After a few drinks, I started to talk to myself and pondered some of the big questions as LeBron James and other superstars head into the summer of 2018.
Question: Is LeBron willing to be the first to move and be the lone superstar on a team like the Los Angeles Lakers or stay in Cleveland as the long superstar back home?
Answer: It is extremely unlikely that LeBron would be the first domino to fall this summer. It is likely that he is already talking to the likes of Paul George and other superstars and will make his move after the others chips have fallen. That being said, if his is the lone player of his caliber to move to the likes of the Lakers, other stars would be compelled to play with him for the Purple and Golden and will makes moves to tinsel town by either the trade deadline or the summer of 2019. Regardless, he’s going to do what he feels is best for him while taking in consideration where he wishes to end his career and which city is best for his family.
Question: Similar to Carmelo Anthony who in 2011 declared that he wanted to be a New York Knick while playing for Denver, Kawhi Leonard and his camp have indicated that he would like to go to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks wound up using a ton of their assets to acquire Anthony from Denver which changed the trajectories for both New York and Carmelo. Are the Lakers in danger of doing something like that for Kawhi?
Answer: That is exactly what is appears to be happening to the Lakers; though at this point it is being reported that they are being pressured into trading for Leonard. If the Lakers are to make a move know rather than wait for Kawhi to join the franchise as a free agent in 2019; they would likely have to gut the young core that they have built. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, or Brandon Ingram or some combination of the three along with some future draft picks would have to offer to the Spurs to truly entice them into trading their best player. The player that the Spurs would prefer the most is Brandon Ingram. If the Lakers were to give away their youth to acquire Leonard, they would lack the assets to bring in a third star to Los Angeles. Also, it would be easier to trade away Luol Deng and his contract next summer as he would only half one year left on his deal. That would mean that the Lakers would find it easier to bring in Kawhi and another max contract player to fit alongside a LeBron James or Paul George.
Question: LeBron is likely to opt out of his last year with Cleveland. He will either sign with Los Angeles or return to Northeastern Ohio or move elsewhere like to the 76ers. What would the percentages be of LeBron making a decision between these teams?
Answer: 45% Cavaliers, 45% Los Angeles, and 10% to let’s just go with other teams (like Philadelphia or the Rockets.) The idea of LeBron staying in the east no longer appears to be the guiding principle for him. All along, the conversation around LeBron has been that his easiest path to the Finals would be in the East. The fact that he has gotten their every single year since 2011 remains valid, but for him it is more than just about getting to the finals but to win it with a team capable of achieving that. There are other factors surrounding his free agency decision like where he like his family to be and where he would like his kids to go to school but in terms of a basketball decision it is about the best spot to win a championship. Nobody ever talks about the years where Jordan never made the finals, people only talk about his perfect 6-0 record. And LeBron is always going to have his final losses be used as an argument to hinder his greatness. Staying in Cleveland means that those losses are likely to stack up barring the fact they can make a move for a superstar player with their limited assets.
Question: When it comes to Kawhi Leonard, there are teams out there who could make an enticing offer to the Spurs in terms of players and assets. It is entirely possible that the Spurs will just shrug their shoulders and tell Kawhi that he is under contract for the coming season even if it means a worsening situation as they trod along to the trade deadline. Who are the credible players and teams for Kawhi Leonard?
Answer: The teams most interested in Kawhi are the Celtics, 76ers, both L.A. teams, and even the Cavaliers have shown some interest in acquiring Leonard (though the Cavs clearly do not have the assets to match any of the other four teams). Philly and Boston certainly have the pieces to make a deal with San Antonio. Philly has the likes of Saric, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and Zhaire Smith who they just brought in at the draft while Boston has Jaylen Brown, and a plethora of picks. Nevertheless, the Celtics and the 76ers would be hesitant to trade for Kawhi as he has publically indicated that he would like to sign with the Lakers. There are also concerns about the injury that kept him out for all but 9 regular season games for the Spurs (seriously though, what’s his injury?) and the fact that you’d have to deal with this de-facto agent, Uncle Dennis. This makes it tough for San Antonio to move Kawhi this summer or by the trade deadline. How are the Spurs supposed to create leverage to get fair value for an MVP caliber player and arguably the best two-way player in the game when fully healthy.
