NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Post LeBron James to Cleveland Cavaliers Signing

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterJuly 11, 2014

NBA Power Rankings: Post LeBron James to Cleveland Cavaliers Signing

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    Bleacher Report

    The joys of victory and agonies of defeat are usually reserved for baseball players and soccer stars this time of year. The growth of NBA free agency into a full-on feeding frenzy, though, has thrown basketball's biggest names and best teams into the mix.

    None more so than the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Only one could win this year's LeBron James sweepstakes, and as James announced via Sports Illustrated, it's the Cavs who will be dancing in the streets while South Floridians gather kerosene and matches for some No. 6-fueled beach bonfires.

    Now that James is headed back to his home state, the rest of the free-agent market has started to pick up. And now that it has, let's take a moment (or two) to reset our periodic power rankings for the first time since draft night.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    For a time, the Philadelphia 76ers were shaping up to be everybody's preferred dumping ground for bad contracts this summer. 

    First came word from ESPN's Marc Stein that the Sixers might be the ones to take on Jeremy Lin's expiring deal if the Houston Rockets get the go-ahead from a high-profile free agent. Now, multiple reports, including one from ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley, peg Philly as a landing spot for Amar'e Stoudemire's bloated salary. Both deals would presumably net the Sixers a quality asset or two—be it a draft pick, a young player or some combination therein.

    Neither, though, has come to fruition. Lin will be landing with the Lakers, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, while Stoudemire remains in New York, at least for the time being.

    "This time of year, there are way more [offers] leaked than real, and way more postured by one team or another than there's any legs to," Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. "We are involved in a lot of conversations. We are not involved in as many as has been reported."

29. Orlando Magic

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Does anyone really know what the Orlando Magic are up to right now?

    In theory, the signings of Ben Gordon and Channing Frye make sense. Both guys are shooters, first and foremost, and will be joining a roster full of guys (i.e. Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton) who aren't exactly reliable from long range.

    But adding Gordon, who fell off the map in Charlotte, for anything more than the veteran's minimum seems silly, as does shelling out $8 million per year to Frye, whose success as a pick-and-pop specialist may prove particular to the Phoenix Suns.

    According to the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins, the Magic have only the acquisition of a backup point guard left on their to-do list for the summer. That wouldn't seem to put Orlando any closer to escaping their post-Dwight Howard malaise two years after the fact, but maybe that's been GM Rob Hennigan's plan all along.

    For better or worse.

28. Boston Celtics

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Uh oh. Looks like Danny Ainge is making moves on his personal chessboard again.

    According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Boston Celtics are partaking in the three-team trade that will send Jarrett Jack to the Brooklyn Nets. For their role in the deal, the C's will receive Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller and a protected 2016 first-rounder from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    This comes the day after an intriguing report from The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:

    A league source said Monday that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is attempting to gather assets to acquire Kevin Love, convinced he can devise a package that would entice Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to move the three-time All-Star, who will be a free agent next season.

    It may be too early to put two and two together, but when it comes to schemers like Ainge, no move like this is made simply for the sake of re-shuffling the deck.

27. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    I'm not usually one to assume things, since doing so tends to make a you-know-what out of you and me. But when it comes to Kevin Love, there would seem little reason to believe that he'll be with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fall.

    Well, aside from the fact that he hasn't been traded yet and, well, that the T-Wolves have appeared reluctant to part ways with their three-time All-Star.

    Things could be heating up on that front, though. As mentioned previously, Danny Ainge's latest maneuver could be the first of many steps toward landing Love in green. Until Love officially finds a new home, the Golden State Warriors have to be considered a serious suitor for his services.

    But don't forget about the Cavs. They'd been mentioned in connection with Love prior to James' return, and only figure to have a stronger hand to play now that LeBron is there to lure his fellow superstar to Rock City. 

    Keep in mind, too, that James neglected to mention either Anthony Bennett or incoming rookie Andrew Wiggins in his letter to Sports Illustrated.

    Coincidence? We'll find out.

