Top Free Agent Decisions: The Atlantic | Basketball Insiders


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Free Agency Cometh

The 2018 NBA Agency window will come open this Sunday, and while there won’t be the huge influx of cap money we have seen in the previous two off-seasons, there will be roughly eight NBA teams with major cap money to play with, if they so choose. There will be some teams looking to land big fish with big dollar deal, but it won’t be the same kind of windfall we’ve seen in previous seasons.

While it is unlikely we’ll see some of the silly spending of season’s past, there are some names to watch as free agency opens. Here are some of the more notable guys, and what the trending belief in NBA circles is suggesting may play out.

DeMarcus Cousins – New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans big man DeMarcus Cousins has been documenting his recovery from a January left Achilles tendon tear on social media, illustrating his process. His injury status is going to weigh big in his ability to command a huge contract offer on the open market for a couple of significant reasons. The biggest being that no one knows how the injury will impact his performance on the floor and he won’t be anywhere close to ready to workout or showcase.

The other major factor that looms over Cousins’ free agency is his rocky and tumultuous history. There are NBA teams that simply won’t consider Cousins because of his history despite having a pretty solid run with very few issues in New Orleans.

League sources peg the Dallas Mavericks as the likely suitor to set a price on Cousins, with New Orleans having the advantage regarding being able to exceed the salary cap and offer larger annual raises, even if a deal is shorter in length.

The prevailing thought in NBA circles is that Cousins may agree to an offer similar to what Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid agreed to, which is an elaborate deal with guarantee triggers and exit language if Cousins is not able to return to form.

There has been speculation about Cousins agreeing to shorter-term lower dollar deal to join a desired destination and prove himself on a winner, but league sources continue to doubt that’s what will play out.

If Cousins is genuinely[SK1] willing to accept fewer guaranteed years to re-establish himself as one of the league dominate big men, that could bode well, as the Pelicans are said to be more than willing to re-sign Cousins.

Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic

Several weeks ago, it seemed likely that the Orlando Magic would give pause to re-signing would-be restricted free agent Aaron Gordon on a massive deal. However, with the 2018 NBA Draft in the rear-view mirror, there are more and more indications that re-signing Gordon is simply a formality.

There is a chance that one of the cap space teams makes an aggressive offer to Gordon, but with the Sacramento Kings drafting Marvin Bagley III and the Phoenix Suns nabbing DeAndre Ayton with the top picks, two of the expected suitors for Gordon seem less likely, mainly because of the role each newly drafted rookie is expected to play.

One could argue Gordon could fit in next to those guys, but league sources say with marquee rookies in hand, the odds of a max level offer to Gordon seems remote and unlikely.

Sources close to the Magic have maintained for some time that re-signing Gordon was more likely than not, offering that the only limitation would be a max-level offer. With it seeming more and more unlikely that max money is coming Gordon’s way, the notion of Gordon being back in Orlando next season seems increasingly more likely.

Chris Paul – Houston Rockets

There were reports recently suggesting that would-be Rocket’s free agent Chris Paul and management in Houston were not on the same page regarding a new contract.

While the Rockets were always precluded from offering a deal beyond Paul’s current deal, most in NBA circles believe that Paul agreed to opt-in last summer with the implied understanding Houston would make good to him this summer with a whopper of a new contract.

The problem for Paul is that ownership has changed in Houston, and while the Rockets had a history of extreme spending when it made sense, there is a belief new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta may not be as open to what could be a massive $40 plus million final year on a max contract for Paul.

Since that story broke, sources near the situation have downplayed tensions between the Rockets and Paul, and that both were on course for a new deal.

Paul attended the NBA Award Show last night and had some fun with the notion there was a rift with the Rockets on social media. There are some realities to the contract situation, mainly that its highly unlikely anyone with cap space would offer Paul a full max offer, so why should the Rockets?

League sources see this situation playing out much as it did for Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry; neither got full max offers, but both got hefty new deals that shave a few million here and, in Lowry’s case, an extra year there.

