Did LeBron James lie to Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade before free agency?

LeBron James may go down as the most polarizing superstar to have ever touched the hardwood. No matter what James does, someone has an issue with it. The Decision, probably wasn’t the best idea, but the firestorm of criticism came before that as many NBA pundits would chastise James for “quitting” and failing to get the Cavs to the Finals.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014 with the Miami Heat coming off their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. Although the Heat won two Finals during their four-year duration, their last defeat by the hands of the San Antonio Spurs wasn’t the trio’s best showing. Despite the Heat’s poor Finals performance, the threesome already had a plan in tact to return to South Beach – at least according to Chris Bosh.
 
Chris Bosh on plans for MIA entering last offseason: “I thought we were going to stay together. That was the plan. For us to keep it going.”
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) October 29, 2014
After LeBron made his decision to go back home, reports of t

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Jeanie Buss: I’ll fire anyone who said free agents don’t want to play with Kobe

Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanne Buss on made some strong comments on Thursday in response to the recent ESPN the Magazine story that was written about Kobe Bryant. For starters, Buss said that any team employee who contributed to the feature — which claimed Bryant deters free agents from signing with the Lakers — will…Read More

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Lakers boss Jeanie Buss: Any free agent who won’t play with Kobe is ‘probably a loser’

When Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss made her first comments in reaction to the scathing “ESPN The Magazine” piece by Henry Abbott regarding her team’s veteran superstar, she didn’t merely defend Kobe Bryant, she went on an aggressive offensive. Unlike others who chose to directly criticize Abbott and the magazine over the content of…Read More
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Jeanie Buss Calls out Free Agents Afraid of Kobe Bryant: ‘Losers’

From the not-so-magnanimous media coverage to his much-ballyhooed return from injury, Kobe Bryant has lately found himself under a microscope of nearly unprecedented intensity—and that’s saying something.

Scorching spotlight though it may be, Bryant has at least one stalwart in his corner (via Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post):

Jeannie Buss, for those who don’t know, is the daughter of longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who passed away in February 2013. After the elder Buss’ death, control of the Lakers was essentially divvied up between Jeanie Buss and her brother, Jim.

Since then, speculation has abounded over the two’s relationship, which Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding (writing then for the Orange County Register) reported as far back as 2013 had been severely strained following the awkward Phil Jackson non-hire.

If anything is going to compel the two to circle the family wagons, it’s a full-frontal attack on their franchise’s biggest, most lucrative star. Not to mention the insidious implication that the Lakers are somehow about anything other than winning.

On Monday, ESPN The Magazine published a piece by Henry Abbott that took a not-so-flattering look at Kobe Bryant’s role in the demise of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Key to Abbott’s thesis was the notion that future free agents might be dissuaded from signing with the Lakers due to Bryant’s hypercompetitive, hypercritical personality. In fact, Abbott—quoting an anonymous source—suggests this was likely a motivating factor behind Dwight Howard’s tumultuous departure following the 2012-13 season.

Coming off the team’s worst season in nearly six decades, the Lakers are a team at a crossroads: Do they try and use the upcoming free-agent classes to build around Bryant one last time? Or do they hold off on a rebuild until their ailing legend—injuries to Achilles and knee barely in the rearview mirror—limps languidly into the sunset?

As Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes recently wrote, the looming narratives are nothing if not compelling:

Bryant is the same man—evolved. To use a baseball analogy, he’s pitching instead of throwing these days, replacing physical skill with tactical smarts.

We’ve seen the unstoppable drives, the one-dribble pull-ups, the relentless transition attacks. But we haven’t seen the measured (though still aggressive) post technician. We haven’t seen the guy who might operate almost exclusively as a draw-and-kick facilitator on the block.

When a superstar fundamentally changes his game in an effort to stay on top, well…it’s fascinating.

Even if reports of Bryant’s difficult demeanor are true, that shouldn’t dissuade the Lakers from continuing to pursue free-agent gold; they should be selling the history and legacy of the franchise itself, not its fading face.

Rest assured, the Lakers have no intention of resting on their playoff-less laurels. Not with Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo and LeBron James all slated to hit the open market within the next two years.

Many will read Buss’s barb as a veiled shot at Howard. Others might see swipes at James or Carmelo Anthony, both of whom bypassed the Lakers en route to richer paydays.

Whoever the target or whatever the intended tone, Jeannie Buss’s harsh words should be seen first and foremost in familial terms—the angered but earnest attempt to protect one’s own from the cruel caustics of the outside world.

