The NBA long has been about seminal summers. In 2010, it was the free-agency free-for-all of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, etc. This summer, it was the culmination of the United States’ climb back to definitive Olympic dominance.
And 2014? That’s when the Magic can attempt to return to relevance, when the Lakers can re-affirm enduring relevance, and when the Heat’s trio of stars faces the first contract decision of their combined South Florida tenure.
Start with the Magic, where everything seemingly will restart with 2014, when they could have enough salary-cap space, in the wake of their dump of Dwight Howard, to sign a pair of top-tier free agents.
Granted, it’s not the blueprint laid out by new General Manager Rob Hennigan, but if the Magic don’t net the type of top-of-the-lottery picks Hennigan’s previous employer, the Oklahoma City Thunder, netted, then cap-space-gone-wild could prove an efficient Plan B.
Orlando actually could squeeze in a top-tier free agent next summer and forgo a 2014 chase, but a middling 2013 free-agency class beyond Chris Paul, one highlighted by James Harden, Josh Smith and Paul Millsap, hardly warrants such expenditure from a team in extended-recovery mode. (And forget potential 2013 free agents Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala, players the Magic already bypassed in the Howard trade.)
Then there are the Lakers, who reinvented themselves this summer with the acquisition of Howard and stand poised to do the same in 2014, when the contracts Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasolexpire. Even with a re-signed Howard and Steve Nash in the final year of his contract, the Lakers, too, could double up at the top of 2014 free agency. And if you don’t think the Lakers could give up on Kobe, remember the Buss family once traded Shaq.
Which brings us to the Heat and those just-in-case 2014 early-termination options James, Wade and Bosh worked into their contracts amid the Heat’s July 2010 euphoria.
The universal assumption around the league is all three will opt-out in 2014. Such moves could be as benign as merely reloading with additional seasons that will carry each deep into their 30s or even as altruistic as re-signing at lower figures to allow Pat Rileygreater personnel latitude and Micky Arison a reduced luxury-tax burden.
With one or even two more championships, they’d be, well, fools to go anywhere else.
But two years also can be a long time, long enough for Howard to prove the maturity required to lure a pair of tag-along superstars to Los Angeles, long enough for the Magic to score with a pair ofKevin Durant-like lottery picks and again make Orlando a free-agency destination.
All of this hardly should be taken as a warning or even an imminent concern.
But what the Magic have done with their cap situation, what the Lakers could do with theirs, means it’s coming:
The same chatter that enveloped the Cleveland Cavaliers during James’ final seasons of his contract there, the same type of speculation that besieged the Toronto Raptors during Bosh’s final months there.
In August 2012, July 2014 hardly should be a story.
But the Magic, through their Dwight-cleansing machinations, have made it that way. And if Howard emerges as the face of the Lakers, then the Lakers, too, could become captivated by the possibilities of 2014.
In a league of seminal summers, 2014 beckons. It just does.
IN THE LANE
THE LEBRON FACTOR: No, the NBA is not back to LeBron James bashing, not after his NBA Finals and Olympic championships. But his name did come up again this past week in an interview with ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy when it came to the subject of loaded rosters such as those of the Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. “I think every league should model themselves after the NFL,” the former New York Knicks and Houston Rocketscoach said on ESPN Radio in New York. “Have a hard cap. Be able to pay your guys whatever you want. Like if you want to give LeBron James half of your salary, then so be it, because if you didn’t have a limit on what the best players could make, then those players would spread out to all teams versus congregate on a few good teams. I think that would be better for many cities and fan bases.” That creates a pair of debates: Could a team with LeBron and 11 minimum-salary players contend? And would a superstar, assuming something close to the current NBA cap, actually opt for a $50 million annual salary versus playing alongside complementary talent?
PART II: Speaking of such superstar-and-scrubs possibilities as mentioned above, Adam Kuperstein and Steve Goldstein had an interesting debate on their “Kup & Goldie Show” on WQAM this past week, when they mulled how many teams would be championship contenders merely by adding LeBron to their current roster. Hmm. First consider that even when surrounded by the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and even Antawn Jamison and Shaq, James fell short of a title (and often true “championship contention”) while with the Cleveland Cavaliers. And it would be difficult to argue that the current Charlotte Bobcats or Orlando Magic possess the non-LeBron elements of what those Cavs rosters possessed. For that matter, not sold on the current Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons or Sacramento Kings, either. But could he make at least 20 teams contenders (including even with Kyrie Irving and the current Cavaliers)? Sure.
OLYMPIC MOVE: Turning 31 this coming season, Heat guard Dwyane Wade finds the under-23 Olympic debate largely an issue for others, his Olympic career essentially over. “Does my opinion matter?” he said of potential future age limits at the Games. “I think it’s great the way it is. But you also always got to understand change is a part of life. It was a change in ’92 to have professional athletes play. It became a great thing when the Dream Team [came] into the Olympics. . . . We’ve got a lot of great young players. It’ll be unfortunate, but if it happens, it’ll be an adjustment that’ll have to be made.”
MOVING ON: Former Heat draft product Patrick Beverley, the 2009 second-round draft pick who collected two seasons of guaranteed money from the Heat despite never playing a game for the team, has opted to continue to his career in Russia with Spartak St. Petersburg, where he has emerged as a defensive stopper and EuroCup MVP. The former Arkansas standout had a tryout with his hometown Chicago Bulls earlier this summer and received interest from other NBA teams, as well. The Heat no longer retain his draft rights, which they had obtained from the Lakers.
ANOTHER SHOT: Jermaine O’Neal‘s twisted history with the Heat included remaining available deep enough into free agency to shake free for the veteran minimum, ultimately signing this past week with the Phoenix Suns. O’Neal said a meeting with former Heat coach Alvin Gentry, who now guides the Suns, sold him on Phoenix. Even with it a chore getting O’Neal on the practice court during his season-and-a-half stay in South Florida, he did attract interest from the undersized Heat in recent months. For now, from a Heat perspective, he’ll be remembered for coming up short against the Celtics with the Heat in 2010 and then coming up short against the Heat with the Celtics in 2011. This past season, he couldn’t even stay healthy enough to make it to the finish with the Celtics before they faced the Heat in the postseason. Remarkably, O’Neal is only 33.
25. Number of current or former NBA players to medal in basketball at the London Olympics, with LeBron James the only member of the Heat in that group.