GMs, prepare your pitches.
LeBron James, arguably the most coveted star in all of sports, is back on the free agent market.
Every franchise would love to have him. But the reality is, from a financial and competitive standpoint, only a few would be able to make it work. And the Thunder isn’t one of them. There’s about as good a chance he’s playing for the Dallas Cowboys next season (you know Jerry Jones is at least trying to get a meeting with his reps).
But that doesn’t mean Tuesday afternoon’s news — that LeBron will opt-out of his deal with the Heat and test the open market — doesn’t affect the Thunder. It could, but just in fringe ways.
Here are the two biggest, one positive and one negative:
-Boost in competition: Among the teams that seem to be in the realistic running for The King’s services are a pair of OKC’s closest Western Conference competitors. Houston can clear enough space to pair him with James Harden and Dwight Howard. And there’s rumblings that his friendships with Chris Paul and Doc Rivers could potentially lure him to the Clippers. Either of those moves would immediately create another superpower out West and toss another unappealing pre-Finals road block in the Thunder’s way. Plus, it would shift an already comical conference imbalance even more so toward the West. Not something OKC wants to see.
-Salary fallout: The appeal of potentially landing LeBron can make GMs do some crazy things. In order to afford him, teams will have to gut their roster to open up cap space. We saw it four offseasons ago, when the Heat basically dumped all its non-Big Three guys, trading Michael Beasley to the Wolves and Daequan Cook to the Thunder (along with the 18th overall pick!!) for basically nothing. If the Rockets are going to land LeBron, they’d likely have to shed Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts. Chandler Parsons is a restricted free agent. Francisco Garcia is about to hit the open market. It’d be nearly impossible for Houston to land LeBron and keep any of them. The Clippers also have a ton of committed money next season. To land LeBron, they’d probably need to be freed of a few deals. Guys like J.J. Redick (making $6.8 million next season), Jamal Crawford (making $5.4 million next season, which would fit nicely into the Thunder’s trade exception) and Matt Barnes (making $3.4 million next season) could become expendable. Just like in 2010, the Thunder could become the beneficiary. And it’s not just limited to LeBron. Take the Bulls for example. To get Carmelo Anthony — a move they are rumored to be maneuvering toward — they’ll also have to shed some deals. Could Jimmy Butler become available? Likely not, unless absolutely necessary. But how about a guy like Mike Dunleavy? He makes $3 million next season and seems like a perfect candidate for that Thunder trade exception. Because of the LeBron/Carmelo sweepstakes, he’s the kind of guy that could become available on the cheap.