Biggest Takeways from Official Start of 2014 NBA Free Agency

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IJuly 11, 2014

Biggest Takeways from Official Start of 2014 NBA Free Agency

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    Leo Correa/Associated Press

    The 2014 NBA free-agency period has been filled with a lot of waiting, but it was worth it for the monster surprise delivered this week.

    With LeBron James officially going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the entire landscape of the league has changed. James announced the news Friday in his first-person essay with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, then the rest of the league got busy.

    Every major player and team seemed to be waiting for the first domino to fall, and James going back to Cleveland was just that. Chris Bosh suddenly became Miami's top-dollar target, and he quickly agreed to a five-year, $118 million deal to return to South Beach. Dwyane Wade has yet to make his official decision, but he's expected to decide soon, too, and Miami along with Chicago have been widely billed as the favorites.

    While money talks in pro sports, LeBron proved it's not always going to be a matter of dollars driving players' decisions. That's just one of the takeaways from the start of free agency, so let's take a look at a few more lessons learned so far this offseason.

LeBron James Runs the Basketball World

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Probably the most notable takeaway from this offseason is that the basketball world stops for LeBron James.

    In a typical year, the more significant signings would already have been out of the way before this weekend's flurry of deal making. Instead, LeBron's delay in deciding to come home caused everything to flip-flop, as some of the lesser players landed deals before the stars decided what to do.

    It makes sense when you think about it.

    Even if a team like the Phoenix Suns didn't think it had a realistic shot at James or Carmelo Anthony, it was prudent to keep the door open just in case. You never know when a star is going to come calling, even if the chance is slim.

    It's that mindset that has kept certain teams away from spending big, but it's also kept players hesitant to choose where they want to play. Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger made the leap, and they may pay for it based on what's left for the Miami Heat.

    There are veterans out there who need to know what the landscape is like in order to properly chase a title. With LeBron in Cleveland and the chain reaction started, other pieces will fall into place.

    Just think about all the different teams that have been directly impacted by James returning to Cleveland.

    The New York Knicks had to wait on Carmelo Anthony—who might have been waiting on James—before reaching a near-max contract deal with the small forward Saturday. The Chicago Bulls were waiting on Anthony, too, but then quickly moved on. They reached a deal with Pau Gasol Saturday and could potentially ramp up their pursuit of Dwyane Wade.

    Then there's Houston, which had aspirations of landing either Anthony or Bosh but missed out on both and now is scrambling to add more talent to its roster.

    LeBron's decision has turned the basketball world on its head, basically. Now the logjam has been lifted, but it couldn't happen until James made his choice. Plus, Cleveland is suddenly a premier free agency destination and a threat to trade for another star.

From Worst to First in an Instant

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    Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has seen a wave of good fortune come his way the past years.
    Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has seen a wave of good fortune come his way the past years.Jason Miller/Associated Press

    After landing the first pick in the draft three years ago—and twice more since—the Cleveland Cavaliers have suddenly skyrocketed from cellar dweller to a legitimate NBA title favorite for next year.

    No, really, the Cavs are a 4-1 title favorite in Vegas.

    Remember, it seems unlikely that adding LeBron James will be the only personnel acquisition the Cavs will make. There are already some rumors floating around about who could join James in Cleveland. Although there won't be a ton of cap space to utilize, the Cavs have their mid-level exception as well as plenty of trade assets in young players and draft picks to offer up. 

    Marc Stein of has indicated that Kevin Love might be interested in joining James in Cleveland. 

    Source close to situation says Kevin Love indeed "intrigued" by idea of being dealt to Cavs and would commit long there if traded there.

    Point being, it might not be long before James has other superstars around him, even if it's young players like Anthony Bennett or Andrew Wiggins making the leap to join Kyrie Irving at an All-Star level.

    The lesson here is that a team's fortunes can turn around in one swift moment. James may have altered the course of Cleveland's future completely, and perhaps the entire landscape of the NBA. As he's done his whole career, James justified the hype that surrounds everything he does. 

Teams Are Willing to Overpay for Shooting

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    If there's been one big theme from the other signings outside of LeBron thus far, it's that shooters are the ones getting overpaid the most.

    This has been a trend for quite some time, but it seems that three-point specialists are in vogue more than ever before. Teams that don't have a few three-point marksmen are doing their offense a great disservice, so it's no surprise that every team is trying to load up and buy floor spacing.

    It all started with the Detroit Pistons signing Jodie Meeks to a three-year deal worth $19 million. Stan Van Gundy was one of the most notable coaches to really succeed when making his teams shoot threes by the bundle, and given Detroit's almost complete lack of talent in that area along with Van Gundy's power in the front office, Meeks was acquired.

    That Detroit paid him upwards of $6 million per year, even with everyone else still on the board, was a pretty big shock. Meeks made just $1.5 million last year with the Los Angeles Lakers.  

    Van Gundy explained the Meeks deal to local Detroit media, essentially saying money wasn't going to be an obstacle (h/t Detroit Free Press):

    "You can always look at every deal and find people that got paid lower amounts of money or whatever, but you can also find people who got paid higher, so it comes down to individual situations and what you need and again, for us, he was the guy we made sure we got.

