With the NBA Finals and NBA draft behind us, all attention now shifts to the start of free agency on July 1, and to the free agency of LeBron James. The best basketball player on the planet has the right to hit the unrestricted market once again, and as was the case in 2010 and 2014, the entire basketball-watching world will be waiting on his next move. James has until Friday to inform the Cleveland Cavaliers whether he’s choosing to exercise his $35.6 million player option for the 2019-19 NBA season, or whether he’ll opt out to become an unrestricted free agent. (A reminder: opting in doesn’t necessarily mean he’s staying put. Chris Paul opted into the final year of his deal with the Los Angeles Clippers last summer, only to immediately orchestrate a trade to the Houston Rockets.) While he weighs his options and considers his choice, he’s also working the phones, according to Mark Heisler of the Orange County Register: “Meanwhile,” said [one Eastern Conference] GM, “LeBron is doing what we [do] — calling players on other teams he wants to play with.” There have been no specific reports, but there’s no mystery about who’s involved. At this point, the surprise would be finding out some fave Bron has kept secret (Kawhi Leonard; Chris Paul; Paul George). The usual suspects, then, players gifted enough to move the needle in their own right, but who will likely sit tight until LeBron makes his call, one way or another. The San Antonio Spurs, for their part, continue to spread word that they’re going to exhaust every possible avenue of keeping the disgruntled Leonard in the fold rather than flip him to a team looking to kickstart LeBron’s next superteam. And as George nears his own June 29 deadline for informing the Thunder whether he’s picking up his $20.7 million player option or hitting free agency, Marc Stein of the New York Times has maintained that, despite his long-since-reported-and-publicized interest in L.A. The odds of George staying in OKC are better than you’d think. if LeBron’s purported preferred running buddies aren’t actually running anywhere, and if Daryl Morey can’t move heaven and earth to get James to Houston, then perhaps the odds that James might stay put rise, too. Of course, everything’s subject to change in the NBA, and quickly … especially once LeBron starts making calls.
The Nuggets will decline Nikola Jokic’s team option for next season — making him a restricted free agent — and plan to reach agreement on a five-year, $146.5 million maximum contract with the 23-year-old star. Denver could have exercised a $1.6 million, fourth-year team option for next season but that would have allowed Jokic to enter unrestricted free agency in 2019. Free agency begins on July 1 at midnight ET. The Nuggets faced a June 29 deadline to decide on Jokic’s option, and they have said repeatedly that they plan to retain Jokic for the long term. Both the franchise and Jokic’s representatives have worked through discussions on his future in recent weeks, league sources said. Jokic has become one of the NBA’s brightest young stars, a 6-foot-10 big man able to shoot from long range, handle the ball, pass, rebound and finish in the paint. The Nuggets’ selection of Jokic with the No. 41 pick in the 2014 NBA draft is a reflection of the franchise’s scouting under president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, and the center’s development as a near All-Star is a testament to the work of Jokic and the organization. Jokic averaged 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range in 75 games last season. Jokic helped lead the Nuggets to a playoff push this past season, finishing 46-36 and losing to Minnesota in essentially a play-in game on the last night of the regular season. He recorded 10 triple-doubles on the season and continued to emerge as a leader alongside young Nuggets Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
The Pacers will reportedly target free-agent wings Tyreke Evansand Will Barton this summer. Both Evans and Barton would offer the Pacers another scoring threat at the 2 or 3. Evans, 28, had an excellent season for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2017-18 season, averaging 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 52 games while shooting 39.9 percent from three. His ability to both score and facilitate for his teammates would certainly take some pressure off of Victor Oladipo in Indiana. Barton, meanwhile, is a streaky scorer who often lit up opponents off the bench for the Denver Nuggets. The 27-year-old averaged 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 81 games (40 starts), shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. It’s undetermined how much cap space the Pacers will have to lure players like Evans or Barton to Indiana, though they could clear a significant amount. If the Pacers are able to get up to $30 million in cap space, they could be major factors in free agency, with a small number of teams actually possessing the funds to chase high-profile free agents this summer. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported earlier in June that Young is considering waiving his $13.7 million player option, which would get the Pacers to around $26 million in cap space. While the Pacers are unlikely to find themselves in the running for the top tier of free agents like LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, they could be attractive for players in the next tier down, which will include Clint Capela, DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, though only if the Pacers don’t believe in Myles Turner. Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza and Avery Bradley are some more of the names that could be in play as well. If the Pacers hit $30 million in cap space, they could very well be in the market for two top-20 free agents this summer.