26. Utah Jazz

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's put-up-or-shut-up time for the Utah Jazz. Ever since Gordon Hayward turned down Utah's extension offer last October, the team has been adamant about its desire to keep him in Salt Lake City at all costs via restricted free agency.

    And that's exactly what they did. Hayward's agent told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Utah has matched the four-year, $63 million offer he received from the Charlotte Hornets.

    The Jazz put up. Time for Hayward to see if he can get his critics to shut up. 

25. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to make moves of consequence this summer. Between the lack of players under contract (only three heading into the free-agency frenzy) and the need to justify Kobe Bryant's bloated contract, they pretty much had to do something.

    That something won't be signing Carmelo Anthony, who announced he will be re-upping with the Knicks.

    That might not be so bad after all, but only because of the lack of long-term financial ramifications on the contracts that have actually been signed, thereby keeping L.A. in the hunt for all the 2015 free agents its heart desires. Thus far, every move has either been securing a role player or overpaying for a rotation member. 

    Even after taking on Jeremy Lin's salary—and, more importantly, some precious draft considerations—from the Houston Rockets, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers weren't able to make those moves of consequence. 

    Nick Young is on board with a four-year deal for $21.5 million, signing a contract that contains a player option for the final season, according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports. That's a reasonable deal, especially in the wake of the news that the Lakers agreed to a two-year, $18 million signing with Jordan Hill. At least the second year has a team option for the latter season, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan

    It's shaping up to be another frustrating season in Tinseltown. 

24. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    The Milwaukee Bucks won't be waiting around to win now that Jason Kidd's going to be the coach.

    Not that anyone should be surprised. Typically, new owners like to tip things off with a bang. So far, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry would seem no exceptions to the rule.

    By and large, the Bucks should field a solid squad with which Kidd will work. A nucleus of Larry Sanders, Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, (a trimmed-down) O.J. Mayo and rookie Jabari Parker isn't winning the East next year, but it's a nice start nonetheless.

    On paper, all Milwaukee would really need is time and a point guard to develop into something resembling a powerhouse. To that end, the Bucks seem eager to address that second factor this summer. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, they've targeted restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe as a potential floor general.

23. Detroit Pistons

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Now that Jodie Meeks and, to a lesser extent, Cartier Martin and Aaron Gray have gotten paid, it's time for the Detroit Pistons to turn their full attention to Greg Monroe.

    Which, it appears, they have. 

    "We want Greg Monroe back, but obviously it’s got to be a mutual thing, too," head coach/team president Stan Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis. "There’s no hesitation there. From Day 1, and Greg can tell you, I went down and met with him. He was the first player I met with. I went down and met with him within a few days of getting the job and made it clear to him we want him back and we haven’t wavered on that at all."

    But there's more to Monroe's return than just money. Grantland's Zach Lowe recently reported that Monroe doesn't want to play with Josh Smith, though player and team have since refuted that publicly. 

    Whether that's true or not, moving Smith would seem the thing to do if Monroe returns. Detroit's frontcourt was uncomfortably crowded with the trio of Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond in place last season, and it wouldn't be any less jammed in 2014-15 now that Gray is in the mix.

22. Sacramento Kings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The King (i.e. former GM Geoff Petrie) is dead (not dead, just unemployed)! Long live the Sacramento Kings!

    As in, the team that can't seem to shake the habit of doling out questionable contracts to mid-tier free agents. The Kings' latest head-scratcher? The three-year, $16 million deal that Darren Collison just signed, with the understanding that he'll be the starting point guard in Sacramento, per USA Today's Sam Amick.

    Even a fellow Bruin like myself, who went to UCLA while Collison was there, would have a hard time understanding the logic here. Sure, Collison's done well as a fill-in for Chris Paul in New Orleans and L.A., but he couldn't cut it as the starter in Dallas during the 2012-13 season, and would seem to lack the physical strength and sharpened skills to hold down that responsibility now.

    Particularly in California's capital, where he'll have to keep DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay happy while finding open shots for Ben McLemore and rookie Nik Stauskas.

