LeBron, Carmelo hold the cards and Pau Gasol wants to play chess now (Part Three)

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2014 and is filed under NBA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So where are LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony going – oh, and everybody else?

By: Joe Mags

For my take on fun, ill-fated scenarios for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, here’s Part One. For my long-winded look into the fundamental issue of the Los Angeles Lakers possibly acquiring both LeBron and Carmelo, here’s Part Two. This is Part Three.

These scenarios really could happen:

Anthony signs with Lakers; LeBron signs with Cleveland.

Anthony signs with Lakers; LeBron signs a one-year deal in Miami.

Carmelo Anthony is a rich man as it is. The extra year of max-level salary that New York can guarantee is nice, but this past season in Manhattan was rough, and while Phil Jackson has begun his tenure in New York’s front office in a promising fashion, it’s unclear what type of team New York will really be under first-year head coach Derek Fisher. Sure, the East is wide open, but how embarrassing would it be to miss the playoffs again in the East if the roster doesn’t fit together just right? Anthony might decide that the big money in New York isn’t worth passing up the chance to play alongside Kobe Bryant during his final years.

The Lakers don’t have a team in place yet, but you could see how quickly the pieces would come together if Carmelo signed there. Pau Gasol follows quickly behind on a discount. The Lakers grab Lance Stephenson on a short, fat contract. Point guards like Ramon Sessions and Jameer Nelson take noticeable pay cuts to share the backcourt with Bryant; Emeka Okafor and Chris Anderson (aka Birdman) ponder taking the minimum to provide some frontcourt defense. And Byron Scott signs on as coach.

Honestly, that team sounds like a mess, but if Anthony signs they will come.

What does that mean for LeBron? Well, it means the East is even crappier, making the path for a LeBron team to return to the NBA Finals even easier. But which teams does he pick? The pros for Miami are already out there. Joining Cleveland, however, presents its own pros and cons.

It is difficult to see how Eric Spoelstra is going to get much out the Miami Heat roster as it currently is without severely changing how Dwyane Wade is used and lowering the night-in, night-out dependence on James. However inexperienced, the Cavaliers are a talented young team with legs and athleticism at most positions. Kyrie Irving is entering the next stage of his career on a new max-contract; he’s the long-distance shooter Wade never was, and his dribbling skills and quickness are far superior to Wade at this juncture. Depending on what they decide to do with Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters, the Cavaliers have a decidedly better backcourt than the Miami Heat.

They do not have a Chris Bosh – it’s not impossible for Bosh to follow James to Cleveland, just highly unlikely with teams like Houston recruiting him – but Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller are young enough to suggest major improvement would come playing alongside LeBron James. The Cavaliers would also have additional cap space that I’m sure LeBron James would demand they use on defensive big men and shooters in order for him to come on board. Anderson Varejão, a friend of LeBron James from their parallel time spent in Cleveland, could also return.

The largest draw for LeBron to go to Cleveland, even larger than Irving, might be Andrew Wiggins. The No. 1 pick in June, Wiggins is the athletic freak that Cleveland never found a way to pair James with during his initial tenure with the Cavaliers. Wiggins could go a long way to helping LeBron stay great for longer; the Canadian rookie can guard the other team’s best player, sparing James and saving him for the offensive end. An Irving/Wiggins/James/Thompson/Varejão starting lineup is intriguing – not decidedly better than a 2014-15 reboot in Miami, but with much more long-term potential.

The risk for James is obvious: What if Cleveland isn’t good enough to make a run at the NBA Finals? Doesn’t it seem foolish for LeBron to leave Miami in the midst of a four-year run of going to the NBA Finals for such an uncertain bunch of youngsters – and an organization that failed to surround him with a championship roster for the first seven years of his career?

This is why a one-year contract in Miami makes the best basketball sense for LeBron: it buys him another year to gauge what teams are doing, and it also keeps all leverage with him.

Anthony signs with Chicago; Clippers and Warriors don’t make additional salary cap space; James signs with Miami on one-year deal.

The best basketball decision, independent of money, that Carmelo Anthony can make is to join the Chicago Bulls. A Rose/Butler/Anthony/Gibson/Noah nucleus coached by Tom Thibodeau wins the Eastern Conference 9 times out of 10; it would take a superhuman effort by a 30-year-old LeBron James to lift whatever Miami looks like in a year over that Chicago team.

Those Bulls might even be able to take down the best in the West. Chicago would be the stingiest defense in basketball or close to it, and the threat of Rose and Carmelo each scoring 25 points a night would keep opposing defense on their toes. Injuries have been a huge road block over the last three seasons in Chicago but Anthony helps limit the impact those injuries have on their total season.

