2014 Free Agency

The fall guy in Cleveland?


VIDEO: Kevin Love is Cleveland bound — how will his arrival help the Cavs?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games into his tenure with the Miami Heat, LeBron James was taking abuse from every direction. In those early stages of the 2010-11 season, the Heat were 9-8 and the Big 3 era was off to a shaky start, given the outrageous expectations that accompanied the joining of forces between LeBron, fellow free agent Chris Bosh and incumbent face of the franchise Dwyane Wade.

The Heat rebounded from those early stumbles and made it to The Finals before being taken apart by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

In the aftermath of that ugly finish to their first season, LeBron was quickly cast as the scapegoat (with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck in the mud with him). He flatlined at crunch time in The 2011 Finals. Unlike Wade, he had no championship ring or Finals MVP to fall back on. And Bosh was seen as the third wheel, so there was no way he could be the fall guy in that scenario. So LeBron was left to shoulder that burden, one that ultimately led to back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs.

The roles have been shuffled in LeBron’s latest super-team situation in Cleveland, where he’s the championship veteran with rings and Finals MVPs, playing alongside young All-Stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Unlike Bosh and James back in 2010, though, the next playoff points Love and Irving score will be their first.

Far be it from me to rain on the attention parade going on in Cleveland, the epicenter of the sports universe with the Cavaliers’ new look and the seemingly never-ending Johnny Manziel news cycle. But what happens if (it’s blasphemy, Cavaliers fans, I know) LeBron and friends don’t win the title in their first season together?

Who is the fall guy this time?

Forget the common sense that should come with a new team with new leadership (coach David Blatt playing the Cleveland edition of Spoelstra’s role). The 2010-11 Heat and the 2014-15 Cavaliers face this similar circumstance: anything short of a title will be viewed as a disappointment by most.

And that means someone has to shoulder the burden of that disappointment the way LeBron (and Spoelstra) did when he went dark for weeks after The 2011 Finals trying to reflect on what had been a whirlwind 11 months.

LeBron should be immune this time around. We know what to expect from him. He has extensive experience playing with other elite superstars. He won’t have to make as many adjustments to his game to be effective. Even with the San Antonio Spurs shredding the Heat in The Finals this year, LeBron (cramps aside) was basically unstoppable. It was his supporting cast, both Wade and Bosh in particular, who didn’t play up to their own lofty standards.

And the Spurs were so good, it might not have made a difference if Wade and Bosh played well or not.

Love and Irving are clearly in the crosshairs this time around, given their lack of playoff experience and the fact that the only time they have shared a locker room with players as good or better than them is during All-Star Weekend and their time with USA Basketball. No one knows how either of them will hold up in the crucible that is the postseason. All of those regular-season highlights are useless if either of them melts down in the playoffs or runs into a matchup they simply cannot win.

Love will have to assume the Stretch 4 role that Bosh played in Miami, where his numbers dipped considerably compared to what he put up as a stand-alone All-Star in Toronto. Irving will have to relinquish some of the facilitating duties and scoring load that he’s had to carry early in his career to make sure his game meshes perfectly with two new elite teammates with higher profiles than his own.

Both Love and Irving will have the luxury of playing with the best player on the planet. But not even LeBron will be able to save them from expectations that are not fulfilled. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, general manager David Griffin and LeBron have all done their part. The pieces for success at the highest level have been assembled.

The rest is up to Love, Irving and the supporting cast. And if things go awry come playoff time, the scapegoat list will be easy to make!

‘Melo says Knicks are a playoff team

Carmelo Anthony is putting in the work this summer to back up his words about the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t count the New York Knicks out of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference.

Not yet.

So says the face of the franchise, Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is not only talking the talk, insisting that the Knicks will rebound from last season’s dismal 37-45 finish and return to the playoffs this season, he’s putting in the work to prepare himself physically and mentally for the rigors to come during the first full season of the Phil Jackson-Derek Fisher regime.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post caught up with ‘Melo and delivers the goods:

But the playoffs are another matter. In fact, Anthony on Monday asserted his belief the Knicks “absolutely” will be back in the playoffs after missing out last season.

“Yeah, I think so for sure. Absolutely,” an impressively slimmed-down Anthony said of the Knicks’ playoff chances before entering a Midtown gym for a late morning-to-early afternoon workout with a group of NBA players.

Anthony snuffed an attempt to establish any goals for the revamped Knicks, who will enter their first full season under team president Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher.

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Anthony, who missed the playoffs for the first time in his career when the Knicks stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. “No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.”

