As the NBA Finals wrapped up a few weeks ago, things remained the same: Golden State won (again), LeBron James lost (again), and questions about what’s next across the league arose (again). Ever since this time last season, there have been rumblings about where LeBron James may play, and that he is most likely out the door. Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston… BOSTON!? Well, we’re getting close to decision time. LeBron has until June 29 to decide if he would like to exercise his player option (worth $35.6 million) to play for the Cleveland Cavilers again, foregoing his free agency. Unless a trade is on the table to a specific destination (a la Chris Paul last offseason), expect LeBron to hit the open market.
It’s not all LeBron (I swear). Other than LeBron, there are other big names to keep an eye on as the calendar goes from June to July. Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan are just a few names that will be free agents this summer. Oh, and let’s not forget the Kawhi Leonard saga. Will he get traded? It seems like that’s what he wants, but we’ll have to wait and see.
With that in mind, I’m going to read the tea leaves, put my thinking cap on, and predict where the big names will go this offseason.
The Next Great Laker?
One of the greatest players of all-time (no, we’re not having that discussion right now), the best player in the league at this moment… and out the door?
All signs point to LeBron leaving Cleveland (again), but this time around, you cannot blame him. He won the Cavs a title, has erased the thoughts of The Decision, and owes the city nothing. At 33, about to enter his 16th season, LeBron has reached the point where LeBron can do whatever the hell LeBron wants, ending his story however he sees fit.
Stephen A Smith tells us LeBron will take a meeting with Houston, Philly, the Lakers, and possibly Golden State and Boston. Yet, since the Finals have ended, signs have pointed to Los Angeles. His son enrolling at a school in Los Angeles, Chris Paul saying LeBron wants to be in LA, and apparently the sports books know something, as the Lakers are the favorites to land King James. You could argue better basketball fits could be made in other cities, but if LeBron can bring another star with him, and desires an end to his career that can serve as a beginning to a transition into further building his brand, what better place is there than Los Angeles?
I think it will come down to Los Angeles or Cleveland, but at this time next month, I believe LeBron James will be a Los Angeles Laker.
LeBron’s Next Sidekick?
Well, Paul George is going to Los Angeles too, right!? Dating back to 2017, isn’t that why he wanted out of Indiana!? Specifically, to go to LA? Well, not so fast.
I personally think George would be a great fit in the places commonly connected to LeBron (Houston and Philly), but it seems like this decision will come down to Oklahoma City and Los Angeles. Paul George has not said anything negative about the possibility of returning to OKC, and recent reports are saying he’s close to re-signing. It just seems weird considering the goal was to get to LA.
Maybe LeBron has genuinely set out messages that he does not want to play with George, or maybe the OKC reports are just wishful thinking (everyone said Durant was staying).
One thing to keep in mind: do not expect a long contract. George has played 8 years in the NBA and is only eligible for a max contract worth 30% of the salary cap (~$30 million). Once an NBA player has been in the league for more than 10 years, he can be offered a contract worth 35% of the salary cap (~$35 million). And those reports about George re-signing… it would only be for two seasons (adding up to ten years).
Unless something breaks down in Houston with Chris Paul (I’ll get to that next), I expect Paul George to be a Los Angeles Laker too.
Houston, we have a problem[?]
Chris Paul is one of my favorite players in the NBA, and it hurts me to see he still has not won a championship yet. But there’s no way he LEAVES Houston, right??
There’s some small rumblings that Paul and the Rockets have some tension. As this article tells us, some things have changed since Paul forced a trade to Houston last offseason: new ownership, injury concerns, and maybe LeBron James. Chris Paul is the President of the NBAPA and has said many times he will not take a penny less than his worth on the open market (which is absolutely a max contract), but if Houston wants LeBron (or Paul George), and considering they will need to re-sign Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza, maybe a “discount” would help the team out.
Chris Paul will not budge, trust me.
He’s worth a max contract, and I ultimately think he will receive one from Houston. The relationship between LeBron and Paul should be noted, and if Paul wants to play with him, the Lakers have the cap space… but I do not see it happening.
The fit in Houston was magical, and I think they’re in a good spot to contend next year. Conclusion: Chris Paul will remain a Houston Rocket.
