Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah Thomas’

Report: Dragic prepping for ‘open’ free agency

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — One of the NBA’s biggest surprises last season was Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic. In his sixth NBA season, the 6-4 Slovenian averaged a career high 20.3 points per game, leading the Suns to a 48-34 record and narrowly missing out on a playoff berth. Dragic was named to the All-NBA third team as well as selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

This season, however, the Suns haven’t burned quite as hot. Phoenix is off to a 6-5 start, and while the offseason signing of Isaiah Thomas from Sacramento has given the Suns an embarrassment of backcourt riches, having Thomas, Dragic and point guard Eric Bledsoe on the same roster has triggered some growing pains. As Dragic recently told the Arizona Republic, part of the reason the offense has not clicked is because “there’s only one ball and we’re all point guards.”

Dragic has an option to exit his contract next summer, and while he previously signaled his intentions to stay in Phoenix long-term, the future may not be as clear as it once seemed. According to a report from The Sporting News, Dragic now intends to hit the open market and see what other options are available, which might mean exiting the valley of the Suns.

In September, Suns point guard Goran Dragic told a reporter during the FIBA World Cup that it was his intention to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and become a free agent — but that he would only do so with the intention of quickly re-signing with Phoenix.

While that might have been the idea at that time, that’s not the case now, as Dragic will have an “open” free agency, league sources told Sporting News. When Dragic opts out and becomes a free agent next July, he will be a sought-after commodity, and while Phoenix would get the first hearing, Dragic will have options.

Among those options, according to sources, would be Houston — the team Dragic left in order to sign with Phoenix in 2012. The Rockets are well-stocked with point guards, but nearly all, including starter Patrick Beverley, can become free agents next summer.

The Lakers also figure to be a potential landing spot for Dragic, a source said — though, to be clear, the Lakers have only about $36 million committed next season with needs at just about every position, and thus are expected to pursue multiple big-name free agents.

Suns try lineup with three point guards


VIDEO: Suns look to build on momentum from last season

It was probably inevitable the Suns would go there eventually, and exhibition games are the time to push the envelope, so push away. The details just happened to be Thursday night, US Airways Center in Phoenix, 3:12 remaining in the second quarter against the Spurs.

Point guard Goran Dragic, point guard Eric Bledsoe and point guard Isaiah Thomas were used together for the first time and probably not the last. There is no indication it will be a common sighting, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise if coach Jeff Hornacek opts for microball in situations during the regular season, depending on the opponent and whether Phoenix simply needs a burst of energy at that time of the game.

The appeals and drawbacks are obvious: The Suns could force the tempo they like, but would risk getting turned into little more than speed bumps on defense by going 6-foot-3 (Dragic), 6-foot-1 (Bledsoe) and 5-foot-9 (Thomas), not to mention risking injury from getting stepped on. They would have to counter by staying in scramble mode the entire time, trying to force turnovers or get the opponent horribly out of rhythm since playing straight up wouldn’t be much of an option.

The immediate feedback Thursday was an 11-2 run with the Bledsoe-Dragic-Thomas grouping, although that doesn’t really count as evidence of anything, not when it’s against the pseudo-Spurs with three starters and sixth man Manu Ginobili getting the night off or nursing injuries. Coach Gregg Popovich didn’t even make the trip to Phoenix. The actual value for Phoenix was the chance to take the unique lineup out for a test drive to see how all five Suns on the court played off each other, especially the three, in something other than a scrimmage setting.

“We were small but everybody got in and rebounded and we pushed the tempo and the lead just went up,” Bledsoe, who had three defensive boards during the run, told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. “We definitely was having fun out there. Everybody was sharing the ball. I know Isaiah did a great job.”

It’s an adjustment period for all three, and not just if they’re on the court together. Thomas is coming to a new team as a free agent and making his first move as a pro after three seasons with the Kings, Dragic is learning how to play with him, and Bledsoe is back for his first full season after missing 33 games in 2013-14 with a knee injury, with added expectations after re-signing at five years and $70 million. It worked with Dragic and Bledsoe then and it can work with IsaiahDragsoe now, with the same starters as before and Thomas winning Sixth Man of the Year.

Phoenix has three more exhibition games before opening the regular season Oct. 29 at home against the Lakers.

