2018 NBA free agency: Most likely destinations, best fits for LeBron, Paul George, top available players
We’re less than a week away from free agency, and the entire NBA world is captivated by LeDecision 3.0. All year long, LeBron James has kept quiet about where he wants to play during the 2018-19 season, and we will finally get our answer this summer — maybe even this week.
Free agency officially begins on July 1, and if LeBron and Paul George opt out of their contracts (which both are expected to do), we will see a feeding frenzy that only comes along once every few years, with potential superteams hanging in the balance. This class goes well beyond those two, however, so we decided to take a look at the best fits and likely destinations for eight of this offseason’s top free agents.
Kevin Durant and Chris Paul will technically be free agents as well, but they’re both expected to return to their current teams, so we didn’t want to waste your time. Complicating the issue of fit is the fact that 80 percent of NBA teams are expected to be over the cap, which means only a select few have the money to lure in high-priced talent. So even though some players would be a brilliant fit on, say, the Wizards, they simply don’t have the flexibility to make it happen.
That being said, here are the best fits and likely destinations for the top NBA free agents in the 2018 class.
There are plenty of teams with the desire and means to acquire LeBron, but let’s be honest — teams like Indiana, Atlanta and Sacramento aren’t exactly in the equation. Of the expected contenders, however, the Lakers have the athletes and up-tempo style to suit James’ playmaking acumen. The Rockets already have two primary ball-handlers, but James would fit in perfectly as another deadly isolation player capable of finding perimeter shooters or finishing at the rim. And if you’re talking about fit, you can’t ignore the Cavs, who have built their roster entirely around James for the better part of the last 15 years. Clearly he doesn’t have the cast he needs right now, but if you get the right pieces around him, Cleveland remains a great spot for The King to finish out his reign.
Most likely: Lakers
The Vegas oddsmakers don’t lie, and there’s a reason the Lakers are the overwhelming favorite to land LeBron. Not only do they have the cap flexibility to bring in a second star, but they also have a bevy of young talent that can flourish alongside James or be used in trades to bring in veteran help. That’s not even considering the narrative of bringing the Lakers back to their glory days and the off-court benefits of living in Los Angeles. At this point it’s the Lakers’ race to lose.
Best fits: 76ers, Lakers, Cavs
George seemed like the perfect star to put next to Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, but that didn’t work out the way they hoped. The 6-8 wing has had his eye on the Lakers for a while now, and he’d fit into their system well next to their young talent. But he’s almost the ideal player to add to the emerging Sixers — fitting seamlessly with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as a 3-and-D All-Star who can double as a crunch time playmaker. And while some envision George playing with LeBron in L.A., the duo would be just as devastating if James were able to lure him to Cleveland.
Most likely: Lakers
Though he’s reportedly more interested in returning to OKC than most expected, the only thing we’ve really heard from George is that he wants to play for the Lakers. With the franchise on the upswing and George in the driver’s seat, it looks like now would be the perfect time to fulfill his childhood dream.
Basketball-wise, it would be crazy for Capela to leave the perfect situation in Houston, catching lobs from Chris Paul and James Harden while swatting shots on the other end — but a max contract would be hard to pass up. Houston might simply not have the funds to hang onto Capela, so a team like Dallas or Chicago, both of which have cap room and young players who fit the 24-year-old Capela’s timeline, could swoop in with a Godfather offer.
Most likely: Rockets
If Daryl Morey has proven one thing over the years, it’s that he’ll make the numbers work somehow. Keeping the Paul-Harden-Capela dynamic alive is priority No. 1 this offseason for a team that believes it would have beaten the Warriors were it not for an untimely Paul injury. Running it back is the best, and possibly only, option for Houston.
Best fits: Bulls, Mavericks, Pelicans
Boogie has a perplexing free agent case this offseason. Were it not for his Achilles injury in January, a max contract would be a virtual guarantee. Instead teams will be hesitant to sign the 270-pound center to a long-term deal until he proves that he’s 100 percent healthy. If that’s the case, a team like Chicago or Dallas could go after him with a big-money, short-term deal with their cap space.
