous options Cleveland possesses to add to the roster over the next year.
The Cavs also believe they have made the greatest move yet this summer, convincing Irving to sign a five-year maximum contract extension in the first few hours of free agency. With No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins under control for the next five seasons as well, the Cavs are pitching youth and roster stability to James, who played on one of the oldest teams in the league last season.
The team also potentially owns three first-round picks in the 2015 draft, including the Heat’s pick if they fall outside the top 10. They also have the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick if it falls between Nos. 6 and 14 and their own pick. The Cavs believe they can use these as assets in potential trades to further upgrade the roster if James will come aboard.
No. 2: No word on ‘Melo for Bulls — This isn’t a positive or a negative for Chicago Bulls fans, but merely an update: the team has no word on where they stand with Carmelo Anthony. But like the other teams interested in the former New York Knicks superstar, the Bulls are preparing contingency plans in case Anthony does decide to choose someone other than them. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:
This is known: As of Sunday evening, the Bulls hadn’t been informed of any decision from Anthony. And unlike some who are living and dying with each speculative twist and turn to this saga, Bulls management merely methodically kept working on contingency plans to improve whether or not Anthony comes.
Some of those have been documented. The Bulls met with Pau Gasol, who turned 34 Sunday, on Thursday in Los Angeles. They have begun preliminary negotiations with Nikola Mirotic, their 2011 draft-day acquisition who is now more likely to join the Bulls this season than next.
And they kept dialogue open with representatives for a multitude of small forwards should they fail to land Anthony. The Bulls have touched base with agents for Chandler Parsons, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, among others.
They also remain in the market for a backup point guard and have talked to representatives for Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin and Ramon Sessions, among others. Though Derrick Rose, by all accounts, looks great in his full-court workouts, the Bulls hope to secure veteran backup help to take defensive and ballhandling pressure off him.
No. 3: Report: Pacers may be shopping Hibbert — The Indiana Pacers worked all last season to secure home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs and — despite some late-season flubs here and there — ended up doing just that. Once they got to the East finals and squared off against the Miami Heat, though, home court made little difference as Miami ousted Indiana in six games. Center Roy Hibbert was one of the most vocal on the team about Indiana landing that No. 1 spot, but will he be around for 2014-15 and another shot at East supremacy? According to Sean Devaney of the Sporting News, the All-Star big man is being ‘quietly’ shopped by the team:
After a flurry of rumors dating back a little more than a month, there has not been much to speak of when it comes to the possibility of Indiana moving center Roy Hibbert in a trade. But, according to multiple front-office sources, the Pacers have quietly sought out possible new landing spots for their enigmatic big man.
“I would say they’ve been doing that, but quietly,” one front-office source said.
The Pacers are still trying to figure out how (and whether) to bring back shooting guard Lance Stephenson, after making him an offer of five years and $44 million. That’s about the ceiling they want to give Stephenson, unless they could clear some room at the top of the payroll to bump the offer up a little.
“They’re open to making major changes, if they’re there,” one general manager told Sporting News. “I think they’d be disappointed to see that same core group back intact, so it is a matter of, how drastic can the changes they make be? Moving Hibbert for multiple pieces would be a pretty drastic change, but they’re asking.”
Some of what the Pacers plan to do, then, depends on what happens in Miami. If, somehow, the Heat are not able to keep together their core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Indiana’s hopes in the East could be somewhat revitalized by the breakup of their nemesis. That could cause team president Larry Bird to ease off his desire to shake up the roster.
No. 4: Uncertainty reigns for Anthony, James — By the end of this week, we may all have a better idea where Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James — the two big players in free agency — are headed. Or, we may be up for more rumor and speculation. Either way, the unknown seems to be the only thing that we all do know about what those two may have planned and as our Sekou Smith writes, it’s affecting the plans of teams far and wide:
With Carmelo Anthony mulling over max offers from at least two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks) and LeBron James sorting through possible face-to-face presentations from hand-picked finalists, all we know for sure one week into this process is that no one knows for certain if the incumbent teams will hold on to their prized superstars.
The Lakers have given Anthony something to think about and have positioned themselves as the main threat to the Knicks. Rumblings that James is seriously considering a return to his Cleveland roots with the Cavaliers is a narrative that is simply too juicy to ignore, no matter if those rumblings are legitimate or not.
Complicating matters for guys like Heat boss Pat Riley and his Knicks counterpart Phil Jackson is the lack of activity on the part of these superstars one way or another.
Riley cannot move on anything without knowing for sure what LeBron, the linchpin of the Heat’s revitalization blueprint, plans to do. And that leaves Chris Bosh vulnerable to the sales pitch of a team like the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly put themselves in a position to play the role of spoiler with their Plan B options if they miss out on Carmelo (who visited the Rockets on his national recruiting tour last week) and LeBron.
The fact is, as much as these decisions are about the superstar conglomerates necessary to compete for championships, these superstars are making individual financial decisions that could alter the landscape of the league.
If Carmelo decides to join Kobe Bryant in L.A., and the Lakers put any semblance of a decent supporting cast around them, the Lakers suddenly become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference. And keep in mind, the Lakers and Knicks are the only teams capable of offering Carmelo max money (four years and $97 million in L.A. and five years, $129 million from the Knicks) without making any other roster moves.
If LeBron decides to bolt from Miami and take his talents back to say Cleveland, then he lends instant powerhouse credibility to the mismatching parts (starting with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins) assembled in the wake of his departure via free agency four years ago.
And therein lies the true consequence of kissing and then rolling the free agent dice in today’s NBA.
You can wait for the smoke to clear from the first crazy week of the process and then see where you stand with the impact players, a reasonably sound plan for those operating from a position of power. Then again, as we’ve learned from the smoke, mirrors and innuendo of this weekend alone, it only produces uncertainty until either Carmelo or LeBron makes a decision … or at least gives us a hint as to what they plan to do.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sixers are open to trading for Jeremy Lin … The Raptors are showing some interest in P.J. Tucker … Ben Gordon is chomping at the bit to revive his career with the Magic … Were Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony playing pick-up basketball at UCLA over the weekend? … The Clippers atone for Darren Collison‘s departure by agreeing to a deal with Jordan Farmar … Celtics rookie James Young may miss another week of Orlando Summer League play …