Cohen: Freeing Up For the Class of 2014

By Josh Cohen
May 13, 2012

ORLANDO -- Before this season began, I wrote a column titled “The Winning Formula” which details the prerequisites to be a championship-caliber team in the NBA.

There are, as my editorial clarifies, three fundamental ways for NBA franchises to improve and evolve into title contenders.

They include: the NBA Draft, having sufficient salary cap space to try and lure superstar talent in free agency and possessing attractive, and in some cases, financially desirable assets to make substantial trades to acquire superstar players.

In 2010, we all got a taste of how imperative ample salary cap space can be.

Leading up to that unforgettable and dramatic summer, which featured LeBron James’ decision to bolt Cleveland and unite with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, several teams decided to gradually reduce their payrolls and shatter their rosters to ultimately be in the running for the many superstar talents that would be available.

Particularly big markets such as New York, Chicago and Miami all figured they were appealing cities for names like LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer to consider relocating to when they became free agents.

As it was revealed during that theatrical summer, Miami won the sweepstakes after making all the necessary transactions in the year or two prior to free up enough cap space to sign the Big Three.

It was a learning experience, really.

The method the Heat used to become such a prolific team is the method many teams may want to consider using in the future.

And for some teams, using that approach may start sooner than later.

You see, in exactly two years, we will potentially have a 2010 replica.

Although it’s still cloudy and somewhat too far to zoom in on, the class of 2014 may decide the landscape of the NBA for the rest of the decade.

The 2014 free agent class will definitely include Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Paul Pierce and Pau Gasol as they will all be unrestricted free agents.

Meanwhile, it’s very possible that James, Wade, Bosh, Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph will also become unrestricted free agents if they decide to exercise their player options. Also, Monta Ellis and Andre Iguodala could be free agents that summer if they do not opt out in 2013.

Some of those names like Bryant, Nowitzki and Pierce are getting up in age and it’s imprecise whether in two years they will still be the kind of difference makers that they currently are.

But for the others – notably James and Wade – they will still be in the prime of their careers.

I think it’s safe to assume this: If the Heat don’t win an NBA championship this year or in the next two seasons, the Big Three will definitely disperse in some form. They will go in different directions as the turmoil and dissatisfaction would be too significant to overcome.

With all that said, many teams who presently are not championship ready may want to try and replicate what the Heat and other teams did leading up to the summer of 2010.

Unlike other professional sports where every year it’s very ambiguous to definitively conclude who has a chance of winning it all and who doesn’t, the NBA is far clearer.

Just for the purpose of giving an example: Were the New York Giants picked by anyone before the start of the 2011 NFL season to win the Super Bowl? Were the St. Louis Cardinals picked by anyone before the 2011 MLB Season to win the World Series? Were the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Phoenix Coyotes or L.A. Kings picked by anyone before the start of the 2011-12 NHL season to win the Stanley Cup?

The NBA, on the other hand, is shaping up exactly how everyone anticipated.

The Spurs, Thunder, Lakers and Clippers were four of the favorites to come out of the West, while the Heat and Celtics remain strong in the East. The Derrick Rose injury denied the Bulls from advancing otherwise they would have rolled past the Sixers and the Dwight Howard injury prevented the Magic from potentially making a deep playoff run.

It’s essential for every NBA franchise to stare into a mirror and make pragmatic and appropriate evaluations and goals after each season.

For the teams built to contend for a title, minor adjustments in the offseason are plenty. But for most teams who are in a rebuilding mode, considering playing the “salary-cap-friendly” game may be the ticket to future success.

The class of 2014 is staring many teams in the face. But are any of these teams willing to do some house cleaning in hopes of some glamorous redecorating in a few years?

Only time will tell.

Do you think teams not currently still in the playoffs should start trying to free up cap space to make a run at the prized free agents of 2014?

Do you think teams not currently still in the playoffs should start trying to free up cap space to make a run at the prized free agents of 2014?

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