21. New Orleans Pelicans

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    All's quiet on the free-agency front for the New Orleans Pelicans, and for good reason. Between the team's expensive additions last summer (Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans) and will-they-or-won't-they attempt to take Omer Asik off the Houston Rockets' hands this summer, the Pelicans don't have much financial flexibility with which to play around on the market.

    As a result, folks in New Orleans will have to get excited about role players like Jameer Nelson and Francisco Garcia if they're to have any more fun with offseason speculation. So long as Anthony Davis and company can stay healthy and develop some chemistry this coming season, the Pelicans' quiet summer will have been well worth it.

20. Denver Nuggets

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    Like the Pelicans, the Denver Nuggets appear to be taking a cautious approach to free agency, if only because they don't have much money to spend. They're already on the hook for nearly $71 million in guaranteed salary next season, which leaves them with only exceptions and minimum contracts with which to fill out their roster.

    Not that folks in the Mile High City should be all that concerned if Mike Miller turns out to be the only free agent of note with whom the Nuggets meet this summer. The return of Arron Afflalo—along with better health from Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Wilson Chandler and Nate Robinson—should allow the team to compete out West in year two of the Brian Shaw era.

19. New York Knicks

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    Carmelo Anthony has made his decision. He announced on his official website that he will be returning to the Knicks. 

    "I’m willing to ride or die for New York," Melo said.

    Retaining Anthony puts the Knicks in position for a postseason return next year. The Eastern Conference is still wide open—more so than ever—and with Melo in the fold, playing alongside Jose Calderon and a healthy Amar'e Stoudemire, New York's offense should keep it in the hunt.

    "It’s his ability to stay, be patient, lead and watch us develop a winner," team president Phil Jackson said, per the New York Daily News' Peter Botte. "There’s no instantaneous winner that we think is going to happen to the Knicks right now, but we’re going to be a lot better.”

    Well, Melo stayed.

    Now it's up to the Knicks to be a lot better.

18. Charlotte Hornets

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Dirk Nowitzki's presumptive return to the Dallas Mavericks aside, the Charlotte Hornets struck the first big blow of free agency (sort of) by signing Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet. The Jazz have already matched, though, forcing the Hornets to respond in kind.

    And they have.

    Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports reports the Hornets have agreed to terms with stretch-forward Marvin Williams on a two-year deal worth $14 million. Williams isn't the versatile point forward Hayward is, but he replaces the floor spacing of the now-departed Josh McRoberts.

    At this point it's also pretty clear the Hornets are targeting all the Tar Heels. Here's to owner Michael Jordan resisting the urge to trade for Raymond Felton.

17. Brooklyn Nets

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Just because Jason Kidd is gone doesn't mean the Brooklyn Nets are ready to throw in the towel and start over.

    Or maybe it does.

    Although the Nets elected to acquire Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev as part of a three-team trade involving the Cavs and the Celtics, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, they have officially lost Paul Pierce to the Washington Wizards. 

    Pierce isn't a superstar stat-hoarder at 36, but his leadership, ability to make plays and fearless clutch gene make for a big loss. 

    Kevin Garnett isn't expected to demand a trade or retire, though, according to Sheridan Hoops' Michael Scotto. That's the bright side of this dark time.

    Even after Pierce's departure, Brooklyn is still flush with outrageous salary obligations. Deron Williams has been a picture of frailty since joining the Nets in 2011, and while ankle surgery this summer should help to alleviate his concerns, it would still behoove the squad to look after its $100 million investment. Jack, who turns 31 in October, should be able to do that, and then some, while earning his keep (i.e. $6.3 million per year through 2016-17).

16. Phoenix Suns

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Phoenix Suns were nothing if not ambitious in their futile pursuit of LeBron James, but at what cost? 

    The Suns were fortunate to score a meeting in Cleveland with Rich Paul, James' agent, but saw Channing Frye fly to Orlando shortly thereafter. The 31-year-old's return from a heart condition played a pivotal part in Phoenix's surprising rise from the ashes of the Western Conference. According to NBA.com, the Suns scored nearly eight points more per 100 possessions with Frye, the team's chief pick-and-pop practitioner, on the floor.