Question: Another player who is in a similar situation to Kawhi is Paul George. Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder made a decision last summer to trade Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo for George knowing fully well that he could opt out of his contract after a year. Always been linked to the Lakers – with Southern California being his home – but rumors have now surfaced that he might be looking to sign a LeBron type deal where he signs 1+1 deal with OKC. Where is Paul George likely to land?
Answer: For Indiana last summer they found the right deal for them to go ahead and trade their star player – something that San Antonio needs to find as well. Now for Paul George, Sam Presti took the necessary risk. There was no reason to believe that Victor Oladipo would be the All-NBA type player that he is today by playing alongside Russel Westbrook and Sabonis was expandable. And after a decent season in Oklahoma and the growing friendship between Westbrook and George, it is more and more likely as each day passes that PG13 will sign for Oklahoma at least for the 1+1 deal. To tie this back to the Lakers, the opportunity to sign Paul George does not disappear if he signs a 1 year deal in Oklahoma. There seems to be some unfinished business for George in Oklahoma; Roberson got injured, George’s numbers dropped during the second half of the season and maybe he feels like he needs to make another run with this squad before making a decision in 2019 with a stacked free agency class.
Question: A somewhat neglected position in the modern NBA, centers are being overlooked in the postseason with the focus being on small ball lineups. There are some premium big men on market though each of them come with some baggage. Which is the best center currently available?
Answer: In February, it was reported that Dallas was in the hunt for DeMarcus Cousins, Julius Randle, DeAndre Jordan (really? After his “kidnapping” scandal?), and even the likes of Clint Capela. Dallas were even interested in drafting Mo Bamba in this year’s draft though they ultimately brought in European sensation Luka Doncic. DeAndre Jordan is certainly a top option for the Mavericks on either a 1+1 deal or longer deal in a sign and trade scenario. Cousins is the biggest question mark of the lot. No team in the right mind would sign him to a max contract or even plan on giving him a long deal knowing fully well that he is still undergoing the recovery process after tearing is ACL – an injury that has derailed many players’ careers in the past.
Question: There is an interesting group of free agents out in the market who were drafted in the summer of 2014. There’s Capela, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon among others. They all have their plus sides but have some glaring holes in their games. Which of these restricted free agents has the most interesting summer ahead of this class?
Answer: Guys who are good but not great – the likes of Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon and even Marcus Smart who it a pit-bull on the defensive end of the floor though his offensive has not developed to the point of satisfaction. Which of them is going to pop and take the biggest leap in their second contract is the question that teams have on their minds. Jabari Parker is the most interesting player of the lot. Before his second ACL injury, a recurring theme of his career, he was a really good player for the Bucks. An efficient 20 point per game score at 6-foot-8 and the mobility to be a hard working defensive player, Jabari is the kind of player that teams would be looking for if they need a go-to scorer and a player who can get buckets in late game situations, a healthy Jabari Parker is the perfect guy.
Question: What are some of the unexpected teams who could make a splash this summer?
Answer: If Phoenix want they get involved, they could with the cap space they have to add with the young core they presently have with their roster. While they could explore and dip their toes into this free agency class, it’s much better for their long-term future to develop their players for 1 more year before fully investing their resources into attracting the free agent Class of 2019. Either they would get to see what kind of player is missing from their roster or they could become a much more attractive destination for some marquee free agents. Indiana is another team that could be in play as they too can create some cap space. The likes of Marcus Smart or Jabari Parker to the Indiana core could shake up the likes of Philly or the Celtics in-terms of their future dominance of the Eastern Conference.