    “I thought we had to be very aggressive early on to get that done, and we did that."

    That surprising contract set the market for a few other shooting specialists.

    Ben Gordon signed with the Orlando Magic for two years and $9 million, even though he couldn't earn much playing time with Charlotte the last two seasons. C.J. Miles pulled down four years and $18 million from the Indiana Pacers, doubling his salary from last year with the Cavaliers.

    More and more NBA offenses are relying on three-point shooting, so it's not a surprise that as the demand for shooters has grown, so has their price tag.

Rising Cap Leading to Bigger Salaries

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Salaries in general may seem a little inflated this offseason, but there's a reason behind it. While it's still possible to get good value, free agency usually leads to teams spending a little more than they should.

    There's more to it than that, though. With the salary cap rising this year beyond expectations ($63.065 million) and the future of the league looking to be in good shape, teams may be more willing to overpay in the first year of the contract in hopes that in three or four seasons, it looks like a steal by comparison.

    That makes plenty of sense, especially for the players who are hovering between star- or key-piece status. The mid-level exception just isn't going to cut it for those guys anymore.

    A good example is Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley. At 23 years old, Bradley still has plenty of potential to become a better shooter and ball-handler, but right now, his main contribution is his on-ball defense.

    Yet, it's telling that Boston decided to lock him up on a four-year, $32 million deal despite having Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart in the backcourt. Part of that may have been fearing a larger offer sheet, but some of it may also be that Boston doesn't necessarily view the deal as an overpay if salaries are going to continue to rise.

    It seems like a decent strategy to retain assets that aren't depreciating, at least.

    The Washington Wizards decided to lock up Marcin Gortat for five years and $60 million, even at age 30, and it's doubtful he'll do anything but hold steady or decline. Perhaps Washington is confident that $12 million for a solid center in 2019, with the salary cap growing, will actually be a pretty good bargain.

Restricted Free Agency More Dangerous Than Ever

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    It was only a matter of time before we saw teams really start to use the loopholes in the CBA to their advantage. The Houston Rockets brought "poison pill" contracts into the lexicon, but there are lots of little ways to stick it to teams that leave restricted free agents dangling out there.

    This time, it's Houston that may end up on the business end of a tricky offer sheet. The Dallas Mavericks have reportedly signed Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet. The Rockets have until late Sunday night to match it, and Yahoo Sports Andrian Wojnarowksi reports they'll be using all time available before making a decision. Any other moves Houston had in mind will have to be put on hold until a decision on Parsons is reached.

    We've seen another example of why failing to extend a young player before free agency can hurt, as the Charlotte Hornets put in a four-year offer worth $63 million to Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. He signed it.

    Now, Utah has decided to match that offer and bring back Hayward, per Sam Amick of USA Today, but letting him hit the open market likely drove up his price.

    The Hornets made the biggest offer possible, which obviously isn't ideal for Utah, but they also loaded it with potential landmines. Hayward's offer sheet includes a player option after the third season (which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent if declined) and a 15 percent trade kicker in his salary, which might make him tougher to move down the road.

    Basically, Charlotte punished Utah for failing to extend Hayward, even if it knew the Jazz intended to match. From Hayward's point of view, it's perfect, as he gets the max money and flexibility most players crave.

    These kind of deals may lead to players and agents being more willing to test the restricted free-agency waters, but it should also make teams more willing to pony up the cash early and avoid these kinds of situations.

Rebuilding Doesn't Always Mean Penny Pinching

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When you see a rebuilding team like the Orlando Magic enter free agency with tons of cap space, it's always interesting to see how the club uses it.

    For some teams, like the Boston Celtics this year or the Utah Jazz last offseason, the space will be used to absorb contracts in exchange for draft picks. It's a simple case of trading one asset for another that better fits what a team needs.

    There are other ways to utilize cap space when you're rebuilding, however, and the Magic put that on display this year.

    Signing Channing Frye away from a good Phoenix Suns team and a bevy of contenders that would love to have him was a brilliant move by Magic general manager Rob Hennigan—even if Frye doesn't appear to fit in with such a young team.

    At four years and $32 million, Frye didn't exactly come cheap, but there's logic behind getting him. Orlando was scraping near the minimum salary number, which means the space below that line would be distributed to the players on the roster. Essentially, it would be wasted.

    So instead of burning money, the Magic honed in on something every team wants and needs in today's NBA: a sweet-shooting stretch 4.

    Frye will be a great trade asset at this year's deadline or further down the line, and for the time being, he'll help Orlando space the floor and give its young guards actual driving lanes to explore. It's hard to develop when your boundaries are limited, and Frye's presence as a shooting big man expands them for everyone on the roster.

    Having a veteran presence has value as well, and the Magic needed that after letting Jameer Nelson walk and trading Arron Afflalo. This was still a "rebuilding" acquisition, even if it didn't appear to be one on the surface.

    The Ben Gordon signing is a bit tougher to explain, but signing Frye shows that you can still spend on free agents and play for the future at the same time.