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Rockets’ late free throw downs Magic 90-89 (Yahoo Sports)

The Rockets have worked hard this preseason to build a gritty identity. If their finish against the Magic is any indication, they’ve made a lot of progress. Jeff Adrien’s free throw with 35 seconds to play capped Houston’s rally Wednesday night, with the Rockets beating Orlando 90-89 in preseason play. Troy Daniels and Isaiah Canaan led the Rockets with 14 points each and Tarik Black added 10 points.

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New NBA TV Deal Offers 2015 Restricted Free Agents Unique Leverage

Navigating restricted free agency has always been a leverage-free endeavor for NBA players who, for the most part, find themselves at the mercy of incumbent teams and offer sheets that don’t come.

Then the NBA signed a new media rights deal that, perhaps inadvertently, created leverage for members of the 2015 restricted free-agency class who haven’t yet signed.

Not everything changed upon The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir revealing that ESPN and Turner Sports (which owns Bleacher Report) would pay the Association $24 billion over the course of this new agreement. There remains ample risk involved for players. But there is now a negotiating ploy that wasn’t available to past restricted free agents.

Take the Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson. Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com says the two sides remain millions apart in extension talks. Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy, is apparently seeking “at least $15 million” annually while the Warriors are slinging $2 million less.

Thanks to the new TV deal and the player-friendly raises it will bring later, Thompson has the necessary ammunition to justify his asking price now.

And he’s not the only one.

 

Immediate Change

It all starts with the salary cap.

There is no reason for spending power not to explode in the coming summers. Nearly three years removed from a lockout that emphasized the limits of a franchise’s earning potential, the owners will be hard-pressed to escape the symbol of $24 billion.

“That’s a lot of money,” Kevin Durant said of the deal, per NewsOK.com’s Anthony Slater. “I don’t see how owners can say they losing money now.”

One way or another, this influx of cash will be funneled into the salary cap, which stands at $63.2 million for 2014-15. It’s not a matter of if, only when and how much.

Although the cap is expected to erupt at some point, “smoothing out” has become a buzzphrase around the Association, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe:

There is no way to avoid some shock to the cap figure at some point, but there are ways to ease the trauma. The league and its TV partners, the same partners as under the old deal, could agree to make 2015-16 sort of a hybrid year, at some price point between the old $930 million and the new $2 billion–plus. That would raise revenues more than anticipated for 2015-16, and thus raise the cap beyond the current $66.5 million projection. …

Several teams have been operating for months under the assumption the cap would reach at least $70 million for 2015-16, and any bigger-than-expected jump for that season could help teams on the borderline of having max cap room this July. 

Spreading out the increase over time, beginning immediately, diminishes the size of the anticipated jump for 2016-17, which Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck says will elevate the cap to an “estimated $84 million.” But it also means that player salaries are going to increase sooner.

Player contract values and annual earnings are proportionate to the salary cap. If the latter goes up, the price of contracts and yearly salaries goes with it. And if next sumer’s cap surpasses the current projection ($66.5 million), players are going to cost more sooner.

Bypassing those expenses would be impossible when it comes to unrestricted free agents. Midseason extensions are obsolete for them because they, unlike restricted free agents, stand to make more by waiting regardless of salary-cap increases, hence the reason Kevin Love didn’t put pen to paper on a new pact upon joining the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Impending restricted free agents—such as Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried—are wont to sign on the dotted line prior to actual free agency because 1) these contracts represent their first massive payday and 2) offseason markets are limited by their respective team’s ability to match any offer. The latter is why incumbent teams aren’t always inclined to extend max-contract sheets as soon as they can.

Usually the Warriors could wait their Thompson situation out, the worst-case scenario being they match an offer sheet that meets Thompson’s current asking price; the best-case scenario being they lock him down for less.

But if the cap mushrooms early as part of some smoothing-out process, his price tag could balloon with it, costing the Warriors more. Signing him now, even if it’s for more money than anticipated, winds up being a discount if the team believes another interested party will throw a max deal his way next summer.

Players coming off rookie deals who are angling for extensions, like Thompson, can use the threat of that increase to inflate their immediate value.

Teams are going to be in the hunt for talent this summer. With so many players expected to position themselves for 2016 free agency—think about the two-year deal LeBron James signed in Cleveland this year—suitors may be more willing to tender max-offer sheets in exchange for long-term security other prospects aren’t promising.

 

Pulling a Monroe

Immediate adjustments to the salary cap aren’t going to be earth-shattering, bringing the upside of above tactics into question. If the 2015-16 ceiling stops somewhere around $70 million as Lowe suggests, that’s only a $3.5 million difference from the initial projection.

Greater leverage is found in summer 2016, when the cap figures to spill into the $80-plus million range.

To get there, restricted free agents would have to do what most restricted free agents typically don’t do: table extension talks now, play through 2014-15, sign their qualifying offer next summer, then hit unrestricted free agency in 2016.