Whether this is just a star player exhibiting the expected confidence in himself and his situation or ‘Melo channeling the power of positive thinking is irrelevant. Knicks fans should love what they are seeing and hearing from ‘Melo. He’s either all in with the new program in New York or a better actor than anyone on Broadway.

There are plenty of factors in the Eastern Conference conspiring against ‘Melo and the Knicks.

LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to add Kevin Love to their mix in the coming days, have forced a complete reshuffling of the playoff deck. If what we’ve seen from Derrick Rose this summer is any indication, the Chicago Bulls (with Pau Gasol now on board) will also force changes at the top.

The Indiana Pacers are expected to tumble a bit with the losses of both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency). But the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets are poised to move up in the standings. The East’s defending champs, the Miami Heat, have Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade ready to hold the line sans LeBron and remain in the projected playoff mix.

That leaves a narrow opening for the handful of teams (led by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Knicks) vying for those final precious playoff spots. I don’t know that Anthony’s confidence is warranted, especially given the 2013-14 season he and the Knicks endured.

But the bravado is good to see and should be welcomed by folks who like to see the best players embrace the super-sized expectations that come with playing in New York. Whatever the Knicks do this season rests on Anthony’s re-sculpted shoulders. If his personal transformation is any indication, and if his confidence has infected the locker room, the Knicks could very well find their way into the playoffs.

It won’t be easy, of course. And it’ll take some luck of some sort along the way.

It’s the offseason, everybody … well, almost everybody believes deep down that this is going to be their year. Even if they are completely delusional, they believe in August.

‘Melo is no different. And he’s got a 54-win season from two years ago as a reminder of what the Knicks can do when they are clicking. Some of the faces have changed and the system will be different from what the Knicks operated when coach Mike Woodson was calling the shots.

But if ‘Melo says the Knicks are “absolutely” headed back to the top eight mix in the Eastern Conference, I see no reason to dismiss the notion now.

It’s like Kevin Garnett once famously said: “anything is possible!”


VIDEO: Knicks.com highlights the top matchups for the 2014-15 season

Free-agent story remains the same as ever for Kobe, LeBron


VIDEO: Where LeBron James goes, others (even former rivals) will follow

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Love. Mike Miller. Shawn Marion. And perhaps Ray Allen (at some point).

Is there anyone else?

Is there anyone else willing to follow LeBron James wherever the road leads?

Gather any number of NBA players and ask for a show of hands and I guarantee you arms will be raised in rapid fashion.

This much is clear: where LeBron goes, others will follow. Even former rivals (Marion played on the Dallas team that defeated James and the Heat in The 2011 Finals.)

Marion’s weekend decision to join the homecoming party in Cleveland is just the latest evidence that LeBron remains the pied piper of his generation. It’s in stark contrast to what has gone on and what is going on with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ superstar has always struggled to attract high-profile teammates willing to make sacrifices in order to play alongside a proven champion.

For two players who always find themselves grouped together in the same conversation of the all-time greats, the one glaring difference between them is the stampede of players that have run to play with one of them (LeBron) and the reluctance of so many to even consider playing with the other (Kobe).

Dwight Howard couldn’t get away from the Lakers fast enough when he was a free agent after the 2012-13 season. Fast forward to this summer and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as others, were willing to wait until LeBron made up his mind between Cleveland and Miami before they decided their own free-agent futures.

It speaks to the power James wields as the world’s best player. And it’s less of an indictment of Bryant, who will no doubt go down (along with Tim Duncan) as the face of his generation, than it is affirmation of the force of nature that LeBron is on the free-agent market.

A generation gap?

It should be noted that LeBron is in the prime of his career while Kobe is clearly in the twilight of his. Still, when Kobe was in the same position atop the league food chain, his contemporaries did not flock to Los Angeles.

They are, after all, from a different generation. They are from the era where this notion of partnering up with supposed rivals wasn’t nearly as commonplace or acceptable as it has become in recent years. Close relationships between players during the offseason didn’t lead to the Big 3s and super teams that have been formed in the wake of the USA Basketball-inspired conglomerates that came to fruition in Miami (as well as in Houston, Brooklyn and now, Cleveland). (more…)

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

George injury shuffles East deck

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Long before the Indiana Pacers were dealt the wicked blow of losing All-Star swingman Paul George to a compound fracture of his right leg he suffered during Friday night’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, people were ready to write the Pacers off for the 2014-15 season.

The way the No. 1 seed Pacers finished last season, the wild swings in play throughout their run to the Eastern Conference finals, the upgrades that took place this summer in Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and elsewhere — all that already made it easy to assume that George and the Pacers would fall back to the pack.

