Free agency in the NBA is about a lot more than money, especially to the game's biggest stars. Only a player's current team has a financial advantage in trying to get its guy to stay, and the max contract level is the same for everyone else, no matter where a player wants to sign.
The league's elite are choosing where to play based on many other factors, including head coach, teammates, market size, perks of the city, and overall chance for organizational success.
With all of those factors in mind, here's a ranking of the NBA's top 10 free agent destinations as we head towards the summer of 2017.
Honorable mention: New York Knicks
Any discussion of free agent destinations in the NBA has to at least include a mention of the league's largest market, but no star-level player in his right mind is going to consider joining the Knicks as long as Phil Jackson is around.
Jackson's track record was questionable at best before last season, but after the way 2017 unfolded, it's hard to see him finding an adequate amount of redemption before the 71-year-old executive's contract is up two seasons from now.
Jackson openly feuded with Carmelo Anthony in an effort to force him out of town, which may or may not have been worse than signing Joakim Noah to a deal worth $72 million over four years before the season began. He also randomly made some derogatory remarks about LeBron James, a close personal friend of Anthony's who also just happens to be the best player in the league. And we haven't even gotten to his insistence on running the triangle offense.
New York is tempting, to be sure. There's Madison Square Garden, the size of the market, and a potential future star in Kristaps Porzingis already in place. But Jackson's presence has made it a toxic environment, and it will remain that way until he's gone.
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Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers may not have had the firepower to hang with the Warriors in the playoffs, but given the way they finished the regular season, it's clear that there are some pieces in place that could have this club on the rise.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum form one of the league's more potent backcourt combinations, and the presence of Jusuf Nurkic in the second half of the season was a huge boost to Portland's front line.
The addition of one more star on the offensive side of the ball who is capable of taking over at times would immediately put the Blazers in the top half of the West. Playing for a passionate fan base in a quirky city is merely an added bonus for any potential free agents to consider.
The game's star players don't want anything to do with rebuilding, because it wastes precious years of their career as a franchise attempts to patiently add young talent through the traditional draft process.
If we can agree on that premise, then Dallas is always a desirable choice. The Mavs may have missed the playoffs this year, but before that, the team had made it to the postseason in 15 of the previous 16 campaigns. Mark Cuban has preferred to retool the roster rather than rebuild it, and Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the game who consistently does an excellent job of making the pieces he's given fit.
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Players love playing in Mike D'Antoni's free-flowing, uptempo offense, and no MVP candidate gets his teammates involved like James Harden, who finished the 2017 season as the league-leader in assists.
Add in the fact that Houston is currently one of the West's top three teams, and you couldn't really ask for much more from purely a basketball perspective.
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Golden State Warriors
The Warriors would appear to be an extremely desirable destination on the surface. They play a joyful brand of basketball close to one of the country's more desirable cities, and they're loaded with talent that should keep them contending for years to come.
But there are a few reasons why they're perhaps lower than expected on our list.
There's only one basketball, and with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the roster, that doesn't leave a whole lot of touches available for anyone else. Speaking of those guys, there's not much money left, either, which means joining the Warriors would almost certainly come with it a serious financial sacrifice.
Finally, the health of Steve Kerr and whether or not he can continue to coach in the future is a very real concern. He's the one responsible for the fun atmosphere surrounding the team that's helped it become so successful, and you have to wonder just how much that would all change if a different leader were roaming the sidelines.
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L. A. Clippers
This is a big summer for the Clippers with both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul becoming free agents, and the future's at least a little uncertain for L.A.'s historically JV franchise. But Los Angeles is one of the league's most desirable cities to play in, and finances are not at all a concern now that Steve Ballmer is in charge.
Assuming Doc Rivers sticks around, his reputation as a players' coach only solidifies the Clippers as a very real option for star-level players to consider.
The stability of the Heat organization, along with all that the city of Miami has to offer, makes this franchise one of the most desiable destinations in all of the NBA.
Pat Riley in the front office and Erik Spoelstra on the sidelines are each among the most well-respected at their positions, and the fact that LeBron James chose Miami as the place to form his first superteam tells us all we need to know about the positives associated with the Miami Heat franchise.
If the team were more competitive, it'd rank a lot higher on the list. But there are some nice pieces in place, and it would only take the addition of a single star player to turn things around fairly quickly.
LeBron James has been to the Finals for an incredible six straight seasons, and appears on track to make it back this year for a seventh. Cleveland may be questionable in terms of an NBA city to call home for the majority of the year, but if you're all about winning and want the opportunity to chase one or more titles, hitching your wagon to LeBron for the next couple of years before he starts to slow down would seem to be an extremely wise decision.
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The chance to join one of the most storied franchises in NBA history at a time when it's clearly on the rise doesn't come along very often, but that's the situation in Boston right now, and it's a golden opportunity.
The culture is in place thanks to a young head coach in Brad Stevens who isn't leaving anytime soon, and All-Star talent in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are surrounded by a perfect cast of role players that was able to unseat the Cavaliers during the regular season to finish with the best record in the East.
Boston has high draft picks the next two years, and should only continue to improve. One more key free agent signing could place them into the tier of legitimate title contenders as early as next season.
San Antonio Spurs
Other than linking up with LeBron James, there's no other team in the league that literally guarantees you an annual shot at playoff contention like the San Antonio Spurs. They haven't missed the playoffs since 1997, and have won at least 50 games for the past 18 years -- including the lockout-shortened 2011 season, when only 66 games were played.
The question mark here is just how much longer the 68-year-old Gregg Popovich will continue to coach, but assuming it's for at least a few more seasons, San Antonio is the place to be if you value a winning culture above all else.
Los Angeles Lakers
Now that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are in charge of basketball operations, and after a season under head coach Luke Walton where the young players showed significant progress, the Lakers are officially among the most desirable free agent destinations in the entire NBA.
There will be no more silly decisions to sign aging or third-tier players in free agency to try to shortcut the rebuilding process, and there will be no more retreads brought on in the coaching ranks for other than basketball reasons.
L.A. is one All-Star away from being back in the postseason picture, and Paul George may be the first one to accept a max-money deal to become the new face of the league's most glamorous franchise. All it takes is one to get the proverbial ball rolling, and as long as the team continues to improve in terms of wins and losses, then another will come.
Add in all that the Los Angeles market has to offer, and it's easy to see why star players will be clamoring to come to the Lakers in the not-so-distant future -- perhaps as early as this summer.