If Chicago signs Anthony and creates their super team, I’m not sure what LeBron’s best move is. The East would suddenly be as difficult, truthfully, to make it out of as the West, and sticking around in Miami or prematurely attaching himself to Cleveland could be admitting defeat against the stacked Chicago Bulls.

This is where a Warriors or Clippers run at LeBron James becomes a bit more interesting. Should the Warriors make the cap room for Kevin Love and another max slot, or if the Clippers decide to trade DeAndre Jordan and several other players to open up a max spot of their own, LeBron James would have to entertain the possibility of playing for a better team – one that wouldn’t be so venerable against the Bulls.

But if none of the Western teams that can reasonably acquire LeBron make the necessary room for him, LeBron would have to take the one-year deal in Miami, and prepare for war against the Carmelo-Bulls. As old and thin as the Miami Heat roster projects to be, it’s not like they would get swept by the super Bulls, and again, LeBron is more than capable of a superhuman performance – especially against Joakim Noah, Thibbs and company, an organization that lights a fire in his belly.

The Most Likely scenario:

Anthony re-signs with Knicks; LeBron signs a one-year deal with Miami.

There are 129 million reasons why Carmelo should stay in New York. Well, 129 million and one: Phil Jackson is on board. After doing a kick-ass job of turning two bad contracts into actual draft picks in an actual draft, as well as upgrading the point guard position and acquiring a nifty $3.6 million trade exception, Jackson has already proven a lot. He and his pupil Derek Fisher are rebuilding this team in their image – an image that has won eleven championships in the modern-era.

Anthony’s huge contract wouldn’t tie up New York’s finances as badly as one might think. Even if they were over the tax line this season, once Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani are off the books next summer, the Knicks are swimming in cap space with or without Anthony’s salary. Truth be told, it will be easier for the Knicks to attract top talent in 2015 with Carmelo on board then without, and in the mean time, the Knicks could be relevant a year early; borrowing a point from Alan Hahn, the Knicks were a 54-win team when they correctly built around Carmelo, and they were, well, NOT a 54-win team when they failed to build around him. In this Eastern Conference, Carmelo Anthony really should be enough to get you into the playoff picture, and this past season was closer to a fluke than evidence Anthony is any less valuable than before.

As I have written before, LeBron is not going to sign a big ol’ five-year contract to retire in Miami. The much more likely decision, and one with plenty of business savvy, is to delay free agency for another year by signing a one-year contract. He can make a fifth NBA Finals run with the Big Three, and hit the market in the summer of 2015 and reassess the market yet again.

Finally, my quick predictions on the other Free Agents:

Chris Bosh: Miami with LeBron (60 percent); Houston (35 percent); Los Angeles Lakers (4 percent); Cleveland with LeBron (1 percent)

Dwyane Wade: Miami (85 percent); Chicago without Carmelo Anthony (12 percent); Charlotte Hornets on an incredible overpay by Michael Jordan (2 percent); Chicago with Carmelo Anthony (1 percent)

Pau Gasol: Knicks with Carmelo (70 percent); Lakers with Carmelo (25 percent); San Antonio (5 percent)

Luol Deng: Dallas (60 percent); Atlanta (35 percent); Chicago (5 percent)

Eric Bledsoe: Phoenix (90 percent); Lakers (10 percent)

Lance Stephenson: Indiana (40 percent); Charlotte (30 percent); Lakers (30 percent)

Paul Pierce: Clippers (40 percent); Clippers, and Garnett ends up there too (30 percent); Brooklyn (30 percent)

Chandler Parsons: Houston (60 percent); Los Angeles Lakers (30 percent); Dallas (10 percent)

Gordon Hayward: Phoenix (55 percent); Cleveland (35 percent); and Utah, if they are crazy enough to match a max offer (10 percent)

Greg Monroe: Detroit without Josh Smith (40 percent); Atlanta (35 percent); Orlando (15 percent); Golden State via trade (10 percent)

Channing Frye: Whatever Team LeBron is on (100 percent)

Ray Allen: Whatever Team LeBron is on (100 percent)

(Via Trade) Kevin Love: Golden State (35 percent); Stays with Minnesota (35 percent); Chicago (25 percent); Atlanta (5 percent)

Joe Mags (@JoeMags_hoops) is a staff writer for pickinsplinters.com and interning for the Watertown Daily Times. Peace, love, recycle and ball.

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