But a Pacers team facing the prospect of playing an entire season without its leading scorer and best player — not to mention Lance Stephenson, who departed for Charlotte via free agency — shuffles the deck dramatically in the Eastern Conference.

A seriously wounded Pacers team makes it easier for LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a rejuvenated Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls to make up ground for that top spot. And if anyone knows what life is like without your superstar catalyst available, it’s the Cavaliers and Bulls.

When James left Cleveland for Miami via free agency in the summer of 2010, it devastated the Cavaliers, who didn’t recover until he decided to come home this summer via free agency. There was no way for the Cavaliers to compensate for the loss of the best player in basketball. No way.

The Bulls were able to remain among the Eastern Conference elite the past two seasons while dealing with Rose’s injury issues. But they’re the exception and not the rule when it comes to the loss of superstar talent, for whatever reason. And while they remained in the playoff mix, they couldn’t scale the mountain in the East without Rose and everyone knew it.

How Frank Vogel holds this Pacers bunch together in the face of this sort of adversity should prove to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2014-15 season. The Pacers have to brace themselves for assaults from all directions.

C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey were nice pick ups in free agency this summer. But they are not adequate replacements for either George or Stephenson. They certainly cannot be expected to deliver the 35.5 points, 14 rebounds or 8.1 assists George and Stephenson combined for last season.

Pacers veterans David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill will all have to take on more of the load, both on the court and off the court. The double whammy of losing Stephenson and then George no doubt makes that clear to the Pacers’ brass, who are right to make George’s recovery their No. 1 priority right now.

Pacers boss Larry Bird acknowledged as much in a statement released by the team (which can be seen in its entirety by clicking here):

“Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

“There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back. Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.”

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard got more specific with the Indianapolis Star on Saturday, expressing optimism that George will come back better than ever:

“What I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not [career-ending],” Pritchard said, when he spent time with George at the hospital. “It’s actually a good thing. It’s bone and bone only. It doesn’t look like any soft-tissue damage. We’re not trying to project when he’s coming back, just trying to get him through this week and then we’ll know more, but the biggest risk right now is infection. That looks really good right now. They just changed his dressing and it looks really good.

“I have no fear he’ll be back and back in a big way. We’re not going to put a timetable on it but I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll be back.”

The lingering question, of course, is what will the Pacers do in the meantime? What can they do to compensate for such a tremendous loss?

Those are questions that, quite frankly, do not have clear-cut answers right now.

What we do know is that the Pacers will have to fight for their playoff lives next season.

The last time a team that finished atop the conference standings during the regular season lost its top two scorers was when the Orlando Magic lost Nick Anderson and Penny Hardaway after the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, per Elias Sports.

After finishing with identical 33-17 records (Miami and Indiana were the other two teams), the Magic finished the 1999-2000 season with a 41-41 record and in the ninth spot, on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

I’m not ready to write the Pacers off before we know what their contingency plan entails. But they are mighty vulnerable now and until further notice.

Nelson happily moves on to fresh start with Mavericks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jameer Nelson

Jameer Nelson is moving on to Dallas after 10 seasons with the Orlando Magic.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jameer Nelson is finally packing up. The moving trucks have been summoned to transport a decade’s worth of belongings and memories halfway across the country. It won’t be easy for Nelson and his wife, Imani, and their four children — Jameer Jr., two weeks from turning 13, and daughters Jamia, 8, Jayden, 6, and Jayce, 2 — to pick up and leave the city he’s played his heart out for, or the community the family loved … and that loved them back.

Yet sometimes even the youngest ones can sense when it’s time for a fresh start.

“My daughter is back there listening, my 8-year-old, she’s excited,” Nelson said during a phone conversation with NBA.com on Thursday afternoon. “My 6-year old, they’re both excited. My son hasn’t said too much, but I actually picked his brain a little bit when I was figuring teams out, asking him some questions. He said, ‘wherever you want to go, let’s do it.’

“So, yeah, we’re going to all move down and build up the population in Dallas.”

Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic after 10 seasons to join the Dallas Mavericks. An intriguing team after a busy summer, Dallas hasn’t landed the superstar it covets. But it has added Nelson, center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. 

Nelson will earn $2.73 million this season and holds a player option for next season.

The missing man in the Mavs’ plans was a trustworthy, veteran starter to run coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense. They lost reliable Jose Calderon in the Chandler deal to New York, which foisted the erratic Raymond Felton upon Dallas to complete the trade. Dallas re-signed Devin Harris, but prefer to utilize him off the bench.

“I feel like one of the reasons I chose Dallas is I wanted to play a significant role on a good team and I felt like there’s opportunity there,” said Nelson, who averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.0 apg in 32.0 mpg last season.

