LeBron James is considering leaving his home-state team, which he has led to four consecutive NBA Finals and the franchise’s only NBA title.
Kawhi Leonard is pushing to be traded from one of American sports’ model franchises and greatest coaches because, we think, he owns a home in Los Angeles and his uncle doesn’t like something about San Antonio or the Spurs.
The rest of the league and its second-tier free agents are feinting toward or fainting over James and Leonard, providing a reminder that NBA free agency has become one of America’s more intriguing sports.
When the Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau and traded for Jimmy Butler, they did not ensure that they would ever win a playoff series, only that they would spend summers boogieboarding in the wake behind James’ yacht.
Thibodeau and Wolves General Manager Scott Layden held a news briefing Thursday. They didn’t reveal much — duh — but the nature of the questions they faced, and those they will have to confront, speaks to the vulnerability of being an NBA team destined to be spectators in the NBA’s Big Show.
The NBA has become a league of personal whim. When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, he delivered two consecutive NBA titles and made the Thunder a middling playoff team. James’ decisions to play with buddies in sunshine, then to return home, delivered titles to Miami and Cleveland.
This summer, James could leave Cleveland for Los Angeles, which would weaken the East and make the Western Conference deeper than Zen.
He could leave Cleveland for Philadelphia or Boston, meaning he would face Golden State with a much-improved supporting cast next year.
He could shoehorn his way onto the Houston roster, creating a super team that could beat the reigning superteam.
There are reports suggesting James wants Durant to join him in Los Angeles, trumping the previous hot rumor that James wants Leonard to join him there.
For the Wolves, even with all of the talent on their roster, free agency remains something to fear.
They don’t play a couple of Eurosteps from the ocean.
They don’t play in a media hub.
Their winter lasts almost the entire season.
And that which they can control — the personality of their organization and locker room — isn’t likely to break any ties in their favor.
Free agents know Thibodeau as a sideline screamer with whom Karl-Anthony Towns might or might not be happy, depending upon whom you read.
They know Butler is a tremendous player who frequently called out his teammates last season.
They know few bench players other than Derrick Rose have signed with Thibs’ Wolves as a free agent and played as many minutes as they expected.
They know Jamal Crawford and Cole Aldrich signed as free agents and did not play as much as they expected.
Thibodeau listed four factors in free agents’ decisions — winning, culture, money and location.
The Wolves were an eighth seed that earned a playoff berth on the last day of the season, had an uncomfortable mix of players, don’t have much money to spend and are located north of Toronto.
Butler’s arrival was supposed to change everything for the Wolves, and it did change their place in the standings.
But there are few realistic moves the Wolves can make to dramatically improve their roster, and their most credible free-agent ambassador — Butler — is heading into the last year of his contract without sending any signals that he’s committed to signing with the Wolves long-term.
Thibodeau, too, could be a lame duck. The word from Timberwolves employees is owner Glen Taylor wasn’t happy with the screaming or the atmosphere around the team last year.
Will a worthwhile free agent sign a long-term contract with the Wolves to play for a coach and star who could be gone soon?
When it comes to their standing among free agents, this will mark yet another summer in which the Wolves sit back and don’t really enjoy the show.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org