Given Paul’s injury history, it may be hard for him to find an offer better than Houston is going to make, which is why league sources doubted the idea that he’d be anywhere but Houston next season.

Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers

The LA Lakers look to be the center of the free agent universe this summer, with what will likely be the most available cap space to offer, should they choose to renounce player rights.

For Lakers forward Julius Randle, this could be telling and important. League sources have said it is likely the Lakers will issue the required Qualifying Offer to secure Randle as a restricted free agent. The problem for Randle is the Lakers can and likely would pull that offer if they get the sense they need the cap space.

There has been a long-running belief that the Dallas Mavericks are more than prepared to set an aggressive free agent price on Randle, one that would make it nearly impossible for the Lakers to match and add two max-level free agents.

The lynchpin in all of this is Randle. While teams can make an offer, Randle is under no obligation to accept it, although he would run the risk of a team offering that money to someone else.

The prevailing thought around Randle is that his first choice is to be back with the Lakers, but he understands the situation and may be willing to give the Lakers a day or two into the process before he makes a decision.

What’s been said a few times is that Randle is not going to miss his window to secure his long-term future waiting on the Lakers, so there is a timing factor to all of this.

While Randle can verbally accept another team’s offer, he can’t physically sign it until July 6. The Lakers would have three days from receipt of the signed offer to decide to match or not match. So there is some time for all of it to play out if a major free agent like LeBron James takes his time deciding.

Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder

It was recently announced that Oklahoma City Thunder free agent Paul George was going to chronicle his free agent process in a behind-the-scenes way in a three-part series.

In early May there was a growing vibe that George might be leaning more towards a return to the Thunder than making his expected jump to the Lakers.

The narrative around that talk was that Paul has for the first time in a while had a supporting cast with other proven stars that didn’t require him to carry the full burden of the franchise. Despite getting bounced early in the post-season, the talk emanating from the situation was George believed the Thunder could be special, especially if they were able to get their players back healthy.

That was the talk in early May.

Now that the dust has settled, and the emotions of the season are in the rearview, there are more and more players that have been in George’s world saying the pendulum has swung back to the Lakers, and that signing a long-term max deal in LA with the Lakers seems more likely than not.

The Thunder are said to be open to structuring a deal in whatever way makes sense for George, including a one-and-one if he genuinely wants to try and make the Thunder work.

Its far from a lock that George is signing with the Lakers, but it does seem its more likely the Lakers or Thunder than any third team or scenario.

LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers

Let’s be real about LeBron James’ future: No one really knows. If you talk to enough people, you will hear some very convincing arguments and opinions, but no one really knows.

In previous years when James was pondering his future, there were at least credible rumblings about his interest; this time around, none of it is coming from James’ side of the fence.

Word from NBA teams hoping to get a meeting is that the process will be very closed and very private. LeBron is unlikely to take many if any face to face meetings. There was talk of some conference calls if James wants to do that, but that most of the offers and situations would flow through James’ agents and he would make his decision.

No one is expecting a quick decision from James, and most teams are more than ready to wait out the process for a shot at the franchise changing talent that James is both on and off the court.

One thing that continues to surface regarding James is the understanding that regardless of what team he chooses, that team will be rebuilding around James in a win-now scenario. The idea of James playing mentor and teacher to a roster full of young guys for a year or two is misplaced.

The teams that would comment about James (and some wouldn’t touch it even on background) said no matter where he landed the next job, that front office would have to be ready to assemble an immediate contender, at whatever cost.

That may not sit well with fans of teams loaded with promising youth, but that’s the reality of getting in business with James, and that doesn’t look to be changing this go around either.

As we get closer to the opening of the floodgates, Basketball Insiders will have you covered with minute by minute coverage of all the deals the rumors, news and deals that get agreed to in our annual NBA Free Agency Diary. It will drop on Friday and be updated all the way through the moratorium.

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