Precedent is found in Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency this past offseason. Instead of signing an offer sheet from a rival team or re-upping with the Detroit Pistons, he accepted his qualifying offer worth almost $5.5 million, per ShamSports

Monroe easily could have made double that amount this year. Though the move allows him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, the Pistons can still offer him the most money and he’s tightly tethered his financial security to remaining healthy and productive for at least another year. That Monroe’s agent, David Falk, also told Sports Business Daily (via BasketballInsiders.com) his client received numerous lucrative offers only adds to the big-picture risk.

“Players—more accurately players’ agents—have been threatening to sign the qualifying offer for ages,” SB Nation’s Tom Ziller wrote weeks before Monroe signed his qualifying offer. “There’s a reason no one takes those threats seriously. The QO is not an arrow in the players’ quivers. It’s a fake weapon.”

A fake weapon that now carries real weight.

Writing for ESPN.com (subscription required), salary-cap guru Larry Coon estimates that the max-contract value for players with six years or less of experience will “increase by $3.77 million” annually if the cap incurs a $16 million spike. If it climbs even higher—as Lowe discussed—the annual uptick will be even more.

Threatening to drag out contract situations for nearly two years, as 2015 restricted free agents would have to do, might seem pointless if modest financial gains were on the line. But $3.8 million a season over the life of a four-year max is $15.2 million. Over the life of a five-year max, it’s $19 million.

That’s a truckload of money. It’s also a rough projection that could grow exponentially if the NBA is unable to convince the players union to curb any looming hikes.

 

Deadline Madness En Route?

Deadline day is almost upon us, and it carries incredible intrigue.

Fourth-year players have until Oct. 31 to hash out extensions with their teams, otherwise they’ll reach restricted free agency in July. There’s no telling what happens from there, roughly eight months later, when 2016 and its suspected cap bang doesn’t seem so far away.

Ricky Rubio can use that to force his Minnesota Timberwolves off the four-year, $48 million extension the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney says they’re dangling.

Thompson can use it to push the Warriors toward max-contract territory now.

Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic, among many others, can use it to extract more money from their contract negotiations.

Pricier contracts now won’t seem as expensive later. That’s the play. If restricted free agents are willing to defer, they have leverage past players didn’t, and an advantage future ones who enter the fray after the league is acclimated to this brave, new world won’t.

If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Teams could call bluffs. Off years and injuries could derail earning potentials. That’s the price players could pay. That’s the risk they’re taking. But this is still leverage, the rewards of which allow today’s extension-seekers to reap the benefits of tomorrow’s financial boom.

 

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The NBA has discussed eliminating free throws

Nobody watches basketball for the free throws. Tedious, tiring and largely unathletic acts, they slow down every NBA game. This is an observation…

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Golden State Warriors Better Off Letting Klay Thompson Hit Free Agency

Before the Golden State Warriors invest 10s of millions of dollars in Klay Thompson, before they try to lock down one of the NBA‘s brightest shooting guards, they should do something else first: wait.

Wait, wait, wait. Then wait some more. There isn’t any rush here.

Although the deadline to sign fourth-year players to extensions is Halloween, the Warriors have no reason to operate within said time constraints. Such is the position of power—yes, power—they enjoy.

If an extension isn’t agreed upon by the Oct. 31 “deadline,” Thompson will enter restricted free agency next summer. And if he gets that far, the Warriors can, well, rest easy.

Restricted free agency is a joke for teams. They hold all the leverage. Any offer sheets players sign can be matched. Incumbent squads are free to lowball contract proposals until then, not unlike the Phoenix Suns did with Eric Bledsoe

Only the Suns relented, signing Bledsoe to a five-year, $70 million contract that was not the byproduct of a competing offer, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The outcome there was unique in its abruptly topsy-turvy development. Understanding that players of Bledsoe‘s ilk wouldn’t flock to Phoenix otherwise, perhaps the Suns valued wrapping him up while they could more than saving a few dollars.

Whatever their intentions, the Suns re-signed Bledsoe. And while the market for his services was nonexistent, this wouldn’t have ended much differently if Bledsoe were fielding phone calls and offers left and right.

That’s the advantage teams hold in restricted free agency. Today’s rules are such that ironing out extensions before the market sets a player’s price only makes sense if he’s clearly cut from transcendent mold, or if the extension in question can be viewed as a steal (see Stephen Curry in 2012).

Neither exception applies to Thompson at the moment.

Sam Amick of USA Today previously revealed Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy, was seeking a max extension. That’s no discount.

