What will the big-name players do?
As free agency enters its 10th day, the biggest names on the market -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh -- still have everyone guessing about what they will do next. Our 5-on-5 writers give their thoughts.
1. What are the current odds LeBron returns to the Heat?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: 45 percent. One source, who's in the thick of all of this, told me he has gone from thinking LeBron was a lock to return to Miami to having serious doubts. In my mind, that offsets all the confidence and Dwyane Wade poolside selfies emanating from the Heat.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: 60 percent. If James had any real ties to the staff in Cleveland, I'd feel differently. I find it hard to believe that James is going to entrust his future with a coach who has never coached in the league, a first-time GM and an owner who wrote this about him. I can see Cleveland in a couple of years, but it seems odd to turn down a championship-winning core and dive in headfirst to uncertainty.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: 60 percent. For months, I was fairly convinced LeBron was returning to the Heat. It's clear at this point that Miami believed it would have him committed by now. That it doesn't is a bad sign for his future in that town. Still, it's difficult to bet on LeBron leaving Miami and taking a pay cut. I'll stick to my guns that he's coming back, but with every passing hour, my grip loosens on those arms.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: 99 percent. Forgive me for not getting caught up in the drama and the "beautiful story" of the King's return. He is chasing a legacy of six rings (Jordan), five rings (Duncan and Magic) and three rings (Bird) in an effort to be on the best five of all time list. This Cavs team is not close to what he will have in Miami for the next two years. Plus, the owner issues, the fans turning so hateful on him, and getting a chance to play with close friends he knows and admires and trusts over new guys up and down the Cavs franchise with zero playoff wins under their belt (save Anderson Varejao). Despite what many are saying and writing, Wade is not dead. He was bad in the Finals but terrific before that.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: 70 percent. The fact that LeBron has gone 10 days already without publicly committing to the Heat is a sign of concern. He certainly appears to be struggling with the decision. But ultimately he'll come to his senses and return to the team that made him a better player and a two-time champion. If he's lost faith in the Heat, I'd really like to hear his reasons from him directly, not his camp.
2. What are the current odds Melo returns to the Knicks?
Adande: 55 percent. Maybe I misinterpreted Kobe's news conference, but it sounded like he was saying, "Well, we gave it a good run," and putting down the padding for a soft landing in the event Melo heads back to New York. And it sure seems as if Chicago is moving on to Plan B.
Haberstroh: 95 percent. Anthony may have a house in Los Angeles, but he has 129 million reasons to stick it out in New York and see what Phil Jackson has in store for the 'Bockers. Anthony can say he landed the biggest free-agent deal in a summer when James was also a free agent. Good luck saying "no" to that juicy bullet on the résumé.
Strauss: 80 percent. The Knicks offer him the most cash and probably the most exposure. Not only that, but they'll actually have cap space soon. The other options might be tempting, but Anthony worked hard to get the most money out of his New York arrival. It's probably wisest to follow the money when it comes to his decision-making on this.
Thorpe: 99 percent. It's all about Phil, along with no options to team up with LeBron. Plus, it's home to him, or so he had us believe when he begged to leave a strong Denver team.
Wallace: 90 percent. This isn't about Jackson being a superb recruiter. It's more about the Andrew Jacksons and Ben Franklins he'd be leaving on the table initially to go elsewhere. This percentage, however, leaves wiggle room for the Lakers, the Bulls and the wild and crazy hunch that the Heat still have something of a secret pulse in this thing.
3. What are the current odds Bosh returns to the Heat?
Adande: 50 percent. It feels as if Bosh has turned into the Kevin Bacon of this free agency, with links to everyone. You can't contemplate LeBron to Cleveland, Houston matching Dallas' offer to Chandler Parsons or even Carmelo joining LeBron in Miami without accounting for Bosh's moves. But he has to wait for LeBron first.
Haberstroh: 60 percent. See: James. Bosh loves it in Miami, but I'm not sure he loves it enough to stick around without catching passes from James in AmericanAirlines Arena. Not when he reportedly has a chance to chase a title in Houston.
Strauss: 50 percent. That Rockets deal has to be tempting, but Bosh is also the only Heat player publicly indicating he'd stay at a discount. There are multiple scenarios connected to whether LeBron stays and for how long, so I'm just being simple-minded and reducing Bosh's Miami future to a coin flip.
Thorpe: 99 percent. In two years I expect Bosh and LeBron can do this all again and he can make the max salary he wants with the new revenue numbers up so much from the media/digital rights that will soar in value. He could have three rings by then (or two or four, of course), and maybe he'd go to Texas to anchor a team with other stars. Cleveland, in two years, will be ready to contend if it can pull a deal by moving some of its more mature assets to Miami for Bosh and LeBron while giving Wade some new stars to mentor.
Wallace: 85 percent. Bosh's camp, at least the wing of it I've had limited contact with, continues to believe he's returning to Miami. Possibly even if LeBron moves elsewhere. It's not as if the Heat won't have the resources to retain Bosh and even offer him a far more prominent role than he's had in the past. Miami could still rebuild around Bosh and go to a Plan B that keeps it in contention in the East.
4. Who's the biggest winner in free agency so far?
Adande: San Antonio Spurs. While the rest of the league swirls in uncertainty, the champs have Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Gregg Popovich coming back. No need to speculate; you know exactly what the Spurs are about.
Haberstroh: Twitter advertisers. The refresh rate and engaged minutes must be off the charts these days. Maybe I'm just living in the moment, but it feels like the NBA world is more on edge now than it was at any one point in the playoffs. This is prime real estate right now; no one is taking their eyes off the screen.
Strauss: Cleveland, just for getting into this position of being a perceived suitor. I certainly didn't see this coming. That there's a plausible scenario where the Cavs roll out LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving is a truly amazing turnaround from how this team was seen a few months ago.
Thorpe: Gordon Hayward. And all the teams that have not overpaid for anyone (not yet, anyway). Winning the title means managing salaries up and down the roster; the teams that hold true to that philosophy will look smarter and better as the seasons unfold.
Wallace: Toronto. Simply because it finally got a star player to stay in the face of open-market recruiting. Kyle Lowry's return, in addition to the continued development of the Raptors' core, should render last year's playoff run as anything but a fluke. Now, this answer changes based on wherever LeBron ends up.
5. Who's the biggest loser in free agency so far?
Adande: The media. Fans have an insatiable appetite for news, when all the media can really provide is updates. It's like serving tapas plates to a customer who's craving a big steak. But it's really hard to give answers when the main figures involved don't know themselves, the landscape's constantly shifting, and every source has an agenda.
Haberstroh: The Spurs' copywriter. Got only two sentences' worth of shine for the big Popovich extension announcement? If that person is getting paid by the word, Popovich had better have thrown him some of that extension cash.
Strauss: Miami, just for being in this vulnerable position and not having many options. The Mike Miller amnesty looks like the epitome of "penny-wise, pound-foolish." Even if the Heat return their Big Three, it's difficult to see where they go from here. The new CBA has hamstrung them. Well, that and Wade's inability to develop a 3-pointer.
Thorpe: Whoever pays Hayward's salary. He is a nice player. I'm a fan. But the odds of him playing into that kind of value are very small. His team will struggle to recover down the road from this mistake.
Wallace: Accurate and reliable information. This free-agency period has taken us all on some wild rides the past two weeks that it's hard to know what to believe.