Blogtable: Training camp showdown

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown



VIDEO: Dennis Scott previews some questions facing teams as camps open

> Training camps begin this week. Is there a looming camp showdown between teammates that you see as especially intriguing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My top pick here would be in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe all are good-to-excellent point guards — but only if Bledsoe is back on a one-year qualifying deal. If he and the Suns actually come to terms on a more lucrative, long-term extension that was in the air Wednesday morning, then Thomas’ ability to challenge for minutes takes a serious hit, because contracts matter in this league. Here’s my backup: I expect Zach LaVine to see time and potentially push Ricky Rubio (another max extension seeker) hard at point guard for Minnesota, though training camp might be too soon.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comKobe vs. the Lakers. He’s got pent-up, inflated expectations and they don’t have the talent to match.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: A looming camp showdown? Hmm … Yeah, the Suns and Eric Bledsoe. If a long-term deal gets done here within the week, then I think all hard feelings can be smoothed over. However, if he signs the one-year qualifying offer, it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles himself on a team that has expectations of improving on last year’s surprising start under coach Jeff Hornacek. Bledsoe is going to want the ball in his hands a lot as he eyes unrestricted free agency and big money next summer. How will that jive with Goran Dragic and the Suns’ overall plans?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kyrie Irving vs. Dion Waiters, Cleveland. Unless maybe you mean a position showdown? In that case, it’s the shooting guards in Oklahoma City. Open job, championship implications, young talents — that counts as especially intriguing. Reggie Jackson got the playoff starts when the Thunder pulled the plug on the Thabo Sefolosha era, but Jeremy Lamb will get a long look and Jackson is valuable as the backup point guard. Newcomer Anthony Morrow will also challenge for minutes.

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see who will replace Thabo Sefolosha in the Thunder’s starting lineup. Barring injury, Scott Brooks has used the same lineup for three years, and Sefolosha’s departure gives him a chance to shake things up, even if we have to wait another year before Kendrick Perkins is eventually replaced by Steven Adams. Brooks could go with Reggie Jackson for extra speed and playmaking, Anthony Morrow for shooting, Andre Roberson for defense, or Jeremy Lamb as a long-term investment that could pay off on both ends of the floor. OKC is a title contender that has historically gotten off to bad first-quarter starts. That could continue with Perkins still around, but there’s a chance to bring some more early energy with a new starter in the backcourt.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was a splendid fit in Phoenix, even if injuries prevented us from seeing those two young Thundercats at full strength for an extended period of time last season. Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, however, is a bit more complicated. I’m not sure if they have the same chemistry and synergy. Two ball-dominant point guards is one thing when their skill sets are as different as Dragic and Bledsoe’s were. But Dragic and Thomas have some serious work to do in that department. Do these ultra competitive guys treat camp as a chance to decide who the man is? Or will they spend that time finding ways to make each other better? It’s must-see action either way.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in Phoenix, where they have what feels like about two-dozen guards on their roster, all of whom are worthy of playing time. Assuming Eric Bledsoe comes back, he’ll be jockeying for playing time with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker. This is a good problem to have, sure, but I bet there will be knock-down games of two-on-two during practice.

Bledsoe’s gamble bigger than Monroe’s

bledsoe

In his first season as a full-time starter, the 24-year-old Eric Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Greg Monroe and the Detroit Pistons made it official on Monday: Monroe will play this season for $5.5 million, the amount of the one-year qualifying offer. He could have pocketed more than $12 million next season and reportedly more than $60 million over the next five seasons had he agreed to the Pistons’ offer.

Few players shun their first opportunity to ink a big-money extension. But that’s how disillusioned the 24-year-old power forward has become after four seasons of totaling 86 games under .500 in the Motor City, even as Stan Van Gundy offers stability and, potentially, a new direction as coach and team president.

The 6-foot-11 Monroe is gambling millions that he’ll remain a picture of good health (he’s played in 309 of 312 games in his career) and will keep improving (he averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds last season), allowing him to control his free agency and cash in with a team of his choosing next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Monroe was a restricted free agent this summer. The Pistons offered to make him their highest-paid player, but reportedly never put a max contract on the table. Sign-and-trade scenarios couldn’t be worked out, setting up the stalemate that lasted into September.

