2014 NBA Free Agency Primer: LeBron James Heads Top-Heavy Field

LeBron JamesThe NBA Finals seem like they just ended, newly drafted players barely have been introduced by their teams, and already it is free agency time.

Doesn’t the NBA season ever end?

The answer to that is, no, not really. It’s an around-the-clock, year-round affair, and before you know it, we’ll be preparing for training camp and wondering where the summer went.

If it seems like things are moving a little too fast, here is a quick primer on what to look for in free agency, which opened at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

1. After LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the quality of players thins out quickly.

James is one of the greatest players of all time and is still in his prime, so he’s worth whatever the Miami Heat (or some other team) manages to pay him. Similarly, Anthony is one of the best players of his generation and a far more effective player than his critics give him credit for. Those two will get paid, and well. Beyond those two, however, the free agent field is thin on franchise-altering talents.

Check out NESN.com’s Top 15 NBA free agents to get a feel for what we mean.

2. What sort of price will Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade demand?

James wants a maximum contract, which means Bosh and (especially) Wade will have to take pay cuts to stay together in Miami. James took less money than he could have gotten elsewhere to make the “Heatles” experiment work the first time. Now it could be time for Bosh and Wade to return the favor. If either Bosh or Wade decides to play hardball, they could negotiate themselves right into irrelevance.

3. Where will Paul Pierce end up?

Pierce no longer can shoulder a scoring load for a full season, and he was shattered to be traded away from the Boston Celtics last summer. If the Celtics could swing a trade for Kevin Love, there have been whispers that Pierce could return to Boston in a complementary capacity. But it is unlikely Pierce would return to a rebuilding team just for old time’s sake.

Once, Pierce looked as though he might play his entire career with one franchise. Now, he could become just another sad, old player finishing out his career by playing for a new team every season.

4. What is the true value of players such as Chandler Parsons, Lance Stephenson, Isaiah Thomas and Kris Humphries?

From the moment he entered the league as a second-round pick in 2011, Parsons has been one of the most criminally underpaid players in the NBA. He’s not shaking a tin can on the corner by any means at around $900,000 per year, but he’s certainly outperformed higher-paid players like Jeff Green and Shawn Marion. Likewise, Lance Stephenson led the NBA in triple-doubles last season at just a hair over $1 million.

Soon, team executives will set the price for Parsons, Stephenson and Thomas, who could go from being tremendous bangs for the buck to just a few more bad contracts on the NBA ledger. On the flip side, Humphries made $12 million last season but will drop to a much more manageable number, particularly if he’s willing to take less money from a contender.

5. How greatly will the balance of power shift?

The Heat were a non-entity before James agreed to go there in 2010, drastically altering the NBA landscape. The Cleveland Cavaliers went from being a championship contender to a perennial lottery team (with near-perennial No. 1 picks). The Celtics began to lose their stranglehold on the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, the supposed favorites for James, had to switch course.

It’s impossible to predict who might be the greatest beneficiary of 2014 free agency season, and which team will be left irreparably damaged. What we know for sure, though, is there will be at least a few things nobody saw coming.

Yardbarker

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