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LeBron James changed the balance of power in the NBA

It was a busy summer in the NBA, thanks mostly to LeBron James coming home. Here's our offseason recap.

For the past few years, numerous NBA teams viewed the summer of 2014 as a possible game-changer. The draft class was expected to be one of the best in recent memory and free agency had the potential to reach the fever pitch of 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces with the Miami Heat.

Just like 2010, James, Wade and Bosh were the center of attention this offseason. Despite the fact the trio all opted out of their contracts after the Heat's destruction in the NBA Finals at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, many still expected the three to return to South Beach for another go at it.

Instead, James made a decision that would shift the balance of power in the NBA: He returned home.

How the Cavaliers got LeBron

The Cleveland Cavaliers had been eyeing a James return for some time, but it took a nearly perfect storm of events for it to become a reality. Some lottery luck following James' departure in 2010 helped stock the Cavaliers' roster with talented young players in Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett. But even with this talent, the Cavaliers were never able to put it together, for myriad reasons.

After a disastrous 2013-14 campaign, the lottery Gods once again smiled down on Cleveland. The Cavaliers won the lottery despite having only a 1.7 chance, giving them the opportunity to select Andrew Wiggins, one of the most hyped prospects to come out of college in years.

In between the lottery and the draft came the Heat's brutal showing in the Finals. James played well in the 4-1 series loss, but Wade and Bosh weren't up to snuff and the aging supporting cast offered little help. With some uncertainty abound in Miami and promising young pieces in place in Cleveland, a return home to the Cavaliers was too alluring to pass up. James made his peace with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and announced to the world on July 11 that he was returning home. The new deal was for two years so James could take advantage of the new television money coming into the league in 2016.

James' return was just Part 1 of the Cavaliers' surreal offseason. Part 2 would come later, but first, the rest of the NBA had to deal with the fallout of his decision. The entire offseason had been in a holding pattern, and things began to move quickly once the Cavaliers decision became known.

Rockets' gamble is a dud

The Houston Rockets, who like many other teams had cleared max cap space for a run at James or Carmelo Anthony, made a strong push for Bosh.  The thinking was that with James bolting, Bosh would also make a run for greener pastures. Teaming up with Dwight Howard and James Harden seemed like the perfect fit.

Instead, the Heat stepped up to the plate and offered Bosh a five-year max contract, and the Rockets lost their man. In the wake of losing Bosh, Houston also decided to not match Chandler Parsons' three-year, $46 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks that was signed with Mark Cuban in a nightclub.

The Rockets took a big gamble this offseason, and it turned out to be a dud. Houston traded away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to create the cap space for a big name, and they let Parsons go to restricted free agency instead of exercising his cheap fourth-year option. The Rockets signed Trevor Ariza to help make up for the loss of Parsons, but it's hard to view the offseason as anything but a disappointment for the big-swinging Daryl Morey.

Melo spurns Bulls, stays in New York

Meanwhile, Anthony spent the first week of free agency being wined-and-dined by a host of suitors. The Chicago Bulls put together an elaborate presentation to woo Anthony in an attempt to end their streak of striking out on top free-agent targets. The longer he delayed his decision, the more some thought he was heading to the Windy City. If Anthony had chosen the Bulls, the power that shifted to Cleveland would have immediately shifted to Chicago. With Derrick Rose returning to an elite defensive unit led by Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah, the Bulls wanted another offensive dynamo in Anthony to put them over the top.

But rather than chase a championship immediately in Chicago, Anthony took the money from the New York Knicks and put his faith in Phil Jackson. Barring major unexpected improvement, the Knicks won't be serious title contenders anytime soon, so Anthony's place in the power structure of the league is up for debate.

Bulls move on after Melo

After missing out on Anthony, the Bulls quickly turned their attention to Pau Gasol, who was looking to join a championship contender after a rough season in Los Angeles. Gasol was also courted by the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, but Chicago won the sweepstakes for his services.

Questions remain about Gasol's ability to stay on the floor after two injury-plagued seasons, and there's always the possibility the signing winds up feeling like the Carlos Boozer signing in 2010. When the Bulls missed out on the big guns in 2010, Boozer was the consolation prize and he failed to live up to expectations. Gasol takes the place of the amnestied Boozer in the Bulls' starting lineup, and the hope in Chicago is that the results will be better.

In addition to Gasol, the Bulls added European star Nikola Mirotic in free agency and sharpshooter Doug McDermott in the draft. The influx of offensive talent was a necessity for the Bulls, especially considering what was about to transpire.

The Love Affair

Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love was on the outs. Trade rumors had followed Love for several years after he publicly called out the Wolves' front office in 2012, and everything appeared to be coming to a head this summer. The Wolves had serious discussions with the Golden State Warriors, but the inclusion of sharpshooter Klay Thompson proved to be a sticking point.

Once the Warriors were out of the picture, it left the door wide open for Cleveland. The Cavaliers had attractive assets to trade in the form of Wiggins and Bennett, and they also had LeBron James as a selling point for Love to stick around for the long haul. A deal was reached in early August, although it didn't become official for another month because Wiggins had already signed his rookie deal with Cleveland. During that waiting period, the Philadelphia 76ers got in on the deal, agreeing to send Thaddeus Young to Minnesota.

In one summer, the Cavaliers acquired the best player and arguably the best power forward in the league, transforming themselves from a tremendous underachiever to a perennial title contender. Like many teams predicted, the 2014 offseason proved to be a game-changer, just not in the way many envisioned.

The best of the rest

In addition to bringing back Bosh, the Heat also re-signed Wade, albeit to a much smaller deal. Miami then went out and attempted to fill the void at small forward left by James by signing Luol Deng. While losing the best player in the world was a major gut-punch, the Heat recovered as best they could and should still be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, although Wade's knees are a huge question mark.

Elsewhere in the East, the Washington Wizards combated the loss of Ariza by signing Paul Pierce and the Charlotte Hornets nabbed Lance Stephenson after failing to acquire Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz in restricted free agency. Both teams are hoping to take the next step and become power players in the conference.

Over in the Western Conference, there weren't many fireworks at the top outside of Houston and Dallas. After missing out on Gasol, the Spurs brought back essentially the same roster and rewarded Tony Parker with a contract extension. The Thunder moved on from Gasol by signing sharpshooter Anthony Morrow to help spread for floor for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, although Durant will miss the beginning of the year with a foot injury.

The Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers made small additions, with Golden State signing Shaun Livingston and Los Angeles adding Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar. The Clippers stayed at the forefront of the news, however, with the Donald Sterling saga and sale to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dominating headlines.

The Memphis Grizzlies retained Zach Randolph and also brought in Vince Carter to bolster the squad. The Portland Trail Blazers mostly stayed the same outside of adding Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, and the New Orleans Pelicans took advantage of the Asik situation in Houston to nab him to pair with Anthony Davis.

There was some drama in Phoenix with Eric Bledsoe's contract situation, but the two sides reached a compromise and brought back the talented youngster to form an exciting guard trio of Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. The Suns signed Thomas after the Sacramento Kings chose to go with Darren Collison at point guard.

Finally, there's the Lakers, who added Boozer and Lin among others to a roster that'll really struggle to compete under new head coach Byron Scott. The Lakers have seen Howard and Gasol leave over the past few years, while Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have dealt with constant injuries. Once one off the major power players in the NBA, the Lakers are now mostly the butt of jokes.

Own Activision's Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on XBOX One, XBOX 360, Playstation 4 and Microsoft Windows, Nov. 4th.


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