With less than a week away from NBA free agency beginning, all the rumors swirling about this player or that player or this team or that team will be put to bed, as the biggest names in the NBA make their plans for the future public information. Of course, LeBron’s “Decision: 3.0” is the headline-grabber, but he’s by no means the only superstar debating where to suit up in the Fall of 2018. Here’s some of the biggest and most intriguing names on the market; and my thoughts on how things may wind up going once the bell rings on July 1:
Los Angeles Lakers: All signs point to La La Land as the ultimate destination for LeBron. The Hollywood lifestyle, playing for an all-time great franchise, and learning under the media mogul and NBA legend Magic Johnson are elects that no other city can offer. It doesn’t hurt, mind you, that the Lakers can bring in two more max free agents or position themselves to be players in the market in 2019.
Cleveland: The Cavs have shown the willingness to revamp their roster on the fly in order to please The King. They would no doubt do it again this summer if it means he stays put in Cleveland. Adding a piece like Kemba Walker in a deal with Charlotte has been reported by The Sporting News as enticing to LeBron. Also, we can’t forget that Kawhi Leonard could be shipped out of San Antonio. Anyone who says the Cavs roster will prohibit James’s return in 2018 doesn’t realize that rosters can change in the blink of an eye in the NBA.
Philadelphia: This one is interesting because Philly worked so hard to tank and tank and tank for years in order to acquire all this young talent through the draft. Now that it all seems to be coming together, here comes the notion of adding LeBron (and all that he brings — good and bad). Would his presence agitate the team’s current — and future — stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? Would he be up and outta there in two or three years — and what would be left in Philly? In my opinion, the Sixers need a younger top-5 talent to keep that championship window open for longer. You know, Kawhi Leonard could be available, right?
Houston: The Rockets, I believed, positioned themselves a couple weeks ago as the front-runners for LeBron’s services. Since then, however, the likelihood of GM Daryl Morey abandoning his plan on how to dethrone Golden State seems slimmer and slimmer by the day. Houston was a Chris Paul hamstring away from the NBA Finals. Re-sign CP-3 and Clint Capela and run this thing back one more time.
While he’s not a free agent yet, Kawhi must be mentioned here due to the fact he’s entering his final year of a contract that he can opt out of following the 2018-19 season. Oh, there’s the whole “I want to be traded” thing, too, that we shouldn’t gloss over. Bottom line is if the Spurs want him for the remainder of his deal, they got him. If Gregg Popovich views this as too much of a distraction or thinks it’s more beneficial to the franchise to trade Kawhi and get what they can, then they’ll do that. It’s all up to the Spurs here. Kawhi has said his peace.
As I stated earlier, the Cavs and Sixers would be wise to inquire and see if there’s a deal that can be struck. Teams in the East are going to be competing for second place behind the Boston Celtics for the foreseeable future — why not make a deal now that puts you on that same level? It’s not often a top-5 talent becomes available.
Los Angeles Lakers: It’s no secret that George’s dream is to play for the Lakers. His Pacers teammates knew it and now all the league and it’s fans know it. It’s no secret whatsoever that a LeBron-George combo in L.A. has been bandied about for months.
Oklahoma City: Uniting with LeBron in L.A. and creating a power team to challenge the Warriors is likeliest scenario; but OKC is pushing hard to keep PG-13 as Russell Westbrook’s running mate with the Thunder. Marc Stein spoke to Dan LeBatard and said he believed George would in fact stay in Oklahoma City. The 5-time All Star could be in the market for a 2-year contract worth $60 million, with an opt-out clause that would allow him to test the market again in a year.
Philadelphia: I say this because I’ve thought it for months. Don’t sleep on the Sixers going after George. He’s a safer fit in their system than LeBron is, in my opinion. And if the Sixers are truly trying to keep up with Boston, they’ll need to make at least one splash this summer.
New Orleans: It makes sense for the Pelicans to re-sign the big man. But an achilles injury is the scariest to come back from and they may not want to get into a bidding war if another franchise offers the max — and I’d fully expect a team like Dallas to do so.
Dallas: The Mavs have the money to spend and the desire to win now. They traded for the best player in the NBA Draft, as I saw it, in Luka Doncic, and they could easily be the most improved team in the league next season by adding another piece in free agency.
Houston: It seemed all year like a fore gone conclusion that Paul would re-sign with the Rockets this offseason. However, a hamstring in Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals and some missed games in the regular season has apparently given pause to the franchise and whether they want to tied up a max deal in an injury-prone point guard for the next how ever many years. I’d expect a two-year deal to get worked out where Paul gets his money. The Rockets are still the only ones who have any chance in the West of stopping the Warriors. And without CP-3, they have a significantly worse chance.
Los Angeles Lakers: Teaming up with LBJ in L.A. became the talk of the internet a couple weeks ago. Depending how talks go between Paul and the Rockets, this possibility cannot at all be ruled out.
Dallas: Teams like Dallas, Chicago, Sacramento, and Philadelphia could offer Smart the type of contract he desires. The Mavs have declared a “win now” attitude so Mark Cuban likely would be willing to outbid the competition. Dallas could be in a decent spot with a transformed roster heading into 2018-19.
Boston: The Celts won’t match anything beyond the $12 to 14 million range. Danny Ainge values Smart’s intangibles, but at what price?
Chicago: The Bulls have the money to spend and rumors are that they’d prefer to spend it now instead of waiting to be major players in the summer of 2019. Bringing Smart’s grit and tenacity to Chicago might be what the franchise needs. But it will overpay.
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