    With those bits of business beyond their control, the Suns must now hunker down in their efforts to re-sign Eric Bledsoe. That shouldn't be too problematic, given Phoenix's ability to match any offer for their restricted free agent, though finding the right mix of talent around Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will still be paramount to the Suns taking the next step into playoff contention out West.

    General manager Ryan McDonough must have thought Isaiah Thomas qualified as "right." 

    Completing a sign-and-trade that sent the draft rights to Alex Oriakhi and a $7 million trade exception to the Sacramento Kings, the Suns landed the Sacramento Kings point guard on a steal of a contract—four years and $27 million, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski

    This does not preclude letting Bledsoe go, as Phoenix's notion of running out two floor generals at all times requires having three quality ones on the roster. Thomas just adds to one of the deadliest backcourts in the Association, making it awfully hard for opponents to run the floor with these Suns. 

    Don't allow the re-signing of P.J. Tucker to a three-year deal worth $16.5 million—per AZCentral.com's Paul Coro— to fly under the radar, though. The underrated small forward was a key cog in Phoenix's system last year, rebounding well for his position, thriving on the defensive end and providing contributions from the perimeter. 

    Phoenix might not have secured LeBron, but it certainly used its cap well thus far. 

15. Toronto Raptors

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    The Toronto Raptors need only fill out the fringes of their roster now that Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson are set to return. 

    To that end, GM Masai Ujiri is on the march. According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the Raptors have re-signed Greivis Vasquez and, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, brought former Raptor James Johnson back to Toronto.

    Other than that, the excitement of the summer would appear to be over and done with for the Raptors. That being said, with Ujiri at the controls, the league will always have to be on high alert for a deal coming down from beyond The Wall.

14. Atlanta Hawks

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If there's any team that's poised to clean up in the second phase of free agency, it's the Atlanta Hawks.

    According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Hawks were hard after Luol Deng, arguably the best player to hit the market this summer aside from Miami's Big 3 and Carmelo Anthony. With that scenario now out of the picture (we'll explain why in a few slides), Atlanta must now find other avenues for bolstering its rotation and building around the sneaky-great play of power forward Al Horford, who continues to recover from a pectoral injury that ended his season last year.

    The Hawks have already signed Thabo Sefolosha and, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Kent Bazemore, he of towel-waving fame. Danny Ferry just continues to make all the right moves, slowly morphing this team from one mired in mid-level mediocrity to one that could become a dark horse in the East.

13. Miami Heat

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    Welp...it was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?

    After four years of Finals appearances and a pair of championship parades, LeBron James has decided to take his talents back to Cleveland.

    Not all hope is lost for the Miami Heat, though. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Heat have re-signed Chris Bosh to a max deal and could soon have new contracts in place for Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

    Throw in Luol Deng—whom the Heat inked Sunday to a two-year, $20 million tender, per USA Today's Sam Amick—you've got at least a reasonable facsimile of the Big Three core. 

    Of course, there's nothing Riles can do that will truly numb the sting of losing LeBron. Without James, the Heat are practically toast as far as competing for their fifth straight Eastern Conference crown.

    But retaining two-thirds of the Big 3 should allow Miami to stay in the playoff picture. If nothing else, it sure beats the alternative: starting over from scratch with a terrible, tank-worthy team.

12. Washington Wizards

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Trevor Ariza is out, Paul Pierce is in.

    This is not a drill.

    After re-signing Marcin Gortat and losing Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Wizards broke out the welcoming mat for Pierce, who agreed to join Washington on a two-year $11 million deal, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

    Pierce doesn't immediately make the Wizards Eastern Conference favorites—not unless his clocks turn back to 2005—but he's an adequate replacement for Ariza. 

    Future financial flexibility and Kevin Durant pipe dreams in mind, Pierce might even be an upgrade.

11. Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks swung and missed on their Plan A in free agency once again, but that doesn't mean they don't have some rather attractive backups in store.

