We are just a few days away before the start of NBA free agency and things are starting to heat up. Last offseason was full of fireworks with Chris Paul joining the Rockets, Paul George landing in Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler to the Wolves and Gordon Hayward signing with Boston.
This year's offseason is centered on LeBron James' decision, what will George do and the Kawhi Leonard situation. While guys like Boogie Cousins and Isaiah Thomas will try to make their case for huge contracts coming off injuries. With July 1st on the horizon, The Crossover staff put together bold predictions in advance of the big day.
Lee Jenkins: Kevin Durant will sign a one-year deal
Kevin Durant is the free agent no one talks about, and for good reason. He just captured his second straight championship, plus his second straight Finals MVP award, and he indicated in almost certain terms he will return to the Warriors. Durant has changed his mind before, but let’s assume he does re-sign. If I’m looking into a crystal ball, as shiny as the top of that Larry O’Brien Trophy, I’m thinking he declines a long-term contract and inks a one-year deal with a one-year option. The shorter term gives him the flexibility to sign a more lucrative pact in Golden State next summer or…go elsewhere and front a franchise again. Durant is an all-time great, arguably the second best player in the world, qualified to eventually succeed LeBron James. But he will need the canvas to do it. Maybe that’s in the Bay, as a co-star. Maybe it’s elsewhere, as a headliner.
Ben Golliver: If LeBron James leaves, Cavaliers will finish with NBA's worst record
Among the deep crop of teams vying to sign LeBron James this summer, Cleveland is the only one whose 2019 postseason hopes hinge entirely on the Decision III. The Rockets, Sixers and Celtics will be just fine if they strike out. And the Lakers, who are in the mix for other stars and in possession of a budding young core, should be on the West’s playoff bubble, at worst. The Cavaliers, however, face make-or-break stakes.
If James returns and enjoys good health, the Cavaliers should be able to win roughly 48 games, enough to set up the possibility of another miraculous run to the Finals. If James leaves, though, the Cavaliers could be headed for a repeat of James's first exit in 2010, when they were absolutely decimated and won just 19 games, the fewest in the East.
As painful as it was to sit through such a pathetic campaign, Cavaliers fans should be rooting for a full teardown if James departs. Trying to retool around Kevin Love would be a pointless endeavor: The Love-led Cavaliers wouldn't be contenders and the only reason he arrived in Cleveland in the first place was to play with James. In light of those circumstances, what’s a more intuitive move: Awkwardly trying to cater to Love after years of marginalizing him, or simply trading him to his next aspiring Superteam?
Putting Love into play—perhaps with Oklahoma City to pair him with Russell Westbrook should Paul George leave—could allow the Cavaliers to shed a bad contract and/or add a future draft pick. From there, GM Koby Altman could place the rest of his roster on the auction block, even if Tristan Thompson, George Hill and J.R. Smith—mediocre veterans on sub-mediocre contracts—aren’t likely to generate much interest.
The prime objectives in this post-James reality should be to save owner Dan Gilbert as much money as possible after four pricey Finals runs and to position the organization for a top lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Remember, Cleveland’s dismal 2010-11 season ultimately landed Kyrie Irving and Thompson in the 2011 lottery, two top-five picks who helped convince James to return to Cleveland in 2014. If James does leave, the Cavaliers might as well lean into their misery and prepare to launch their next era from the ground up. After all, the shameless approach to rebuilding worked brilliantly once before.
Matt Dollinger: Pacers trade for Gordon Hayward.
Indiana isn’t on anyone’s watch list as the NBA’s offseason gets underway, but they’ve quietly positioned themselves to make a big move after overachieving last season. Indy declined Lance Stephenson’s player option and could do the same for Al Jefferson, Darren Collison and Joe Young if they want to further clear the books. That could set the Pacers up to make a big splash, whether in free agency or via trade. Victor Oladipo recently challenged free agents to come to Indy if they want to win—but will a strong season and some bravado be enough to lure a big name? If not, we could see Kevin Pritchard pull off another big trade on the heels of last year’s Thunder blockbuster. While a return from Paul George would be compelling and make sense on paper, it’s unlikely due to the fractured relationship. Aaron Gordon would be intriguing and pair two Jordan athletes together, but the Magic are likely to match any offer. Maybe the Pacers pull off another Indiana homecoming and trade for former Butler star Gordon Hayward. The Celtics need to unload somebody this summer, and with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown arriving ahead of schedule, Boston could be motivated to unload Hayward’s deal, clearing both minutes and cap space. It might cost the Pacers a prized piece—like, Domantas Sabonis—but the arrival of a second All-Star, much less one willing to play in Indiana, might be too much to turn down.
Rohan Nadkarni: The Pelicans Let Boogie Walk
As the offseason continues, I’n going to be fairly surprised if DeMarcus Cousins ends up back in New Orleans. The Pelicans found a successful formula with Anthony Davis at center down the stretch of the last season. Maybe Davis can’t play the five for a full year, but it seemingly makes more sense to surround him with shooters than pairing him with a high-usage big. Even with Cousins playing more like a perimeter player than a back-to-the-basket throwback big, the floor can still be crowded when AD and Boogie play together. New Orleans hit its stride after Cousins got hurt, and with a lot of money already poured into a roster with little flexibility, letting Boogie walk could allow the Pelicans to build a team more suitable to Davis’s talents.
And Boogie may not want to stay! A team with cap space could make Cousins a more enticing offer. Perhaps the Mavericks would be more willing to offer a max deal than New Orleans. Maybe the Wizards somehow enter the sweepstakes to reunite Boogie with John Wall. Cousins’s recovery from his Achilles injury definitely complicates matters here. But it could be in the best interest of both parties for Boogie to end the New Orleans portion of his career this summer.
Rob Mahoney: Isaiah Thomas will sign a deal worth less than the full mid-level exception ($8.4 million)
The Brinks truck may have gotten lost. For as much respect as Thomas has earned around the league, you'll be hard-pressed to find executives jumping at the chance to invest in a 5-9 player who shot 37% from the field last season. The point guard market is overcrowded as it is; so many playoff teams are already satisfied with their starters, and so many rebuilding teams already have their lead guards of the future. That leaves Thomas, after an awful, post-injury season, fighting for scraps. If he's not scoring, Thomas will hurt your team. If he still sees himself as a star, Thomas could derail your offense. There's just too much risk, too few teams in the running, and too much risk involved for Thomas to get the kind of contract he's been waiting for.