Former Detroit general manager Joe Dumars forced this situation by overreaching for power forward Josh Smith last summer and squeezing him in as a small forward. The Redwood-like frontline of Smith, who loves to shoot the 3, but isn’t good at it, plus Monroe and up-and-coming center Andre Drummond didn’t work. Monroe decided he wasn’t going to hitch himself to the franchise long-term without a better idea of how the team will look beyond this season.

While it certainly would appear that Monroe will be playing one last season in Detroit, Van Gundy can attempt to change that by catering to Monroe and working to somehow unload Smith’s contract which has three years and $40.5 million remaining. Still, with the large number of teams that will have cap space and shopping for a quality, young big next summer, Detroit stands to lose Monroe no matter what magic Van Gundy can pull.

“I have said from Day 1 that we have great respect for Greg as a person and like what he brings to this team as a player,” Van Gundy said in a statement. “We have had good dialogue with Greg throughout the off-season, with the understanding that there were multiple options for both parties involved, and we respect his decision. We look forward to a great year from Greg as we continue to build our team moving forward.”

To his credit, Monroe issued a statement in which he said he was looking forward to playing for Van Gundy. So at least it appears relations between the two sides haven’t grown completely sour, which can’t be said for the last remaining high-profile free agent, point guard Eric Bledsoe, and the Phoenix Suns.

Bledsoe, 24, long ago rejected the Suns’ reported four-year, $48-million offer, a deal that would have paid the restricted free agent the same as Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and put him on par with many of his peers despite having only started 78 games in his four seasons and missing half of last season with a knee injury.

He has yet to sign the qualifying offer that would pay him $3.7 million and make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.

With $48 million on the table, Bledsoe is taking a significant risk, an even bigger risk than Monroe. He doesn’t have the track record of good health like Monroe, and big men always — eventually — get paid because good ones are so hard to find. Monroe is confident max money will be waiting for him.

Bledsoe can’t confidently claim the same even if he produces an All-Star-worthy season.

What Bledsoe has that Monroe doesn’t, and what should not be discounted by the young talent, is his is a team on the rise with a coach, Jeff Hornacek, who implemented an up-tempo system well-suited for Bledsoe’s game.

In his first season as a full-time starter (remember he was behind Chris Paul with the Clippers for three seasons before being traded to Phoenix), Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 32.9 minutes. He shot 47.7 percent overall and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.

When Bledsoe was healthy, he and Goran Dragic were dynamite as the Suns’ starting backcourt. If Bledsoe had not missed half the season, the 48-win Suns might not have missed the playoffs.

If sharing the stage is a problem for Bledsoe, he should be looking ahead to 2015-16 when Dragic could well be playing elsewhere. Dragic will almost certainly exercise his opt-out clause next summer (he’s scheduled to make $7.5 million in each of the next two seasons) and seek a much bigger payday. If Bledsoe is already on the books for $12 million for three more years –and with Isaiah Thomas recently added at $27 million over the next four seasons — the Suns might be reluctant to pay Dragic the kind of money other teams will offer him on the open market.

But Bledsoe hasn’t agreed to the long-term offer and it doesn’t appear he will. If he’s dead-set on shooting for the moon financially, the Suns would be wise to be content to bid him farewell next summer, pay Dragic, an All-Star candidate last season, and spend their cap money to fill a different position, like maybe power forward for somebody like, oh, Greg Monroe.

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)

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.

Morning shootaround — July 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap: July 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Decision day for the Rockets | Only a two-year deal for James | Pierce keeps it moving | Deng the next domino?

No. 1: Decision day for the Rockets — The Houston Rockets have a new small forward, having agreed to a four-year deal with former Wizard Trevor Ariza. Does that mean that they’re ready to part ways with their old small forward? Not necessarily. The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks. And they may feel like Ariza and Parsons could play together, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes:

The Houston Rockets are still strongly considering the Dallas Mavericks’ offer sheet for Chandler Parsons after reaching agreement on a four-year, $32 million contract with free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ariza’s contract is on a declining scale, paying him $8.6 million, $8.2 million, $7.8 million and $7.4 million over the next four seasons, sources said.

The Rockets are expected to take until 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet the Mavericks gave Parsons, sources said. The Rockets could give Parsons some minutes at power forward, allowing them to play him and Ariza together.