The Kawhi Saga
No, Kawhi is not a free agent. But, as we remember when Paul George told Indiana he was not re-signing, having a player explicitly tell you he’s leaving, the threat of losing him for nothing is too much to bare. Kawhi’s camp has told the media he wants out and wants to be in LA (sensing a theme here), but Pop will NOT trade Kawhi to the Lakers. What will the Spurs do?
Well first, they can offer him a supermax contract. If he does not want it, then they can hold on to him for the beginning of the season and hope things change. The real deadline in the 2019 trade deadline, because after that, the Spurs will not be able to trade Kawhi, and he will walk out the door. The Spurs trust their organization and love Kawhi, but if push comes to shove, they know full and well they’ll need to trade him.
I do not think they will let this extend into next season, because I genuinely believe Kawhi would sit out again (citing injury concerns). With this in mind, I expect a trade this offseason.
The Spurs have said they will only trade Leonard to an Eastern Conference team, but if others team have zero faith he will re-sign and will not take the risk, maybe their only choice will be pitting the Lakers and Clippers against each other for a trade offer… I think a team in the East will take a risk.
No, not Boston (sorry Woj). My biggest guess for the offseason: Kawhi Leonard will be traded to the 76ers for a package centering around Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric.
What’s Up with DeMarcus?
The curious case of DeMarcus Cousins. Will a team take a risk on a player who ruptured his Achilles? Well, the history on NBA players with that injury is S-C-A-R-Y. What Cousins may have on his side is time, having suffered the injury at 27. Hopefully he can recover in time, because he was balling last season prior to the injury (25/13/5).
One thing I am concerned about: New Orleans looked good (if not better) with out Cousins. After his injury, they acquired Nikola Mirotic, who provided New Orleans with a stretch four… and they started winning. New Orleans reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015, swept the Trail Blazers, and took a game from the Warriors. Their best season in franchise history, and they did well without Boogie.
An injured commodity, a team that showed it can perform without him… is the marriage over?
Well, I’d keep an eye on the Dallas Mavericks. A team always tied to big named free agents, Dallas has the requisite cap space to offer Cousins a max (what he wants) and has a positional need at C. After trading up for Luka Doncic on draft night versus staying at 5 and picking Mo Bamba, there is nothing blocking Dallas getting Cousins and going all-in for one more season with Dirk.
Dennis Smith Jr, Doncic, Harrison Barnes, Dirk, DeMarcus Cousins… that would be fun to watch. I think it will come down to the highest offer (Pelicans can offer more), but I believe DeMarcus Cousins will end up signing with Dallas.
Remember 2015? Remember when Jordan was set to join the Mavericks, had second thoughts, and then was… held hostage by his friends on the Los Angeles Clippers (insert Paul Pierce with two phones picture).
Well, Jordan has a player option and he could up his yearly salary from $24.1 million to $35.6 million. Is there enough demand for Jordan on the open market to make the jump to free agency worth it? The teams with cap space (Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas) could make offers, but most are rebuilding and/or do not have a need for Jordan. Another note: his style of play is a bit outdated, and his lack of ability to shoot will soon be a thing of the past in the NBA.
DeAndre Jordan is a great player, but I am uncertain if it is worth it for him to go to free agency this offseason. There’s interest from Dallas , Jordan seems interested in the possibility of going to Houston to play with former teammate Chris Paul (and go back home). But considering how I think Dallas will sign Cousins, I do not think there will be enough interest in Jordan.
He could wait for 2019, or maybe opt-out and get a raise in return for staying one more season. However you slice it, unless Cousins returns to New Orleans, expect DeAndre Jordan to stay with the Clippers.
Other Names to Watch
Kemba Walker (possible trade)
Dwight Howard (likely buyout)
Carmelo Anthony (possible buyout)
Marcus Smart (RFA)
Julius Randle (RFA)
Aaron Gordon (RFA)
JJ Reddick (UFA)
Trevor Ariza (UFA)
Derrick Favors (UFA)
Isaiah Thomas (UFA)
Tyreke Evans (UFA)
Thaddeus Young (player option)
Avery Bradley (UFA)
Rajon Rondo (UFA)