The NBA’s on-court action may be over, but the action in front offices across the league has only just begun. As of July 1, teams have officially been able to wine and dine free agents—plastering their images onto local billboards, using their current stars as PR reps and generally doing everything in their power to flatter the players in question. No deals can be finalized before July 10, but contracts can be agreed to in principle.
So far, business has been relatively quiet—the biggest transactions being the re-signings of Marcin Gortat and Kyle Lowry to the Wizards and Raptors, respectively. The big free-agents names—LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, among others—have yet to decide where they’d like to ply their trade this fall. The biggest trade target, Kevin Love, doesn’t seem any closer to leaving Minnesota.
For purely financial reasons the most logical destinations for guys like LeBron and Carmelo would be Miami and New York. Those teams own their star player’s “bird rights,” which means that they can offer them more money than any other team, plus a fifth year in their contract. But, as far as purely on-court considerations are concerned, those aforementioned teams may not provide the best fits.
Here’s where four of this summer’s biggest names should sign.
Likely Destination: New York Knicks
Ideal Destination: Chicago Bulls
Carmelo Anthony recently opted-out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks to test the waters of free agency. Phil Jackson and the Knicks can offer Anthony a max contract of five years and $129 million (which, in all honesty, he’ll probably accept); but the Knicks, lacking championship-calibre talent on their roster, are not a good fit for the seven-time All-Star if he’s intent on pursuing a ring.
The Lakers, Mavericks and Rockets have all been pursuing Anthony this off-season, but the most logical destination for the former Knick is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have the nucleus of a very good team already in place. The have All-Star point guard and former MVP Derrick Rose; relatively young talents such as Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler; and an all-world defender at the centre spot in Joakim Noah.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive genius—the Bulls ranked second in defensive efficiency last season, only giving up 97.8 points per 100 possessions. But they struggled immensely on offence, lacking a player who could create his own shot when their offensive sets break down. Carmelo Anthony is that man. He can create off the bounce and can also stretch the floor with his shooting from beyond the arc. What’s more, if Rose comes back strong from injury, the onus on Anthony to provide all of his team’s offence (as was the case in New York) will be decreased.
No team makes more sense as a destination for Carmelo Anthony than the Chicago Bulls.
Likely Destination: Miami Heat
Ideal Destination: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets, as noted above, are one of the many teams pursuing Carmelo Anthony—he’s their top free-agent target. The Rockets with Anthony, James Harden and Dwight Howard on their roster could, in theory, be an offensive behemoth. Not that their offence last season was poor in any way—they ranked fourth in offensive efficiency, scoring a blistering 108.6 points per 100 possessions. Anthony is also the kind of player who needs the ball in his hands, and in Harden, the Rockets already have a ball-dominant perimeter player.
Chris Bosh, who opted out of his contract with Miami, is the ideal fit for the Houston Rockets. Bosh has been criticized for his recent performances with the Heat—and justifiably so—but the nine-time All-Star has developed a unique skillset that makes him one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NBA.
Bosh still possesses a nifty off-the-dribble game—very effective against lumbering power forwards and centres—and he’s money from mid-range and beyond the arc. But pair Bosh with Dwight Howard, and the Rockets would have an unguardable tandem: an uber athletic center who can finish at the rim, and a power forward who can open up the floor with his shooting.
Bosh is also a very underrated defender, and the Rockets are crying out for more capable players at that end of the floor. Too often last season Howard was left to bail out his team on defence when Harden or Chandler Parsons were outsmarted on the perimeter. Bosh would give the Rockets that extra bit of defensive security—he’s got quick feet and can slide back under the rim as a help defender, and he is comfortable stepping out and blitzing the ball-handler on the pick-n-roll.
Bosh’s future in Miami looks unclear at the time of writing—the team is asking him to take less money so they can round out their roster—and the Rockets should try and take advantage of that uncertainty.
Likely Destination: Minnesota Timberwolves (for one more season)
Ideal Destination: Golden State Warriors
The Kevin Love case is a little different from the others on this list, in that he’s not a free agent this summer. Instead, he has told his franchise that he won’t re-sign past the coming season. That declaration has led to a flurry of speculation over which team has the assets to trade for Love and what the Wolves could get back in a trade.
The frontrunner for Kevin Love appeared to be the Golden State Warriors, a team that Love would reportedly sign an extension with past 2014-15 (very important). That potential deal has hit a snag, however. The Warriors are offering the Wolves Harrison Barnes, David Lee and a first-round pick, but the Wolves insist—and fairly so—that Klay Thompson is involved in the deal. So far the Warriors seem intent on not parting with one half of their sensational backcourt and it looks more and more likely that Love will be in Minnesota at the start of next season.
Thompson is a fine young player, but Kevin Love is a top-10 player in the NBA. It makes no sense for the Warriors to abandon a trade for a superstar just because they’re unwilling to part with a player who is not at as high a level. Kevin Love would make the Warriors downright scary. The team is just perfect for his skillset. He’s not a great defender or rim protector, but with Andrew Bogut at centre, he wouldn’t need to be. He could concentrate on providing a post-up outlet for the Warriors on offence, rebounding the basket (he’s elite on the glass) and spreading the floor with his shooting.
The Warriors already posses the best shooter in the NBA in Steph Curry—a point guard infinitely better than any Love has played with in his NBA career—and the combination of Curry and Love on the pick-n-roll/pick-n-roll would be frightening for any opposing NBA team. Go under the screen and Curry will burn you with a three; go over the screen and he’d find Love rolling to the rim, or popping out for a jumper. Pick your poison.
Likely Destination: Miami Heat
Ideal Destination: Phoenix Suns
The best basketball player on planet Earth set the NBA world alight last week with his decision to opt-out of the final two years of his contract. That decision sent the other 29 teams scrambling to see if they could carve open the requisite amount of cap space to sign James.
Once the dust settles, however, it’s likely that James will re-sign with the Miami Heat. His decision to opt out is to be interpreted as a message to the Heat’s front office, that they need to do a better job at building a roster that takes some of the pressure off of him—he put up big numbers in the NBA Finals, but his supporting cast simply wasn’t good enough. James is seeking a max contract with the Heat (incredibly he’s never been the highest paid player on his own team in his career) and will be hoping/expecting that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh take pay cuts to increase Pat Riley’s flexibility in the market.
One team that could offer James a max contract, along with a talented supporting cast that would complement his skillset, is the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were the surprise team of the NBA last year—at the start of the season they looked set to be a lottery team, but they more than held their own in a loaded Western Conference and narrowly missed out on a playoffs spot.
The Suns possess two very talented guards in Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, who could take the pressure off of James, both from a ball-handling standpoint and in terms of shot creation. Both men can shoot from distance, meaning that they can play off the ball as well. The Suns are also loaded with others players who can stretch the floor—the Morris twins, Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker. And unlike Miami, the Suns have a traditional center, Miles Plumlee, who can finish at the rim, block shots and rebound.
The Suns play an up-tempo, run-and-gun style of offence—perfect for James’ athleticism—but with LeBron they could also score in the half-court and, it goes without saying, they’d be an infinitely more disruptive defensive team.
The Suns are one of the few teams who currently have enough cap-space to make a deal for LeBron, and they wouldn’t have to unload their young stars to do so. It’s still unlikely that LeBron would take his talents to Phoenix, but with their current roster, no team could best utilize the King’s skillset quite as well.