Most likely: Pelicans
Though some would argue New Orleans is better off playing the up-tempo, shooter-heavy style that got them to the second round of the playoffs after Cousins’ injury, word on the street is that Anthony Davis loves playing with his twin tower. And the Pelicans are in the business of doing anything and everything they can to keep their superstar happy.
Wouldn’t it be funny if, after the ridiculous saga three years ago, Jordan ends up signing with Dallas after all? As we mentioned with Capela and Cousins, they’re in the market for a center and have money to spend. The Bucks also need a center, and Jordan is the lob-catcher/rim-protector they’re looking for — but they’ll have to let Jabari Parker sign elsewhere to make it happen financially. And of course there’s the Clippers, who will continue the ambitious task of remaining competitive while rebuilding, and already know how to maximize Jordan’s skill set.
Most likely: Clippers
Jordan may not even hit free agency if he and his representation feel he won’t get near the $24 million he’s set to be paid by Los Angeles next season under his current contract. That seems like the most likely scenario, with D.J. riding it out with the Clips for one more year.
For a rebuilding team, a starting lineup featuring Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Aaron Gordon and DeAndre Ayton isn’t bad at all. Provided he can keep improving his 3-point shot (went from career 29 percent to 34 percent last season), Gordon would be the floor-stretching, athletic power forward that would fit in with the Suns attack. The Hawks are another struggling franchise attempting to build a young, exciting team by going all in on Trae Young, and a front court of Gordon and John Collins would test the limits of human athleticism. But Gordon was Orlando’s best player last season, and they can commit to him long-term by matching any offers that come his way.
Most likely: Magic
Orlando has had little reason for hope over the past several years, but a core of Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba at least shows promise. Given their lack of any other viable options, the most likely outcome is them hanging onto Gordon and hoping he continues to improve.
It was a horrible 2017-18 season for Thomas, who was in line for a max contract by the end of his breakout 2016-17 season. Now, given his injury concerns, defensive deficiencies and ball-dominant offense, teams will be much less willing to invest in the 29-year-old long-term. That being said, Thomas proved that he can be an elite scorer and go-to guy in crunch time with the Celtics, something every team could use. The Knicks, who will probably be without Kristaps Porzingis for the better part of next season, could benefit from Thomas’ scoring ability — and we know they love big names. He would also fit into Brooklyn’s up-tempo style, and could play alongside Jeremy Lin and/or Spencer Dinwiddie. And you can’t rule out a return to Sacramento, where Thomas was absolutely beloved by the fans. They had the second worst offensive rating in the NBA last season, and could use some proven veteran talent.
Most likely: Knicks
A short-term deal with New York just makes sense. Thomas flourished in the limelight in Boston, and he’ll get to be the primary scorer on the Knicks next season until Porzingis returns. The Knicks could pay a little above value for Thomas on a one-year deal, which would keep their future options open and give Thomas a chance to showcase himself for another go at free agency next summer.
Best fits: Lakers, Pacers, Mavericks
Randle got in shape last summer (just as he entered his free agent season, what a surprise) and it showed on the court. His efficiency went through the roof, from a career 46 percent shooter to 56 percent last season, and he averaged a career-high 16.1 points per game. The Lakers used him as a power forward and a small ball center, as he punished defenses in transition and on the low block. L.A. can’t afford to keep him if their LeBron-P.G. dreams come true, but he’d be a great Plan B since he already has chemistry with the young core. The Pacers could use him to replace Thaddeus Young (if he declines his option), since he’s basically a younger, better version of Young at this point. And if Dallas can’t find the center they’re looking for, Randle has already proven that he can play the five and get out in transition with Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr.
Most likely: Mavericks
If we’re assuming LeBron and George both go to L.A., that leaves no room for Randle. Indiana seems logical, but if Young re-ups then it’s a moot point. So that leaves Dallas, who could lock in the 23-year-old to blossom with their suddenly young and exciting nucleus.