After a chaotic offseason last year, full of exciting free agent moves and trades, the 2018 summer will have a hard time topping it.
However, this free agency class is deeper than last year, full of excellent role players hidden beneath the many star players ready to receive their max contracts. Who will stay; who will go? With rumors swirling around about LeBron’s offseason plans, could this be the last stand for the Cleveland Cavaliers? Will Paul George leave town, once again leaving Russell Westbrook to be the sole captain of the ship?
The Lakers have ample cap space and assets to make themselves a desirable location for just about any free agent on the market, including George.
The question is, however, who will be the next Mozgov, Noah, or Deng? Which franchise will handicap themselves for the near future during the panic of free agency? Week-by-week, we will be looking at the ten top free agents on the market this summer, ranked by their positions.
Honorable mentions: Tyreke Evans, Rodney Hood, Trevor Ariza, Wilson Chandler
5. Jabari Parker
Coming off of a second ACL tear, Parker’s free agency will be very intriguing to see what teams offer the 22-year-old who averaged 20 points per game last season. With his health in question, he will need to have a strong showing when he returns later this season to a Milwaukee team who needs all the help that they can get.
When healthy, Parker has shown tremendous promise as a scorer and was a consistent threat from the three-point line last season. However, after two ACL tears, how much explosiveness remains in Parker? Those injuries have shortened many bright careers, as seen in the cases of Michael Redd and Derrick Rose.
In the case that Jabari comes back and performs just as well as last season, it is still likely that teams will be weary on considering him as a player that they can build a franchise around.
With the injury risks surrounding him, the situation that makes the most sense for both Milwaukee and Parker would be to sign a five-year deal, but not for the max. In this situation, I could see the Bucks negotiating him to a five-year, 80-million-dollar deal. It may seem like an underpay for a player of his abilities, but the chances of Parker recovering 100% from this injury is very low and would not be worth investing much more into.
4. Carmelo Anthony
When Melo was traded to OKC to join forces with Westbrook and George, fans expected him to play like “Olympic Melo,” a highly efficient third option who would take the load off of the two other all-stars. While he has managed to do that to an extent, Carmelo is averaging career lows across the board, including FG%. As Melo continues to adapt to not having the ball in his hands as much, these numbers should rise, as they have been over the last ten games with Carmelo averaging 17 points per game on 43% from downtown.
His age, as well as his ego and refusal to consider coming off the bench is concerning to a contender who would invest major cap space into the former star.
In the past, Anthony has seemed to value money as much, if not more, than winning and with a 29 million dollar player option on the table, it is almost a guarantee that he will opt in to rejoin Westbrook next season. In order to join a different contender, such as Houston, Golden State, or Cleveland, Carmelo would need to opt out and re-sign for the agreed amount; in a situation where he would join one of those three teams, I would imagine it would be for about three years, $54 million.
Whether those teams would need Carmelo’s scoring is questionable, but the Rockets were heavily interested in trading for Anthony in the offseason and as a free agent, if LeBron wants him signed, then it will be done. At this point in his career, time is running out for the former star, and fast.
There are only a few years left for Anthony to be a significant contributor to a contender and he will need to decide this summer what he values most and what his legacy, after all of the All-Star appearances, Olympic medals, and an NCAA championship, will be remembered as without winning on the grandest stage.
3. Paul George
There are plenty of options for Paul George this summer, with the most obvious one being his hometown of Los Angeles. If George wants to return home, then Los Angeles has the space to offer him, along with another free agent, full max contracts. In LA, George would be the leader of a young core with great potential but whether he would want to wait for those players to develop remains to be seen. If the rumors are true, however, and George is hell-bent on forcing his way to the Lakers, then it might be best for OKC to trade him to his hometown and attempt to get some assets for the superstar.
When the Thunder had their slow start, beginning the season with a 14-15 record, it appeared as if George leaving was even more certain than before. However, the Thunder have won eight of their last ten games as Westbrook, Melo, and George have all been playing much better during this stretch. Even when their offense has been struggling, Oklahoma City’s defense has kept them in games, led by George who has shown, once again, that he is one of the top defenders in the league and is one of the front-runners for the Defensive Player of the Year.
As the big three continues to build their chemistry within Billy Donovan’s system, then they have a great core to contend in the playoffs. They have elite defense from Roberson and Adams, two-way play from George, scoring from Anthony and great playmaking from the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.
If the Thunder can keep up their great play as of late and build upon it, then they have the potential to be a top-five team in the NBA and can contend to make it to the Finals.
