By: Alec Garcia (@alecbruins)
The NBA season officially ends in June with the conclusion of the NBA finals but with the NBA Draft and Free Agency only weeks after, the 2018-19 season has already begun. As I stated in our NBA Finals piece, this off-season has the chance to provide a league wide shake up similar to that of The Decision (part 1 & 2) and KD's Player Tribune announcement. It won't nearly be as climactic ( at least I think) but anytime we see superstars potentially on the move there will certainly be drama. Here's my list of things to look out for when free agency begins:
*Update* According to the New York Times Marc Stein, Kevin Durant and the Warriors have now verbally agreed on their expected new two-year deal worth $61.5 million and featuring a player option in Year 2 that allows Durant to return to free agency in July 2019.
*Update* According to Yahoo! Shams Charnia, Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic has committed to a five-year, $146.5M maximum contract with the Denver Nuggets.
*Update* According to New York Times Marc Stein, DeAndre Jordan and the Dallas Mavericks have verbally agreed on a one-year deal approaching the $24.1 million option with the Clippers for next season that Jordan relinquished Friday.
*Update* According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, All-Star Chris Paul will sign a four-year, $160M max contract to stay with the Houston Rockets.
*Update* According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan will opt-out of his deal making him an unrestricted free agent. The Dallas Mavericks are among the favorites to land his services.
The Decision Part 3
There's a high possibility the best player in the world will be leaving Cleveland for the second time, (sorry Dan Gilbert) in pursuit of greener pastures. The Lakers are the odds on favorite to land his services among the very few realistic options. They have the space for two max contracts but as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski, Lebron is hesitant to be the first superstar to decide to join the Lakers. The Houston Rockets scenario would require the most hurdles like a potential opt-in and trade but it likely gives LeBron his best opportunity to win a championship in the short term. The Sixers appear to be on the outside looking in but also provide LeBron an ideal destination to continue chasing championships. He could join a team that finished two games ahead of the Cavaliers and be paired with two young stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Of course anything can happen, it would not shock me to see LeBron stay home. The Cavaliers still have Kevin Love, they drafted Collin Sexton and there's potential deals to be made that could slightly improve the team that just made the NBA Finals.
*Update* As expected, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com reported that sources told him James has declined to exercise his $35.6 million player option on his contract with the Cavaliers. The deadline to pick up the option would have been Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
This now makes it more likely for LeBron to sign with a team with cap space like the Lakers, Sixers and Cavs.
Although Kawhi is not a free agent this year, he's still a major chess piece that could have an effect on other moves this off-season. The Spurs have been informed Kawhi has no desire to sign a super max deal worth up to $219 million to stay in San Antonio. Instead, he plans on opting out if his deal next Summer making him a free agent to ultimately sign with the Lakers. San Antonio still has hopes of repairing its frayed relationship with Leonard and ideally wants to offer him the $219 million super maximum contract extension. According to ESPN, the Lakers have “re-engaged” with the San Antonio Spurs on Kawhi trade talks, after initially being shut out before the NBA draft last week. The Lakers are to said to have made the former #2 pick Brandon Ingram available as part of a "godfather" offer according to USA Today's Sam Amick. The other potential suitor for Kawhi's services is the Boston Celtics. It's well known the Celtics have a ton of assets that include promising young players as well as potential future lottery picks. However, the Celtics are incredibly cautious because there's so much unknown surrounding Leonard such as his health and free agent desires. They are in a comfortable position where they don't have to take any risks and can still compete for a championship with the team they currently have assembled.
The latest on the PG front is that he informed team officials he would not be opting in to the final year of his contract making him an unrestricted free agent. Paul George is from Palmdale, CA and in one way or another has always been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers. Indiana traded George to OKC a year ago but before his trade, George had told the Pacers that he planned to sign with the Lakers in free agency this summer. OKC still took the risk in trading for PG knowing they could potentially lose him in Free Agency but hoped they could convince him to stay in his time there. We know that PG will be seriously considering both the Thunder and the Lakers in free agency and has other potential suitors like Philadelphia and Houston.
*Update* According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Paul George has agreed to a four-year, $137M max contract with the Thunder. Deal includes a player option.
Restricted Free Agents
Just so we're clear a restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the player's original team can retain him by matching the terms of that offer. The original team is said to have the "right of first refusal." Since teams can match any contract offer their players receive, offer sheets extended by opposing teams are usually above market value making RFA tricky. Most of these players are young and have been developed by their current teams so it's difficult to move on from such players but also they risk locking themselves into a player who may never reach their potential.
There are a few RFA's you should keep an eye on, starting with Aaron Gordon. Orlando is almost certain to match any offer sheet that may come his way because after all these years of rebuilding he's all they really have to show for it. Gordon is coming off his best season in the NBA, where he averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game. This has everything to do with him playing his true position of PF where he can utilize his speed and athleticism. I'd love to see Aaron Gordon on a playoff team surrounded by shooters where he could flourish in a Draymond Green type of role. Unfortunately that is unlikely, at least for next year but we could see Orlando trade him down the line.
It's difficult to imagine Danny Ainge giving Marcus Smart anything resembling a long term offer. The Celtics currently have three players on max contracts (Kyrie, Hayward and Horford) and two very promising young players (Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum) who will eventually request big money after their rookie deals. Smart is only 24 and already a versatile defender with high energy who does a lot of the dirty work for his team. It would not surprise me to see him elsewhere next season in search of an expanded role.
Perhaps the most intriguing RFA is Clint Capela who played a big role in the Rockets success this season. He's only 23 years old and has a very unique skill set especially defensively. Capela struggled mightily offensively in the Finals where Golden State prevented him to roll to the rim and since he's unable to spread the floor Houston opted for PJ Tucker at the 5. The Rockets will most likely match the offer sheet he receives in hopes he develops more on the offensive end.
Julius Randle will be an interesting case to watch because he's currently low on the priority list for the Lakers, who currently have the space for two max contracts. After the all-star break Randle posted a stat line of 19.5 points on 55.5 percent shooting, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Nothing can really happen with Randle or these other guys for that matter, until the big dominoes fall and teams know what kind of space they have. Even with his impressive numbers, Randle is a career 25.7 percent 3-point shooter and lacks the ability to protect the rim so it's imperative he's surrounded by the right players.