***

No. 2: Only a two-year deal for JamesLeBron James could be a free agent again next season. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that James only signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it has a player option for 2015-16, allowing him to look for a new deal again next summer. But Windhorst writes that it isn’t about James not being truly committed to Cleveland. It’s about the additional money he could make with a new deal in a year or two:

Depending on how the new television contracts are put together, the salary cap is projected to leap to as high as $80 million in 2016. There is also uncertainty with the current collective bargaining agreement starting in 2017, another reason James wanted to keep his long-term options open when it comes to the structure of his contract.

James’ off-court earnings, which top $40 million per year according to some estimates, allow for him to take some short-term risk to maximize long-term earnings.

James has earned $129 million over his 11-year career but has only earned the max salary three times during that span.

***

No. 3: Pierce keeps it moving — It was weird seeing Paul Pierce in a Brooklyn Nets uniform last season. It may be even weirder seeing him in the Washington Wizards’ red, white and blue this year. In a bit of a stunner, Pierce and the Wizards agreed on a two-year deal (for the mid-level exception) on Saturday night. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has the story:

Refusing to stagger after the stunning defection of Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Washington Wizards shook off the disappointment and made a shocking deal of their own by landing Paul Pierce.

Pierce, a 10-time all-star and likely Hall of Famer, agreed to sign a two-year deal for the full mid-level exception worth $10.8 million, according to a multiple people with knowledge of the situation. He has a player option for the second year.

The 36-year-old Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics, winning a championship in 2008, and his former teammate and current Wizards assistant Sam Cassell played a huge role in recruiting him to Washington. He averaged a career-low 13.5 points last season in Brooklyn but gives the Wizards a proven big-game performer and another veteran mentor to help expedite the progression of franchise building blocks John Wall and Bradley Beal.

***

No. 4: Deng the next domino? — Ariza, James and Paul Pierce have found new homes, while Parsons will either be a member of the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday. But where does Luol Deng land in this game of small forward musical chairs? The Miami Heat have been trying hard to make him James’ replacement and stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, but other teams (Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix) are still in the mix for Deng, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reported late Saturday:

Sources say it’s possible Wade’s looming deal with the Heat might not be finalized until next week while negotiations with Deng continue. But Miami’s current aim is assembling a core that features Wade and Bosh with newcomer Josh McRoberts and Deng if they can complete a deal with the former Chicago Bulls All-Star.

Dallas and Atlanta remain interested in Deng as well, with sources saying Saturday that the Phoenix has also jumped into the mix for Deng, who was traded from Chicago to Cleveland in January after years of trade rumors.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Nets could still be a playoff team this season, but championship dreams are basically out the windowIt’s a “wait ’til next year” situation in BostonIs LeBron Melo’s Jordan?The Thunder got what they needed in Anthony Morrow … The Kings and Isaiah Thomas weren’t on the same page.

ICYMI of The Night: After his Summer League debut, Jazz rookie Dante Exum sat down the The Starters:


VIDEO: Starters: Dante Exum

With no LeBron, what’s next for Miami?

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — With just one tweet, the Miami Heat went from being next season’s Eastern Conference favorites to most likely being out of the race to win their own division.

Today’s announcement that LeBron James is taking his talents home to Northeast Ohio effectively ends what has been a feverish run by the Miami Heat: four seasons, four NBA Finals appearances, two NBA titles. But LeBron’s exodus not only breaks up the Big Three. It throws the franchise into flux.

With LeBron gone, the next domino that seems to be teetering is Chris Bosh, who is reportedly in talks to join the Houston Rockets. With James and Bosh gone, the cupboard in South Beach will be left mostly bare.

What happens to Dwyane Wade? As part of his season-ending news conference, Heat president Pat Riley made clear that Wade, who has played his entire career in Miami, was something of a made man. Just two weeks ago, when Wade opted out of his contract, presumably as part of an effort to create financial room to help keep the Heat competitive, Riley said, “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life.”

It’s a nice idea, but at this point in his career, Wade isn’t the type of player a franchise builds around. After missing 28 regular-season games last season to rest his ailing knees, Wade seemed to wear down in the postseason, to the point where he didn’t have much let in the tank during the NBA Finals.

