The NBA, A-through-Z: Zeroing in on 2014

Ball Don't Lie

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We end with zeroing in on 2014.

Oh, wait. That’s something we’re not looking forward to.

LeBron James is a free agent next summer. Or, at least, he could be if he wanted to be, and opted out of the final year of his contract. The same goes for his Miami cohorts in Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, and Dwyane Wade. Kobe Bryant is a free agent next summer, as is teammate Pau Gasol, and so is Maverick-for-life Dirk Nowitzki. As discussed earlier on Tuesday, Luol Deng is a free agent, as are former All-Stars Paul Pierce and Danny Granger. Like LeBron, Carmelo Anthony could opt out and be a free agent if he chooses that path. Zach Randolph will be available as well, along with a litany of restricted members of the 2010 draft class that don’t sign contract extensions between now and the end of October.

It’s a deep pool. And it is one I’d prefer to not have to talk about until we start settling in for a series of 2013-14 season post-mortems sometime next summer. Because, as we hopefully learned with Grant Hill and Tim Duncan during the 1999-00 season, and LeBron during the 2009-10 season, a year’s worth of in-season chatter about impending free agency can be downright embarrassing in retrospect. There are games on, and not cap holds to carp about.

That won’t stop some media types, especially the cable TV gasbags that don’t really watch the games at night as they prep to fill up an hour of your time the next morning, from bugging all of the names listed above about decisions that they’re months away from making. ESPN’s Chris Broussard, a regular on one of those gasbag cable shows, talked about as much with LeBron James recently:

"I have absolutely no idea," James recently told ESPN.com. "I would love to spend the rest of my career in Miami with this great team and great organization as we continue to compete for championships. That's ideal. But we don't know what may happen from now to the end of the season. That's the nature of the business. It's the nature of not knowing what tomorrow brings.”

[…]

"I owe it to myself, I owe it my teammates and I owe it to the Miami Heat to stay focused," he said. "As a leader, I'm not even going to let that side of the business get me unfocused on what I'm trying to do and that's trying to win another championship.

"I'm going to try to [stop the discussion about free agency], but you always have reporters who are going to always bring it up. They're going to change the question and make it sound like something else. But it will get to a point, if I continue to hear it, where I will say, 'Hey guys, I've answered the question and out of respect, let's talk about this after the season."'

When James did the rounds during the 2009-10 season, let’s face it, he was self-aggrandizing and digging the attention. He’s done quite a bit of growing since then.

When Tim Duncan did the rounds during the 1999-00 season … well, he didn’t really do the rounds. Though he eventually visited Orlando as a free agent in 2000, Duncan shot down any bit of questioning about his free agent status during his team’s attempt at a title defense.

Grant Hill did not do as much during the same year, mostly because Grant Hill is incredibly polite, and could not say “no” to answering the same free agent questions in every city his Detroit Pistons visited. The pressures of that free agent tour were part of the reason he was guilted into playing on a bum ankle that eventually sent his career into a tailspin.

How will LeBron handle it? If his discussion with Broussard is any indication, he seems to be a split down the middle between Duncan and Hill, understandably terse but still talking. That’s probably the best way to go about things, while staring straight ahead both literally and figuratively, thinking about the next game.

The issue here is that even LeBron James doesn’t know what he wants to do. He has no idea how Wade’s body (31 years of age in technical terms, only) will hold up, he has no clue if opting out will be the best decision for him in basketball terms, and he has no inclination (after two straight Game 7s in the Eastern Conference finals and a Game 7 in last season’s NBA Finals) how the rest of the league will react to Miami’s attempt at a three-peat come May and hopefully June.

It’s true that opting out of the final year of his deal this summer will be the right move for him financially, and he’ll be underpaid even if he is given a maximum deal with Miami or some other suitor, but at this point other concerns are popping up.

Legacy has to be a factor, here. In his discussion with ESPN, James mentions the shock of seeing the defending champion Chicago Bulls broken up following the 1997-98 season, a years-long miscalculation (and then embarrassing public retreat) by the team’s owner and front office that resulted in a seven-year playoff drought. In leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, James has already shot the idea of becoming a single-team legend to bits. Now has to decide if Pat Riley has what it takes, moving forward, to sustain a contender around him while presumably paying an increased rate to Mssrs. Wade and Bosh, who could also opt out.

As has been the case since James signed with Miami, those top-heavy contracts have dominated the Heat’s salary structure, forcing the team to rely on bargain basement hires to dot the roster and support James. Even NBA Finals hero Mike Miller was waived this summer while using the amnesty clause, as the Heat (in spite of playing deep into June three consecutive years with James) counted every penny. On top of that …

Wait.

We’re doing it. We’re talking about 2014.

It’s the middle of September. There’s absolutely nothing going on in the NBA right now. There’s no fodder to work with, no gossamer to chew on, no player movement on the horizon. These are the deadest of the dead days.

In a month, though, we’ll have exhibition games. A few weeks after that? We’ll have real games. Nearly eight months’ worth of real games before the 2013-14 season ends. We’ll have real basketball to discuss, as the league gets better and better in its attempts to knock James’ Heat off its well-earned throne.

If you spend any part of that eight-month term prattling on about the 2014 free agent class, the mid-September version of you should be allowed into a time machine to vault forward a few months to slap you across the face. Free agent musings are for the low point of the offseason, and not for the day after an 11-game night. And it’s certainly not something to ask LeBron James about in the minutes after yet another 27-12-8 night. You’ll deserve that eye roll from LBJ. And that slap to the face from September You.

So don’t look forward to 2014, when things can get goofy and Kobe and LeBron can switch places. Look forward to the leaves changing, the air cooling, and the onset of the 2013-14 NBA season. Lord knows we’ve waited long enough for it as it is.

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