    According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Mavs have moved on from the Melodrama to extend a three-year, $46 million offer sheet to Chandler Parsons. As a restricted free agent, Parsons' future will ultimately be at the mercy of the Houston Rockets. If nothing else, Dallas' bold stroke should throw a wrench into Houston's free-agency plans.

    And in the event that Parsons doesn't wind up in Big D, the Mavs could court some of the other quality wings on the market (Lance Stephenson, anyone?), assuming they don't all fly off the board in a hurried flurry.

10. Memphis Grizzlies

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    You know free agency is spiraling out of control when Mike Miller, who seemed like he was on his way out just a couple years ago, is now demanding a midlevel salary (i.e $4-4.5 million per year) and might actually get it. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets are all eying Miller at that price. LeBron reportedly has talked to Miller about joining him in Cleveland as well. 

    The overtures of the four-time MVP appear to be working. 

    Not only does Fox Sports' Sam Amico report that the Cavs are closing in on a deal with the veteran sharpshooter, but Miller himself has posted a farewell to Memphis on his Instagram page.

    Don't think the Grizz will complain too much, though. Not after securing the services of Vince Carter in a Friday night deal that seemed to come out of nowhere and progress quite quickly. Vinsanity is now on board for three years and $12 million, per Wojnarowski, though the final year is only partially guaranteed in an attempt to mitigate the potential age-related decline. 

    Whereas Miller was a one-trick pony, Carter is still capable of thriving as a sixth man, one who can knock down triples and settle in as a wing stopper on the less-glamorous end. At $4 million per year, he's one of the offseason's nicer signings. 

9. Golden State Warriors

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Golden State Warriors used up most of their free-agent ammunition when they signed Shaun Livingston to a three-year, $16 million to back up Stephen Curry. Should LeBron James' return to Cleveland trigger a blockbuster trade between the Cavs and the T-Wolves, the Dubs might've been S.O.L. on the Kevin Love front, too.

    Instead, Golden State has an opportunity to return to the negotiating table with Minnesota now that the dust is settling. If the Warriors know what's good for them and their championships aspirations, they'll do whatever it takes to bring Love to the Bay Area, short of sending Curry to the team that should've drafted him in 2009.

8. Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers just about shot their free-agent wad for the summer by adding Chris Kaman and Steve Blake to their rail-thin bench. 

    The bigger news in Rip City regards the future of LaMarcus Aldridge. According to The Oregonian's Joe Freeman (h/t CBS Sports' James Herbert), Aldridge won't sign an extension with the Blazers this summer, but only because he'd prefer to ink a five-year deal worth approximately $108 million to stay in Portland come 2015.

    "I want to be the best Blazer. Ever," Aldridge told The Oregonian. If he does, indeed, stick around for another six seasons, Aldridge will have ample opportunity to become just that.

7. Chicago Bulls

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bulls would like to welcome Carmelo Anthony Pau Gasol to the Windy City.

    Whiffing Melo didn't stop the Bulls from making a free-agency splash. Gasol announced on Twitter that he would be relocating to Chicago, after turning down a lucrative two-year deal with the Lakers, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Don't make the mistake of coining Gasol a consolation prize. In essence, that's what he is: Chicago's contingency plan. But like Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes explains, he can be so much more:

    Gasol makes Chicago significantly better than it was with Boozer, and while Rose's health remains the pivotal factor, adding a brilliant offensive player to the frontcourt—one with a phenomenal passing eye and championship pedigree—is absolutely huge.

    Maybe Chicago would have preferred Melo, but the truth is, Gasol could be the perfect piece to get the Bulls back to the spot they've been chasing since Rose went down.

    With Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Gasol in the fold, the Bulls have the deepest frontcourt rotation of any NBA team. Provided everyone—including Derrick Rose—stays healthy, they could find themselves playing deep into next spring, all while asking the question:

    Melo who?

6. Indiana Pacers

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Indiana Pacers ought not play with fire this time of year, lest they want to get burned by Lance Stephenson and watch the crux of their Eastern Conference contender crumble therein.

