Three weeks into July, we can look back at an NBA free-agency derby that's been one of the most interesting in memory. Another summer of LeBron James ended quite a bit differently than the first one. Once that domino was topped, there were surprises, hurt feelings and healthy bank accounts. And we still have a few entities playing chicken. Here's a look at which teams and players did really well . . . and not so much.
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers
OK, this is obvious, but we have to start with the Cavs, who are celebrating the prodigal son of Akron's return to northeast Ohio. As the world's greatest basketball player, LeBron James could be working with a collection of castaways and reach The Finals. He already did this in Cleveland. His second coming will galvanize the team's young talent and make Cleveland a destination for veteran, lane-clearing gunslingers. Beyond the on-court impact, his presence on the Cavs' roster almost doubled the franchise's net worth.
Loser: Miami Heat
After four Finals trips in as many years, the Heat lost the greatest player on Earth. But in the aftermath of LeBron James' decision to take his talents back home, Miami did its best to reload rather than rebuild. It could be argued the Heat has attempted to reload an automatic weapon with musket balls. Although claiming a decent playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference probably won't be that much more difficult, having about $45 million tied up in a Big Three of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng seems painful.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Winner: LeBron James
Remember all that anymosity after The Decision of 2010? The jersey burnings? The scorn? Forget about it. King James is coming home to a hero's welcome, bringing two rings and a rehabilitated image with him. Say hello to Mr. Popularity. All is forgiven in Cleveland.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
Loser: Dwyane Wade
It could have been worse. He might have had to pay to fly back to Miami from Las Vegas. But on that particular flight with soon-to-be-ex-teammate LeBron James, Wade learned that opting out of about $42 million over the next two years would translate to playing alongside Danny Granger. (Luol Deng came later.) It might be tough to imagine a two-year, $30 million deal registering as a loss. But the difference -- roughly $12 million -- is painful, especially when you'll need money for a longer offseason vacation.
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY SportsPat Lovell
Winner: Chris Bosh
The first free-agent victory for the former third wheel in the Miami Heat's Big Three was a four-year, $88 million offer to be the same in Houston. When Miami's biggest wheel rolled back to Ohio, Heat president Pat Riley seemingly hopped into overreact mode by lobbing a five-year, $118 million deal at the talented lefty. Bosh certainly is talented, but even with considerably more production opportunities coming his way, it's difficult to imagine the Heat receiving commensurate bang for their bucks.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
Loser: Houston Rockets
The good news -- the Rockets were able to unload the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. But the less-good news is considerable. While flirting with Chris Bosh and stalking the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the Rockets were unable to land some pretty good players who might have been interested in Houston. They failed to land Bosh (ultimately, this could turn out to be a plus), but by allowing Chandler Parsons to become a restricted free agent, the Rockets were left facing a $45 million price tag. Houston could have had Parsons for crumbs this season, but instead it has Trevor Ariza for about $8 million.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Winner: Chandler Parsons
The former second-round pick became more than a little prickly when it was suggested his former team -- the Rockets -- needed a third elite player not named Chandler Parsons to become a championship contender. His feelings should be somewhat soothed when the checks generated by a three-year deal worth around $45 million come rolling in from Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets made this possible by allowing Parsons to become a restricted free agent his year. In the end, it works out to a 1,500 percent raise in salary for Parsons.
Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY SporAndrew Richardson
Loser: Indiana Pacers
On some teams, losing an alleged divisive locker-room force might be cause for celebration. Unfortunately for the Pacers, guard Lance Stephenson was this force, and he had become the team's second-best player. In some playoff situations, he was the best. It may be understandable to not offer big money to a guy who's not exactly popular with some of his teammates. But for a team that already had trouble making plays, adding Rodney Stuckey to the backcourt doesn't seem like enough.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Winner: Gordon Hayward
The baby-faced kid from Butler who was thisclose to beating Duke in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament could have been an even bigger winner, but the Utah Jazz matched the max-level offer sheet bestowed upon Hayward by the Charlotte Hornets, keeping the young swingman in the nasty Western Conference. He makes the list, however, because giving Utah 16-5-5 last season seems a bit light for a remuneration of $63 million across four years . . . especially after his 3-point accuracy dropped about 12 percentage points from the previous season.