“Nothing’s going to be given to me; nothing’s ever been given to me my entire life. I’m up for any challenge that’s in front of me, so if we got to battle for the [starting] spot, we’ll battle for the spot.”

Nelson, 32, was waived by the Magic on June 30, a salary-cap-saving move made by a franchise deep into a rebuilding movement. He responded by gracefully thanking the organization for all it had done for him and his family and the team responded in kind. In 2012, at the height of Orlando’s “Dwightmare,” Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract only to re-sign. Even after coach Stan Van Gundy was fired and Dwight Howard was traded, setting the stage for a ground-up rebuild, Nelson never asked out.

“That [loyalty] was something that was instilled in me through my younger years by my parents and the people who helped mold who I am,” Nelson said. “I was willing to stay the first year, and the second year got a little tougher. It was just time for me to go. It was time to go.”

In retrospect, he witnessed one of the more stunning free falls in sports. The Magic reached The Finals in 2009 — an injury-plagued season for Nelson, who missed the entire postseason before making a courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful Finals return against the Lakers — and then the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. From there, a series of personnel moves and the Howard disaster sent the franchise spiraling.

“I thought that team was going to be together forever,” Nelson said. “One of my good friends, Keyon Dooling, always preached to us as one of the veteran guys to never take things for granted because you might be on a good team now, but next year you might not be on such a good team. It’s the truth. You think things don’t end, but that obviously ended pretty quick.”

Nelson looks at yet another revamped Mavs roster and compares it to those potent Magic teams, boasting multiple shooters and scorers and a defensive backbone.

“And then fortunately,” Nelson said, “I’m in the mix of being there as the quarterback.”

The marriage of Nelson and the Mavs was a two-way street from the start. Nelson made a list of desirable destinations based on roster strength, need at point guard, organizational culture and location. While Dallas was linked for weeks to combo guard Mo Williams, who recently signed with Minnesota, Nelson was the team’s more pressing need.

His level-headed, team-oriented approach are the most desired traits in a Mavs locker room long led by Nowitzki, one of the league’s most down-to-earth superstars. The 7-footer proved it again this summer by agreeing to a massively below-market contract worth $25 million over the next three seasons. His willingness to take less allowed Dallas to make Parsons an aggressive offer and also add roster-wide depth.

“Dirk sets the tone, he’s a superstar and he takes a three-year, $25-million deal,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like who else can argue? Nobody can argue with that, nobody can complain. This guy is sacrificing a lot to win. That’s what it all should be about. That’s one of the major reasons I came to Dallas, to win.”

Nelson won’t end up being a career one-team player, and he must leave the community where and his wife raised a family.

But opportunity beckons in Dallas, where the population just increased by six.

T’Wolves need a king’s ransom for Love


VIDEO: Relive the Timberwolves’ top 5 alley-oops from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At this point in the process, if Kevin Love doesn’t end up trotting out for the starting lineup with LeBron James on opening night this season, it’ll be a true shocker.

We’ve crossed that threshold in this summer’s ongoing Love-to-Cleveland saga. The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves are dealing exclusively with the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’re all agreed that the potential addition of Love pushes the Cavs over the top in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper, when you have a three-man All-Star core of James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

But what does Love’s departure mean for the Timberwolves? Losing Love doesn’t put them in any more of a precarious position than they are in right now. They didn’t make the playoffs with him and won’t be considered a playoff factor without him in the rugged Western Conference. Not with Ricky Rubio leading a young cast that better include Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, along with their own youngsters (including HT faves Gorgui DiengZach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III) in yet another rebuilding effort.

It took a while, but I’m on board with this deal getting done, and sooner rather than later. LeBron gets what LeBron wants. And if he wants Love on his side, it shall be. (My golden rule on players remains, though. So Love comes with a clarification sticker: If you cannot take your team to the playoffs as the No. 1 option, you’re either a No. 2 or a No. 3 option.)

All that said, Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders would be wise to hold out for a king’s ransom for Love, given what the franchise has gone through since the last time they traded away the face of the franchise. Oh yeah, today is the anniversary of the 2007 trade that saw Kevin Garnett relocate to Boston where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win a championship and help revive the Celtics.

It’s been that long, and more, since the Timberwolves were involved in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference (they haven’t made the postseason since 2004). They traded Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks (one of which was acquired in a trade with Minnesota a year prior). The deal marked the largest NBA trade ever for one player, and in hindsight it still wasn’t enough.