    Stephenson was none too pleased with the Pacers' initial offer of $44 million over five years. Since then, the Lakers, Celtics and Mavs (among others) have all tested the waters with the NBA's most volatile free agent, per ESPN's Chris Broussard.

    Now that LeBron's made his choice and the rest of the wing-forward market is picking up, Stephenson should soon have a better idea of what his value truly is—and whether Indy's offer is commensurate with it.

5. Houston Rockets

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Karma has a way of biting back at the worst times, doesn't it?

    It's certainly snuck up on the Houston Rockets. GM Daryl Morey, who has a history of bamboozling the rest of the league with his own salary-cap genius, saw his plans go up in smoke when Chandler Parsons, a restricted free agent, sign a three-year, $46 million offer sheet with the Mavs.

    Dallas' dalliances seemed to throw a wrench in Houston's plans to lure Chris Bosh back to his home state. All seemed clear on that front, once James made his latest decision.

    That is, until Bosh decided he'd rather stay in Miami—and pocket the max money that awaits him—than chase championships with Dwight Howard and James Harden in Space City while sacrificing about $30 million in potential pre-tax earnings.

    Not that the Rockets should feel particularly spurned and/or screwed. They were a top-four team in the West last season and figure to be right there again in 2014-15—especially after signing Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal, per USA Today's Sam Amick.

    Retaining Chandler Parsons is still paramount to their title aspirations. If they're willing to match his enormous offer sheet, the Rockets will continue to have a nice thing going. 

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Apparently, four trips to the Finals and two championships in four years weren’t enough to convince LeBron James to stay with the Miami Heat—not when strong hometown ties are involved. As James wrote so poignantly in Sports Illustrated, with the help of Lee Jenkins:

    Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

    Without James, the Cavs would’ve been an intriguing team in the East, but nothing to write home about. Up until LeBron’s signing, Kyrie Irving, who’s now under contract until 2020, was the only sure thing in Cleveland, and even his credentials could be called into question by his poor defense and lack of a winning track record.

    Dion Waiters is a talented player but far too streaky to be relied upon at this point. Tristan Thompson is a serviceable big man but nothing more. Anderson Varejao hasn’t played anything close to a full season in four years. Andrew Wiggins is a rookie, and Anthony Bennett might as well be.

    (These last two may or may not be on their way out of Cleveland, if their absence from LeBron's letter is any indication.)

    With LeBron, though, you’re looking at a legitimate contender in the East, if not the favorite to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. That says as much about James’ singular greatness as it does about the weakness of the field he’ll be up against.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    I could go on and on about the roles Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar will fill for the Los Angeles Clippers and the virtues of pushing for a sign-and-trade to bring Paul Pierce back to his hometown for a mini-Ubuntu reunion.

    But if you really want to be entertained by Clippers-related news, check out the Twitter feeds of Dan Woike, Bill Plaschke and Jack Wang. They're among the intrepid reporters who've been live-tweeting the events and memorable quotes from the trial between Donald and Shelly Sterling over the future of the franchise.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    There will be no Pau Gasol in Oklahoma City, but there is still hope.

    Losing Thabo Sefolosha hurts. Missing out on Gasol stings a little as well. But the Thunder aren't wallowing in free-agency sadness.

    The sharpshooting Anthony Morrow has agreed to join the Thunder, according to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry. Adding him strengthens Oklahoma City's offensive attack, and his versatility on the wing should help alleviate the ramifications of Sefolosha's departure.

    Those expecting the Thunder to make an unfathomable acquisition will be disappointed. This, however, is still a team that can contend in the brutally built Western Conference.

    Hell, this is the second-best team in the NBA.

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    No news is good news for the San Antonio Spurs. Then again, so, too, is actual good news for the defending NBA champs.

    The team announced that Gregg Popovich had agreed to a multi-year extension to continue coaching in the Alamo City. With this and the re-signings of Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, the Spurs have already ensured that next season's squad will look just like the one that lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy last month.

    And, in Spurs world, that's a really, really ridiculously beautiful thing. 

     

     

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