Ladies and gentlemen, let the real NBA season begin.
I know, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship, but we already knew that was a forgone conclusion. I’m talking about the real competition: who will win the off-season?
Already, NBA free agency has seen some major surprises. So, as we like to do best, we’re going to break down the biggest free agency news that DOESN’T directly deal with LeBron James.
1) THE L.A. LIGHTS DON’T SHINE FOR ALL
The summer of 2018 was interesting in the fact that a lot of the biggest stars were going to be free agents at the same time.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard/forward Paul George (then with the Indiana Pacers) made it clear that he was going to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers after the 2017-18 season. Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul opted in to the last year of his contract so he could become an unrestricted free agent this year. All signs were pointing to one, if not both of them, going to team up with LeBron James in the purple and gold.
Yet, on the day before free agency officially began, and it looked like there would be no alignment of the stars. On Saturday afternoon, we had gotten a couple of major updates in regards to where George’s head was at.
Paul George is very much leaning towards staying with @okcthunder, multiple sources tell @theballoutmedia. Thunder fans might get some positive signals today on where he is leaning, time will tell #Thunder
— The Ball Out (@theballoutmedia) June 30, 2018
Then, later on in the day, we got another big scoop:
— The Ball Out (@theballoutmedia) June 29, 2018
And then, as soon as 12:01 a.m. EST hit, the last word came from Paul George’s mouth himself. At a private party hosted by Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, George announced he would be staying with the Thunder. And not just temporarily: George signed a max contract for four years and $137 million, which based on the new CBA could potentially end up a seven-year deal worth up to $290 million if he extends after the second year of the deal.
The bleeding didn’t stop there. Chris Paul, one of LeBron’s best friends, signed a four-year, $160 million contract to stay with the Houston Rockets. Houston, for what it’s worth, was looking to bring in James via sign-and-trade, but when James opted out of his contract on Friday, he no longer was a viable option. Paul, who came to Houston via sign-and-trade last summer from the Los Angeles Clippers, was a primary key in the Rockets’ ascent to the Western Conference Finals, and it could be argued that if Paul doesn’t get hurt in Game 5, the Rockets may have been in the NBA Finals.
Considering that both stars were linked to James, the only contract that makes sense here is Paul’s. Again, you can make a serious argument that Houston had Golden State on the ropes. For Paul, who just turned 33 in May, it makes sense to sign a long-term deal that not only sets you up financially, but with a team that has serious championship potential. Even with the loss of Trevor Ariza (who agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with the Phoenix Suns), the Rockets have newly minted MVP James Harden (28), super-sub Eric Gordon and could also re-sign Clint Capela, who has blossomed into one of the top five centers in the league.
As far as Paul George is concerned, there are many reasons why one would scratch their head at this decision. One, while with Indiana, he has already announced he was going to sign with his hometown Lakers, which led the Pacers trading him to Oklahoma City. Then, he has an ESPN special detailing his process leading into free agency. All that, only to re-sign with Oklahoma City and not even give his hometown team a meeting? There’s a couple of ways you could look at it.
The Pacers has agreed to the framework of a trade that would have sent George to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but because they, Cleveland, could not secure a long-term commitment from LeBron James, George refused. And now, with the possibility that James might not go to the Lakers, George decided the grass wasn’t greener at home. Or, you could see it this way: George, realizing that James was most likely going to sign with the Lakers, decided that it wasn’t worth being the secondary option in HIS hometown (think Kyrie Irving forcing his way out of Cleveland; same concept).
Or, maybe George thought about how another former Thunder player, Kevin Durant, left and saw the public backlash that came from that and realized it was safer to try and carve a legacy in Oklahoma.
Ultimately though, the results are going to trickle down to how successful Oklahoma City becomes over the next couple of seasons. Because if George and the Thunder end up with the same results as last season (first-round playoff exit), George is going to have to do a lot of self-reflecting. And from the way the Western Conference is starting to shape up, I don’t see how Oklahoma City improves their standing.
2) DEANDRE JORDAN AND DALLAS KISS AND MAKE UP
In the 2015 0ff-season, the Dallas Mavericks and DeAndre Jordan (then with the Los Angeles Clippers) had verbally agreed to a contract six days before free agents could officially sign their new contracts. Within that time frame, the Clippers swooped in and wooed Jordan into coming back, which ended up being the biggest drama of the summer.
Well, with Jordan opting out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent, the door opened for the Mavericks to get the center of their dreams. Last night, Jordan and the Mavericks verbally agreed to a one-year contract, otherwise a trial run for both of them to see if they are a long-term fit. Jordan, going into his 11th season, is still a monster in the paint, finishing second last season in rebounds per game (15.2) and field goal percentage (64.5).
And with Dallas having no legitimate options at the center position (Nerlens Noel isn’t walking through that door again), Jordan is going to be free to catch plenty of lobs from their newest guard, draftee Luka Doncic.
Considering the Mavericks finished tied for the third-worst record in the league (24-58), getting Jordan is a massive upgrade to their frontcourt presence. And it’s not like Jordan is an injury risk either: in his career, Jordan has only missed more tha), n ten games twice (not including the strike-shortened 2011-12 season).
3) THE DENVER NUGGETS ARE FOR REAL
The city of Denver, Colorado, has never been known as a free agent haven. But seeing how the free agency period has turned up so far, you’d think the Denver Nuggets are serious players.
And honestly, you can’t blame them. Within the first 12 hours of free agency, the Nuggets re-signed two parts of their young core: Nikola Jokic (five years, $148 million) and Will Barton (four years, $54 million). Jokic, who initially was a second-round pick in 2014, has developed into the cornerstone of this franchise, averaging 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists last season. Considering that there was pockets of the NBA media that thought the Nuggets made a mistake choosing him over fellow 2014 draftee Jusuf Nurkic (who was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2017 and was the starting center at the time), Jokic has proven the doubters wrong.
Barton, who turned down a four-year, $42 million extension last summer, has served as Denver’s bench scorer supreme, averaging a career-high in points (15.7), assists (4.1), field goal percentage (45.2) and 3-point percentage (37.0). And with the Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards expressing serious interest in him, Denver needed to make sure they locked him up.
And now, the team’s focus: trying to convince LeBron James to come to them. Multiple sources have reported that Denver is aggressively pursuing a meeting with James and his agents, and plan to sell him on the potential of teaming up with their young trio of Barton, Jokic and Jamal Murray. Even if it is just for one season, the Nuggets feel like they have to at least try (reason: look at the first section of this article). And honestly, if you are looking for a sleeper team, James couldn’t go wrong by at least talking with the Nuggets; they won 46 games last season and were in the playoff hunt up until the final day of the regular season.
We will have more major updates as free agency heats up, so make sure to keep your eyes on The Ball Out’s Facebook page and Twitter (@theballoutmedia) for more scoops and major deals.