To justify the asking price, Duffy has been busy drumming up his client’s skill set. Said Duffy to Amick

I don’t want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there’s some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season). But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it’s pretty clear.

Nothing about what Duffy says is “pretty clear.” Meeting his contract demands obviously isn’t a no-brainer either; otherwise, negotiations would be nearing conclusion.

Tabling Thompson’s contract situation gives the Warriors another season to evaluate their shooting guard against those claims. Likewise, it gives Thompson the opportunity to rationalize them, because right now they’re absurdly ambitious and hardly reflective of his individual standing.

Thompson’s shooting stroke and defensive acuity are well-known. The latter is more important when playing alongside Curry, who can defer the opposition’s toughest guard assignment to his backcourt brother.

But while that increases his internal value, playing beside Curry hasn’t forced Thompson to expand his game beyond shooting and defending.

Scoring is his bread and butter, his steak and potatoes and his apple pie. And yet he’s painfully reliant on Curry’s marksmanship and playmaking. His already unimpressive field-goal percentage declines when Curry is on the bench, and he often looks out of place when he puts the ball on the floor.

More than 75 percent of his made baskets came off assists last season, and 62.4 percent of his offensive possessions came within spot-ups, in transition or off screens, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

“To show that another way, Thompson, who ranked No. 29 in points per game, checked in at No. 96 in Scorer Rating, a new metric developed by myself and Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal. “He was hurt most significantly by that same extreme inability to create for himself.”

Equally troubling, Thompson doesn’t stand out in many other areas. He doesn’t rebound particularly well (3.1 per game for his career), nor is he a playmaker himself. Double-teams eat him alive, and he picks up his dribble far too early for someone who hasn’t perfected Dirk Nowitzki fadeaways.

Of the 44 guards who appeared in at least 50 games and averaged 30 or more minutes last year, Thompson finished 41st in assist percentage. Joe Johnson (37th) was better. So was J.R. Smith (36th). He wasn’t even close to DeMar DeRozan (27th).

There’s also his frequent disappearing acts to consider, as SB Nation’s Eddie Maisonet talked about right around the time Kevin Love negotiations fell apart: 

All of these numbers will likely go up on a bad team, but the biggest concern with Thompson has nothing to do with the stat sheet. It’s that he has a tendency to be on the Milk Carton All-Stars.

Time and time again, Klay Thompson will become virtually nonexistent in games. There are moments where Thompson will make virtually anything he throws near the rim, but there are moments where he doesn’t get involved.

This is the player seeking a max contract? The one who, through three NBA seasons, has yet to post an above-average player efficiency rating? The one who, per Amick, basically removed Golden State from contention for Love?

The Warriors already rolled the dice by deeming him untouchable in Love negotiations. Knowing he’s still an unfinished product, they owe it to themselves to wait and see if Thompson’s actually a star.

“We value him in the highest way,” general manager Bob Myers said, per the San Jose Mercury NewsDiamond Leung, “and we want to keep him on this team for a long time.”

Even if the Warriors cherish Thompson enough to pay him immediately, there’s no harm lining his pockets later. Worst-case scenario has them matching the max contract he would cost them now. And if there’s a team out there willing to go that high next summer, it means Thompson had a season worth rewarding, rendering the matter of compensation a non-issue.

Standing pat for the time being doesn’t only prolong the inevitable, to be certain. It buys the Warriors peace of mind after digesting the facts for another year.

At that point, Thompson is either worth his asking price, or he isn’t. Or, quite preferably, the Warriors’ intent to retain him could scare other suitors away, positioning them to sign him at the discount he isn’t currently giving.

That Thompson cannot combat this tactic makes it an easier call. He can shop around all he wants next summer, but the Warriors will have final say. Signing his qualifying offer worth $4.2 million, playing through 2015-16 and reaching unrestricted free agency the following summer would be the only way he regains leverage.

Chances of that happening, though, are slim. Nothing out there suggests Thompson and the Warriors are at odds. It’s even less likely there would be a torched bridge money couldn’t repair if anything happens between now and then. 

Just as there isn’t any incentive to locking Thompson up this second, there’s no additional downside to waiting.

All the Warriors risk doing is paying Thompson what he isn’t worth now, later.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via ShamSports.


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Hawks sign free agent Bazemore, re-sign Brand (Yahoo Sports)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks have signed free-agent guard Kent Bazemore and re-signed forward-center Elton Brand.

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Mavs sign free agent forward Charlie Villanueva (Yahoo Sports)

DENVER, CO - MARCH 19: Charlie Villanueva #31 of the Detroit Pistons dribbles the ball against the Denver Nuggets on March 19, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks have signed free agent forward Charlie Villanueva, who spent the past five years with Detroit.


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