In a thoughtful and moving open letter through Sports Illustrated, LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland and sent the sports world into a frenzy.
Instantly, the Cavaliers become the most compelling team in the NBA — a title contender led by the game’s biggest talent in the midst of a legendary story of redemption. But the impact will be far-ranging, sending reverberations throughout the rest of the league. The first big domino of this dramatic free agency period has finally tilted over. More are soon to follow.
How does this affect the Thunder? Here’s a few potential ways:
-At this point of the offseason, from a Thunder perspective, every league-wide move carries a ‘Does that hurt or help OKC in its pursuit of Pau Gasol?’ tag. But despite the magnitude of LeBron’s decision, I’m not sure it has much of an affect on Pau either way. Gasol’s reported suitors — the Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, Knicks and Thunder — never had a shot at LeBron. Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, has interest from three of those teams. And his decision, which reportedly will come at some point soon, may have the biggest affect on Gasol. It sounds as if Anthony has crossed the Lakers off his list — which may also mean Gasol crosses L.A. off his, too — and is down to the Bulls or Knicks. It would seem to benefit OKC’s chances of landing Gasol if Anthony went to the Bulls. It would suck up the money Chicago could have thrown at Gasol and basically eliminate New York as an appealing destination for Pau, seeing as the Knicks woud be in severe rebuilding mode. So Anthony’s decision is the one to watch. Also, Gasol tweeted this on Friday afternoon: “I’m very close to deciding. Thank you all for your interest and support.”
-After LeBron left Miami, it was widely expected that Chris Bosh would soon follow the same strategy, bolting for a max deal in Houston. But Bosh surprised everyone late Friday afternoon, when Yahoo Sports reported that he’d agreed to stay in Miami. A bit of a break for the Thunder and other Western Conference contenders, as Bosh seemed to be an ideal fit in Houston, a championship-level stretch four that would possibly vault them to elite status. But Bosh spurning the Rockets creates what could be another issue for the Thunder. With a sudden need and enough cap space, there’s a chance Houston enters the Pau Gasol chase. Something to watch.
-Cleveland is now pursuing Mike Miller, a long-time friend and former teammate of LeBron. Miller is a Thunder target, but even if he doesn’t land in Cleveland, OKC seems to be behind Memphis and Denver in the sweepstakes for his services. Long-shot.
-Ray Allen has continuously said he wants to finish his career with LeBron James, wherever that may be. So it’s no surprise his name has surfaced as a guy the Cavaliers are likely to bring in on a cheap deal. But if that hits a snag at all, you’d have to think the Thunder would at least gauge his interest. OKC loves veterans, could use a 2-guard and is in desperate need of shooting. Allen checks all those boxes. And if he can’t play with LeBron, wouldn’t a pairing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook be the next best thing? Open shots all around. It’s a highly unlikely scenario. But an interesting thought.
-Miami suddenly becomes a team to watch in free agency. LeBron’s departure basically takes a blowtorch to the team’s appeal for some free agents, as it knocks them out of championship contention. But Pat Riley can still promote the weather, the market, the nightlife and now, suddenly, add a ton of unused money to those offers. It’s unlikely that affects the Thunder’s free agent plans. But maybe a guy like Anthony Morrow, who OKC was rumored to have some interest in, decides to play in Miami for more money.