George’s decision will be made clearer as the season goes on. Right now, the Lakers have the worst record in the entire NBA, which would be fine if they were attempting to improve their position in the draft lottery. However, LA has no incentive to tank at the moment as they do not own their pick this year; even if their pick was #1, it would go to Philadelphia.
The possibility of George wanting to leave a team that can be a top-three seed in the West for years to join a team of unproven youth is questionable, but it will be decided in the playoffs. George was quoted as saying, “If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
2. Kevin Durant
Coming off a Finals MVP, Kevin Durant is in the best possible position for a player who can be quoted as saying “I don’t want to have to be the leader.” In the most unselfish system in basketball, Durant can play without the pressure of being the leader or franchise player of the team, with Draymond and Curry filling both of those roles. KD excels playing off of his teammates and the extra spacing that Kerr’s system provides and has shown massive improvements on the defensive end this year, exerting much more effort. Curry and Durant are the best duos in basketball, both being able to score forty on any given night on tremendous efficiency and it will remain that way for years to come.
On a team that looks to produce a dynasty, Durant will likely sign a one-year deal, perhaps on a discount like last summer, and then take the full max next year. In the situation that he is in, the former MVP will likely not even take calls from other teams as he will immediately re-sign with the Golden State Warriors.
1. LeBron James
At age 33, LeBron remains the crown jewel of this free agency, remaining a player who just about guarantees an opportunity at the NBA Championship to any team he decides to sign with. After making three straight finals, likely on their way to a fourth, the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be capped out as far as it comes to making additions to their roster. LeBron, as well as the organization, will need to make some very tough decisions this summer; if they find themselves in a one-sided series against the Golden State Warriors once again, will the roster remain the same for the start of the 2018-2019 season?
The playoffs will be very important in deciding LeBron’s destination this summer as he will need to decide what he values most after a potential beatdown from the Warriors: money, winning, or loyalty. In theory, Cleveland offers all three, but with its aging roster and little flexibility, how long will this remain the case?
Last season, Cleveland could have very well made the finals a six or seven game series, with a missed Kyle Korver three being the difference maker in Game 3. With a much more capable bench this season, led by his best friend, Dwyane Wade, the addition of All-Star Isaiah Thomas, and the potential addition of another star via trade, with Deandre Jordan, Marc Gasol, and perhaps even Paul George being targets of the Cavaliers. In the case that this year does not end the way LeBron wants: a championship or at least a competitive season against the Warriors, he may need to look elsewhere if he wants to continue to compete into his late thirties.
Despite not having the cap space outright to sign the four-time MVP, sources state that Houston is a major player in the 2018 LeBron James sweepstakes. If he were to opt in to his 31-million-dollar contract for next season, James could be traded to the Rockets much like Chris Paul was last summer. By doing this, Houston could retain his bird rights, allowing him to sign a 5-year max contract in the summer of 2019. It would take a lot of cap maneuvering, but with GM Daryl Morey steering the ship, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
The opportunity to play with an MVP caliber player in Harden and another top ten player and friend, Chris Paul, in a system surrounded by shooters would be very appealing to LeBron. With a core of LeBron, Harden, Paul, Gordon, Capella and whatever ring chasing free agents that would join Houston, this team would give LeBron his best chance to take down the unstoppable super team in Golden State.
Seemingly the case every season, the Lakers have found themselves in rumors to sign another top free agent. This summer, they have the ability to sign two. If another superstar such as George or Cousins landed in LA, that along with the Lakers’ young core in Lonzo, Ingram, Kuzma and all of the endorsements that being a Laker would provide could be enough to lure King James out of Cleveland. It certainly would not put him in a better position to win immediately, but considering the various assets that LA could trade, it is certainly a destination that LeBron will consider throughout the year.
Most likely, LeBron will re-sign either for another year with Cleveland or take the five-year max contract that will always be on the table for him. LeBron runs the city of Cleveland and despite intriguing situations in Houston, Los Angeles, and other dark horses such as San Antonio, Philadelphia or even Boston, it is hard to imagine LeBron leaving the city a second time.
Another thing to consider is that if James leaves Cleveland to head out West, then he will need to battle the Western Conference and face his greatest challenge, the Warriors, before even reaching the NBA Finals. If LeBron is trying to expand upon his legacy and challenge Jordan, then it may be in his best interest to stay in the Eastern Conference so he can continue to get to the Finals for years to come.