The best thing about the 2010 Free Agency War Games is what comes next. The story doesn't end there and the rest is still unwritten. Besides the 2010-11 season -- likely a combination of empires colliding and disappointments that start riots -- there's the next summer. That would be 2011, which is nearly as forbidding as 2010, but can't be for now because of the way the long-term news cycle works. However, if 2010 is the greatest free agent class in history, 2011 could still send out some shockwaves of its own.
Here's a brief list of names that could hit the market one July from this July: Al Horford, Jamal Crawford, Kendrick Perkins, Joakim Noah, Caron Butler, Carmelo Anthony, Nene, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Corey Brewer, David West, Wilson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young, Jared Dudley, Jason Richardson, Greg Oden, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Andrei Kirilenko.
Some are restricted, some unrestricted, but all will be in play. On top of that, Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki could technically be out there if they take a one-year option from their current teams, except no one ever does that.
It's becoming abundantly clear that several teams stockpiling cap space for this summer will be left empty-handed once the season starts. As you can see from the above list, they'll have some new company by the time the next free agency period rolls around. And if LeBron James is this year's ultimate prize, then for 2011, everyone will be lusting after Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
Durant's not likely to budge; his Thunder are a superior organization on the rise, with buds and pals who are only getting better. Melo, though, has options. The Nuggets may have hit their ceiling, showing that an endearing mix of dysfunction and brilliance can only go so far (by the way, I left personal favorite JR Smith off of that list). The only coach capable of pulling it all together it ailing. Melo could walk into the right situation and find himself on a solid contender, not one riddled with question marks and weird-colored aquatic life.
Which makes it all the more surprising that, according to Ken Berger, the Denver star and his team may have already begun talks on a new extension:
Make no mistake: this is a preemptive move, set on "making Melo a Nugget for a long time," as one of Berger's sources put it. The team realizes that next summer will have just as many sharks circling their franchise player as LeBron had this year, or at least as many realistic suitors. Maybe if they lock him down now, Anthony won't get a chance to really see all the options he has. All of which is an extremely noble goal, if you're the Nuggets, or a Nuggets fan.Representatives for three-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets have scheduled a face-to-face negotiating session with the hopes of agreeing on a three-year extension that would keep the coveted scorer from hitting the free-agent market in 2011, sources familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com. Since Anthony, who turns 26 later this month, isn't a free agent this summer, he is free to discuss an extension with his team prior to the opening of the negotiating period July 1.
That presumes that Anthony and his people don't already know about the possibilities for July 2011, which is of course silly. But really, what is Melo thinking? He already struck out once by signing a six-year deal when his peers James, Bosh, and Wade were making history with the mini-max. Granted, at the time, his career was wading in uncertain waters. At this point, though, Anthony has a sparkling image, much-improved all-around game, and is as deadly, well-rounded a scorer as anyone this side of Kobe Bryant.
Maybe Melo values faith, and home, and all those things that would supposedly tether Bron to Cleveland. In this case, though, shouldn't he be looking toward the Wizards, the closest thing Baltimore has to a home team? Yes, that whole "Bullets moved to DC from B-More" is bit of a sticking sport, but it's in the same vicinity. Denver's just a city that he's come of age in as a young millionaire. DC is pretty darn close to roots. Or, as Berger points out, Anthony was actually born in New York, which gives the Knicks incentive to keep him in their thoughts. Oh wait, it was Brooklyn, to be precise? Here comes the Nets, in that case.
But no basketball player should make his most important career decisions based on sentimentality. It's a question of results (which is a weird thing to say, seeing as superstars are often saddled from all the burden of getting results for a team). A good point of comparison here might be Amar'e Stoudemire, who after nearly being traded from the Suns on at least twelve separate occasions, changed his attitude, upped his performance, and really felt he belonged on a fine, fine Phoenix team. That's why, during the first round, Sam Amick reported that Amar'e might sign an extension and take himself out of the 2010 derby. With emotions running high after that symbolic thrashing of the Spurs, this seemed even more likely.
Then came this round against the Lakers -- not technically, but royally discouraging thus far -- the realization that the Steve Nash and Grant Hill won't be around much longer, and that cold realism that so often permeates NBA decision-making. In other words, a lot can happen between beating the Spurs, finally, and running into the Lakers. Enough to make Amar'e want to keep his options open once this postseason is over.
Anthony sits atop a team that may or may not be in shambles, a full year before he has the chance to test the waters. The Nuggets could well rebound next season with an inspired playoff run, challenging the Lakers and proving to the likes of OKC that they're both young enough to hang around but mature enough to have an edge.
The problem has never been the regular season, which is an encouraging sign. At the same time, things could go wrong. This postseason could have exposed Denver's flaws -- primarily, a combustibility that's also one of their strengths, and a looseness that can sometimes descend into sloppiness. There's a fine line between not swearing by discipline and being an undisciplined team. There's chemistry there, no doubt, but enabling is also a form of chemistry. Oh, and Chauncey Billups isn't getting any younger.
Maybe that's being a bit harsh on the Nuggets, who simply may have had problems getting it together with Adrian Dantley on the sidelines. But the lesson Anthony could, and should, draw from Amar'e is simply: When it's a players market, and the league's competitive landscape could be radically transformed at least twice over before July 2011, there's no reason to rush out. Denver will forgive you if you take your time. They'll be overjoyed if you stay and honestly, have no choice but to grovel. It's your right, their privilege.
It's not a question of jumping on a good thing before it goes away -- Melo needs to bide his time and see where the Nuggets end up by the time he really has to sign somewhere. Anything else is almost like succumbing to peer pressure. The feel-good stuff will be there a year from now. What remains to be seen, though, is how much basketball might will remain to hold the whole thing up.
Amar'e may be the best comparison here, but reading over these sentences again, it sounds a heck of a lot like the situation LeBron James has faced all along.