(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Russell Isabella)
LeBron James: Where to next?
In season 15 at age 33, LeBron James is playing arguably the best basketball of his career. He is a more dominant force than he has ever been and is single-handedly carrying the Cavaliers to the top. Once this playoff run is over, though, a new dawn will break and James will be a free agent, with many suitors lining up for his services. Ultimately, LeBron will have his pick of the bunch and he will dictate what team he plays for and set the tone for the NBA landscape.
The front runner has to be Cleveland. The sentimental factor is well documented. Born and raised just down the road in Akron, drafted to the Cavaliers with the No. 1 overall pick, left for Miami and found success only to return to the city of Cleveland and bring them a long-awaited championship. He owes Cleveland nothing and if Cleveland is where his heart lies then that is where he will play in 2018.
The other major player here is the Los Angeles Lakers. They will have ridiculous amounts of money up their sleeve and the lure of Tinseltown may entice James. It would send shockwaves around the league and thrust the storied franchise right back into championship contention. Philadelphia and New York are also lurking around, but the decision for LeBron appears to be between Cleveland and Los Angeles, for now.
Paul George: How will the saga end?
When Oklahoma City secured Paul George in the offseason, many questioned the move as he would become a free agent this summer. The Thunder backed themselves in to play exceptional basketball and establish a team that would be too good for George to leave. That could not have been further from reality as an inconsistent and tumultuous season was followed by an underwhelming first-round playoff exit to the Jazz. Now with his free agency upon us, the decision may come back to haunt the Thunder.
Again, the Los Angeles Lakers, with their deep pockets and bright lights, will try to lure George, but there is a bigger factor at play here. George is from LA and went to college at Fresno State. He is a west coast kid that has been far away for too long now and a homecoming may be just what he needs. A late comer to the party is Philadelphia 76ers who will also have plenty of money to offer and have one of the most exciting young rosters in the NBA. If George buys into their success and trusts the process, he could opt to ply his trade in Philadelphia in 2018.
When you stack up the decision for George, the home factor, the money and, potentially, the brighter future with the Lakers will make it tough for Oklahoma or Philadelphia to get his signature.
Kawhi Leonard: Will he demand a trade?
Whilst Kawhi Leonard is the only one on this list that is not a free agent, he will definitely make headlines this offseason. After a rift developed between his camp and the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard only played nine games for the season as he sat out nursing a mystery quadriceps injury. Rumors swirled of his disdain for the franchise and a parting of ways seems imminent.
The Lakers will again be the front runner should he be available as they have the money to pay him, the assets to strike a deal with the Spurs and the hometown factor for Leonard. The Clippers will also be in play with their presence in Los Angeles. New York has also emerged as a potential destination as they are crying out for star power and will offer almost everything they have to get it.
San Antonio will still be able to offer him a max deal and will hope to remind him of all the good times they've shared to bring him back for next season. But at this stage, it looks as though Leonard will wear the shiny purple and gold in Los Angeles.
DeAndre Jordan: Will he be the final member of Lob City to depart?
DeAndre Jordan famously committed to an offer from Dallas only to back out of the deal at the 11th hour and remain with the Clippers. Not that Dallas has been successful in the last three years, but the Clippers have been marred with an inability to perform in the postseason. Ultimately, the team was blown up, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin shipped off to Houston and Detroit, respectively. All the remains is Jordan, and as a free agent he may decide his time has come.
Jordan has a player option here so there is still a good chance he remains with the Clippers. They will pay him good money and from all reports he's still on good terms with the franchise. The reality is, though, that the Clippers will not achieve championship success in his playing lifetime, so if that is what he is after he will need to explore his options.
Milwaukee were in talks with Los Angeles to acquire him in a trade before the deadline but that fell through. Expect them to bring the house to try land his signature in free agency with the lure of a young, up-and-coming team ready for success that is only missing one final piece of the puzzle: DeAndre Jordan.
DeMarcus Cousins: Does he fit with New Orleans anymore?
The twin towers in New Orleans were a stat-stuffing force early in the season without the wins to match. When DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending injury, the Pelicans signed Nikola Mirotic, moved Anthony Davis to the 5 spot and playing much better basketball. Davis shone in Cousins' absence and led his team to a first-round upset sweep of the Blazers. The court was more spaced out allowing Jrue Holiday to step up, Rajon Rondo to return to his best and Mirotic to make open 3-pointers. As a free agent, Cousins may ask himself if this is still the best fit for him.
No doubt he will be buoyed by the Pelicans' success in his absence and itching to get out and rejoin his teammates, but there will be a voice in his head asking if he may be better off exploring his options. Teams out there will pay big money for him as a highly talented and skilled All-Star big man, but it won't be anyone contending for a championship.
Cousins is coming off a serious Achilles injury and has displayed throughout his career a tendency to lose his cool and be a disruptive presence off the court. A team like Dallas or Atlanta with money to spend and a roster light on talent may make a play, but Cousins will probably have to take less money and stay in New Orleans.
Clint Capela: Can any team take him away from Houston?
In 2017/18, the play from Houston's big man Clint Capela has been stellar. He has become a defensive force, protecting the rim with his blocking ability and establishing the paint as a no-go zone for defenders. Perhaps is best asset is his ability to run the floor as he is constantly rewarded for his effort with fast-break dunks and precision passes from James Harden and Paul. As a restricted free agent, Houston can match any offer put to him, so the question looms whether anyone can make an offer they can't beat.
Many teams would love a center of Capela's quality. Again, the Bucks are one, as are championship rivals Boston, Cleveland and Golden State. A winning bid would be tough as it would require enough money to tempt Capela to sign and scare off Houston from matching. The Rockets are in the box seat with this one as their current success on the court, tallied with time invested and history with Capela will probably see them keep him for 2018 and beyond.
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