Yet Wade could still serve as the franchise face while the Heat reload. They’ve already reportedly agreed to deals with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, two players who should (or at least could) be solid contributors. They will join incumbents like longtime Heat big man Udonis Haslem, who will likely re-up, and guard Norris Cole. Rookie guard Shabazz Napier will give them some youth in the backcourt.

While James and Bosh may be gone, the allure of South Beach and the Heat’s organizational championship pedigree still could serve as a siren’s song for available free agents. And with Bosh and James off the books, even if the Heat sign Wade to a modest long-term extension, the Heat will have plenty of cap space to throw at other free agents. Would a core of Wade and a couple of free agents like Luol Deng and Pau Gasol be enough to contend in the East? What about Wade with Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson?

Or, do the Heat step back, not immediately use their cap space, and try to reload down the road? The Heat’s first round pick next summer belongs, ironically, to Cleveland, though it’s top-10 protected. After that, the Heat own all their own first round selections going forward. And if the Heat can hang on to their cap space for one more year, the 2015 free agency class could include names like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge (who has expressed his hope of staying in Portland).

No matter which way they go, what the Heat already have in place is a strong organizational structure. Riley may have swung and missed on keeping the Big Three together, but he did put them together to begin with and has the bona fides to build another championship organization. Coach Erik Spoelstra has spent just six years on the Heat sideline but has won two titles and never missed the playoffs, even when the Heat were setting up to go after the Big Three.

The Heat may be waning in Miami, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching how they operate, things likely won’t be cool for too long.

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

Blogtable: Wrangling over an RFA

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: LeBron, staying or bolting? | Banking on the Draft | Wrangling over an RFA


> Name me a free agent – let’s make it a Restricted Free Agent – who is liable to sign a big-money offer sheet from another team that his current team will hate to have to match.

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me a quarter and I’ll flip it – heads Greg Monroe, tails Gordon Hayward. Detroit can’t afford to let Monroe go anywhere, but the pressure will be on Stan Van Gundy to figure out ways for Monroe and Andre Drummond to thrive in tandem. Hasn’t happened yet and heftier price tags (Monroe now, Drummond next) will only add urgency. Hayward’s shooting dropped off significantly last season but the Jazz will be paying for the surprising rookie he was – that’s what the competition will bid up – and a slightly overrated piece.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Somebody might take a big money flyer on Chandler Parsons that could make the Rockets swallow hard, especially if they haven’t already landed LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe sticks out as the obvious choice, although I’m not sure you could say Phoenix will “hate” to match it. All signs out of the desert suggest they’re prepared to do just that. Keep a close eye on Pistons big man Greg Monroe. A sign-and-trade is a real possibility here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Isaiah Thomas. I’ll wait to see what happens in the Draft to set that in stone, whether the Kings get a point guard or not, but it’s going to get interesting if a rival tries to turn their small-market salary structure into a piñata with an offer sheet with $8 million in a season or even $9 million. Everyone knows Sacramento will match if the deal is close to the mid-level, so teams know, as is usually the case with a restricted free agent, that it will take a number that will make the other front office wince. Sacramento wants to keep Thomas, and it can’t afford to lose him for nothing. But it also may decide it can’t afford to keep him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGreg Monroe. He’s a good player with strong numbers, but he’s not a very good defender and the Pistons’ frontline of Josh Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond was a disaster (especially defensively) last year. Stan Van Gundy is a great coach and should get the trio working a little better together, but he should also prefer to play someone other than Smith at small forward. If he can trade Smith (and the $40.5 million left on his contract) for some perimeter shooting, great. If he can’t, does he match a big offer for Monroe and hope that he can make a trade down the line? That combination of size and talent would be hard to let walk

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGordon Hayward is a player that the Jazz seemed to love and loathe at times throughout the Ty Corbin era. I’m not sure it makes any sense for them to try and hold on to him in free agency with a new coach (Quin Snyder) and an expected new system that Hayward might not be a great fit in, at least in theory. But with quite a bit of uncertainty lingering over the franchise, I could see the Jazz agonizing over what to do when someone puts big money on the table for Hayward that no one saw coming. The Jazz had a chance to set the price before the 2013-14 season started and didn’t. Now they could wind up paying more than they wanted to if Hayward has a team out there that covets his services.