As NBA fans, the end of June is always a bit of a weird in-between time. The Finals are over and the draft has already happened, but free agency and Summer League have yet to begin, leaving us eager for something, anything relating to the NBA.
Our desperation for news leads to rampant speculation about upcoming free agency decisions, and while there is certainly a good amount of breaking news and unfounded rumors, how is one to wade through the noise and know what is actually worth caring about in the midst of it all?
Well, fellow fan, allow me to help you out by recapping some of the news from the past few days while also letting you know if you should actually care about it, or if it would be wiser to just let it go and wait for the next big scoop, a scoop that is inevitably right around the proverbial corner.
Indiana Pacers to present offer sheet to Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic.
Should you care?: TBD, but probably not.
There’s going to be lots of news about offer sheets being given to players coming off their rookie contracts in the coming days, but most of it will prove to be quickly irrelevant as, in most cases, the teams that can match the offer sheets will opt to do so. While most of the players from the 2014 class who have yet to sign extensions have issues with their games that make their current teams wary, those flaws are likely less worrisome to them than the idea of losing that player for nothing.
In this specific case, I expect the Magic to match whatever the Pacers offer Aaron Gordon in the coming days. Gordon is admittedly more of a superb athlete than a skilled basketball player at this point in his career, but with some fine tuning, he could still potentially become an All-Star caliber player someday in the future. The Magic are also not going to lure in any free agents in their current state, which means they don’t really need to worry about having available cap space, while also making the retaining of Gordon all the more important.
Paul George tells Oklahoma City he will not opt in to the final year of his contract, becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Should you care?: It’s really quite charitable to call this news, but yeah, you should.
On the one hand, this is so unsurprising that it’s hard to care at all. We all knew that George was going to opt out and explore the market for him this summer. On the other, George is a perennial All-Star and All-NBA player so his becoming a free agent certainly matters. The opting out is just the prelude, though, so don’t care too much about this too early, folks. We still know no more about George’s long term plans than we did a week ago.
The Denver Nuggets declined Jokic’s team option, making him a restricted free agent. They now plan to sign him to a five-year, $147 million deal.
Should you care?: Absolutely, yes.
Jokic is one of the best young players in the league: no qualifiers needed. He is a big man who can be effective from anywhere on the floor with his deft shooting and even better passing, and locking him up long term is a great move for the Nuggets that retains a potential franchise player, giving the team an identity and stability it has long needed. Denver is a young team with several other promising players — most notably Gary Harris and Jamal Murray — and Jokic is at the center of it all, very likely determining the team’s ceiling with his progress. Nevertheless, betting on Jokic is as safe and wise a bet as the team could make right now and it augurs very well for Denver’s future to have him locked him up.
The Lakers have re-engaged with the Spurs on Kawhi Leonard trade talks, with the Celtics now speaking with San Antonio as well.
Should you care?: Honestly, at this point, probably not as much as you think.
Look, every team should want to trade for Kawhi Leonard. When healthy, he’s unquestionably one of the best players in the league — a great scorer and transformative defensive presence — so the Lakers doing due diligence here just makes sense. It’s the same thing with the Celtics — they’d be silly not to check in. I just don’t expect much to come of it, at least not imminently. The Spurs are listening to offers, but are showing no urgency to actually trade Kawhi so these stories are going to keep coming for a while. San Antonio has imposed no deadline on themselves and repairing the relationship with Leonard is still a much higher priority for them than trading him. Despite the presence of abundant smoke, there doesn’t seem to be any actual fire at the present time.
Thaddeus Young opts into his $13.7 million player option, choosing to forego free agency.
Should you care?: Not necessarily on a micro level, but for what it represents on a larger scale.
Two summers ago, the salary cap took an unprecedented leap of over twenty million dollars leading to role players signing contracts worth tens of millions. It was a real boom time, but now, two years later, that boom is looking more and more like an anomaly. Now, these contracts are seen as decisions that cannot be recreated as few teams have much available cap space due to those aforementioned massive paydays for relatively marginal players. Young opting in here shows that he does not expect to be able to fetch the same kind of money on the open market this summer that he could by opting in. Implicitly, it also reveals that other players of his caliber shouldn’t expect to earn what they could have a few years ago either. For non-stars entering free agency this summer, it’s just a matter of bad timing, but regardless, it’s bad timing that will cost them millions of dollars.
LeBron James opts out of his $35.6 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent.
Should you care?: Yes. It’s LeBron James.
Anything LeBron James does from now until he announces who he will be signing with for the upcoming season will be news, and deservedly so. He is still the best player in the world, a player whose mere presence can turn any team into an immediate title contender. But this matters on a more micro level as well because his decision not to opt in may serve to eliminate several teams who were considered potential LeBron suitors. Those once hopeful teams will not likely be able to create the cap space necessary to absorb LeBron’s salary, which is expected to start at over 35 million dollars, making the path to signing him much harder, if not impossible.
Also, this decreases the likelihood of a sign and trade as teams struggling to avoid the hard cap would have to do a lot of work to even put themselves in a position where trading for LeBron is a possibility. This is why the Lakers, 76ers, and Cavaliers are the three teams you hear mentioned most often as potential destinations for LeBron — not because the situations are so perfectly suited for him, but because the finances work. The Lakers have the cap space and the 76ers can easily create it, while the Cavaliers possess LeBron’s Bird Rights. It remains possible that LeBron could still go elsewhere – any team in the NBA would immediately drop all their plans and do anything they could to sign him if he expressed a desire to join them, after all – but the path to doing so just became a lot more difficult.