Loser: Lance Stephenson
By blowing in the ear of LeBron James, Stephenson blew an opportunity to convert some pretty swell playoff performances into a much higher contract. That was only one of many cuckoo incidents that inspired teams to not take a chance on Lance. Anyway, even though fellow free agent Chandler Parsons was 15 spots higher on the NBA player-efficiency chain, he's not $6 million per year better than Stephenson, is he? Gordon Hayward, ranked lower in efficiency, had a salary hike similar to Parsons. The Hornets weren't as high as the Pacers on the Eastern Conference food chain last season, but with Lance changing towns, that could flip.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Winner: Marcin Gortat
Gortat does pretty well when working alongside point guards who can spoon-feed him in pick-and-roll maneuvers. The Washington Wizards have that type of player in John Wall. They also have Gortat on a five-year deal that has an average payout of $12 million. That's pretty sweet money for a guy who supplied 13 and 10 in his first Wiz season; those numbers made him the 13th most efficient center in the NBA. Now let's see how close to $12 million he'll be worth at age 35.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
Loser: Atlanta Hawks
Even with Al Horford sidelined, the Hawks scratched out a pretty nice season during their opening run under long-time Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer. The style of play is interesting, the cap space was considerable, the conference isn't all that challenging and Atlanta is a pretty popular town for a lot of pro athletes. But instead of at least generating interest from a couple of near-elite-level free agents, the Hawks have struggled in July. Thus far, their haul features Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY SportsHoward Smith
Winner: Phoenix Suns
They still haven't reconciled the future of restricted free-agent point guard Eric Bledsoe. But with control of that situation, we can't imagine the Suns doing anything to hop off this list. They did lose Channing Frye when the Orlando Magic ponied up $32 million over four seasons. But the re-signing of P.J. Tucker for reasonable money over three years helps ease the leadership burden. And the real coup was landing Isaiah Thomas, a scoring point guard who fits the Bledsoe-Goran Dragic profile for much less than Bledsoe still should make now and Dragic will command next year.
Loser: Eric Bledsoe
It seems the Suns' solemn promise to match any offer for the 24-year-old point guard with two knee surgeries on his stat sheet scared off most would-be suitors. Well, that and the knee thing. So, instead of having to match Bledsoe for nearly twice as much per year as Goran Dragic (who's opt-out ready in 2015) is paid, the Suns have listened to a five-year, $80 million request and said no. In the meantime, most teams that did have cap space and interest in the restricted free agent have spent their money elsewhere.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY SportsJoe Camporeale
Winner: Jordan Hill
Hill, the eighth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, did produce solid numbers (9.7 points, 7.4 rebounds) in only 20 minutes per game last season for the Los Angeles Lakers. If he could double those minutes, he'd put up all-star numbers, right? Well, there reportedly is a stamina issue, plus the Lakers drafted a really young kid who plays the same position with a lot more offensive skill . . . and, potentially, a similar rebounding rate. So, Hill might not receive a tremendous increase in minutes to justify a two-year deal worth $9 million per season.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY SportsSoobum Im
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
Despite the banners, the glitz and the treat of playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony spurned the Showtime advances. The next domino to fall was Pau Gasol signing with Chicago. LA's Plan B compilation was hiring Jordan Hill for $9 million per season, handing a four-year deal to Nick "Swaggy P" Young and taking on the expiring contract of Jeremy Lin to seize a first-round draft pick from Houston. The Lakers don't seem anywhere near good enough to avoid the lottery, but they also might not be bad enough to keep their first-round pick next summer. They also added Chicago amnesty casualty Carlos Boozer, who could take minutes from rookie Julius Randle. Shrewd.