Jefferson, an All-Star caliber big man and franchise building block now in Charlotte, wasn’t ready to step into Garnett’s shoes back then. For all of his spectacular skills, Love hasn’t been up to that task either. Timberwolves fans have had to suffer through numerous restarts and regime changes since Garnett’s departure and none of them have worked.

Anyone who tells you they are convinced Wiggins, Bennett and that future first-round pick Saunders will get from the Cavs for Love will spark the revival the Twin Cities have been waiting on is delusional. It won’t happen anytime soon, and certainly not in time to take the sting off of seeing Love compete for a championship as soon as his first season away from Minnesota.

And if Love is the transcendent talent so many believe him to be, his presence alongside LeBron and Kyrie should result in the Cavs being the cream of the Eastern Conference crop immediately (above or at least alongside Indiana and Chicago).

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, will have to endure yet another round (or two … or three) of blueprints for what has turned out to be a seemingly never-ending franchise rebuild.

This isn’t news to Saunders, whose roots in the organization (and Minnesota overall) run deep. He knows better than anyone the pressure the Wolves will be under until Love is dealt … and then again after Love is gone. One dreadful, non-playoff season blends into another and before you know it, a decade (or more) has passed without the postseason.

And that’s why Saunders should squeeze every ounce of whatever he can from the Cavs in this deal. Make them pay for the right to add Love. A king’s ransom isn’t too much to ask for now.


VIDEO: Check out the Timberwolves’ top 10 plays from last season

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.

LeBron will wear No. 23 in Cleveland


VIDEO: LeBron’s top 10 plays from his first seven years with the Cavaliers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The reinvention of LeBron James is almost complete now.

He’s going home and going back to No. 23. After four years in Miami wearing No. 6 for the Heat, LeBron announced today via Instagram that he will wear the same No. 23 he wore in high school at Akron’s Saint Vincent-Saint Mary and during his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Cavaliers.

It’s the same No. 23 that Michael Jordan made famous with the Chicago Bulls, which was retired in Miami. LeBron already knows that 23 looks good on him from his first stint in Cleveland. So it couldn’t have been too tough a decision.

Mavs get even more unconventional


VIDEO: Summer League: Rick Carlisle Interview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After three years of mediocrity, the Dallas Mavericks could be one of the best teams in the NBA again. They’ll be one of the most unique teams, for sure.

Over the last two days, the Mavs signed Jameer Nelson and agreed to terms with Al-Farouq Aminu (a replacement for and a much different player than the injured Rashard Lewis), making their depth chart look even more lopsided than it already was.

Nelson joins a backcourt that already includes Raymond Felton and Devin Harris, while Aminu joins Chandler Parsons, Richard Jefferson and Jae Crowder on the wing. Seven of the Mavs’ top 11 guys are nominal point guards or small forwards.

The other four include hybrid guard Monta Ellis, stretch four Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright, who’s basically a power forward disguised as a center. At least we’ll know what position Tyson Chandler is playing whenever he’s on the floor.

Otherwise, it’s going to be positionless basketball for the Mavs. They’re going to have two point guards on the floor quite a bit. One of the small forwards (likely Aminu) is going to be backing up Nowitzki at the four. And Ellis will be a two who handles the ball more than the three point guards.

Offensively, it should work just fine. Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-pops were already potent. But they now have, in Chandler, a better finisher down low. And they now have, in Parsons, a better attacker on the weak side.

Jose Calderon and Vince Carter will be missed. They were the Mavs’ best catch-and-shoot shooters last season. But both Parsons and Jefferson were strong in that regard as well, and Ellis and Nowitzki will make better shooters of Felton and Nelson.

It’s defense that will determine where the Mavs ultimately stand in the brutally tough Western Conference. That’s why they got back Chandler, who was the anchor of their top 10, championship defense in 2010-11.

But Chandler was also the anchor of New York defenses that ranked 17th and 24th the last two seasons. He can’t turn Dallas’ 22nd-ranked D around by himself and Shawn Marion will be missed on that end of the floor. That championship team also had Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood backing up Chandler.

In the backcourt, they can’t get worse than what they had last season. Calderon and Ellis were the Mavs’ most-used two-man combo and they allowed almost 108 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor together. They were better both offensively and defensively — though in a fraction of the minutes — with Harris and Ellis on the floor together.

Aminu is a plus defender, but his inability to shoot will limit his minutes. Otherwise, the Mavs will need guys who haven’t been great defenders to play good defense as a unit.

On both ends of the floor, the Mavs will be fascinating to watch. They’ve used trades (Chandler), a major free agent signing (Parsons), and great deals on vets (Jefferson, Nelson, Aminu) to put a lot of talent around Nowitzki, who turned 36 last month.

It’s just a matter of how it all comes together.