NBA Free Agency 2018: Start Date, Schedule and Details

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJune 23, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James looks up at the scoreboard during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Summer belongs to the NBA thanks to the start of free agency on July 1 and all the moves teams will be making to boost their chances of winning a championship next season. 

This offseason is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in NBA history with the number of superstar players who are likely to be available in free agency. There is also the potential for a flurry of trade activity involving All-Stars who are unhappy with their current situation. 

For now, though, the focus will stick primarily with free agency and looking ahead at what could happen when the offseason negotiating period begins. 

       

Key NBA Offseason Dates

June 29: Last day for players and teams to exercise or decline contract options for the 2018-19 season

July 1: New league year begins; Free agents and teams can verbally agree to deals

July 6: Free-agent moratorium ends, allowing players to officially sign contracts and trades to be completed

        

Notable Free Agents

LeBron James, SF (Player Option)

Kevin Durant, SF (Player Option)

Paul George, SF (Player Option) 

Chris Paul, PG (Unrestricted)

DeMarcus Cousins, C (Unrestricted)

Clint Capela, C (Restricted)

DeAndre Jordan, C (Player Option)

Aaron Gordon, PF (Restricted)

Marcus Smart, PG (Restricted)

J.J. Redick, SG (Unrestricted)

Full list of free agents available via Spotrac

        

Key Storylines

Where is LeBron James going?

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The $205 million question hovering over everything this summer is what LeBron James intends to do with his future. 

James has a $35.6 million option with the Cleveland Cavaliers that he has until June 29 to accept or decline. 

If the four-time NBA MVP declines the option, it's open season for teams to make their best pitch to secure his services. The Cavs have the ability to present him with a super-max contract offer of $205 million over five years. 

James will only be able to receive a four-year deal worth $152 million from other teams. 

The Cavaliers, despite reaching the NBA Finals in each of the past four seasons with James, are in bad shape to get markedly better this offseason without some clever maneuvering. They have $137.9 million in contracts on the books for 2018-19 with James' $35.6 million option factored in. 

Per Basketball Insiders' Eric Pincus, the luxury tax threshold is $123 million. ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted in February that Cleveland could be paying up to $300 million on payroll next season between player salaries and luxury tax penalties, assuming James stays with the organization. 

Given the heavy burden James shouldered leading the Cavs to the NBA Finals last season, only to be swept by the Golden State Warriors, bringing back a roster with Jordan Clarkson as the No. 3 scoring option may not be appealing to a transcendent star who will turn 34 in December. 

Pincus noted the Los Angeles Lakers, who are heavy betting favorites to sign James, per Bovada (h/t OddsShark), could have $59.7 million in cap space available. Their biggest problem is they don't have another proven star on the roster, so they will need to make a separate deal first or rely on James to sign and start recruiting other stars. 

The Philadelphia 76ers currently have $27.6 million available to boost their roster, so they will have to make a separate move to create a max slot in order to sign James. 

From the outside looking in, despite what the oddsmakers say, there doesn't appear to be an overwhelming favorite to sign James at this point.

         

Will Rockets meet Chris Paul's demands?

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

After finishing one win short of reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Houston Rockets would seem eager to bring back their core group of players to take another shot at taking down the Warriors. 

However, per FS1's Chris Broussard, the Rockets may not be so quick to pony up a max contract offer to Chris Paul:

Paul was terrific in his first season with the Rockets. The nine-time All-Star averaged 18.6 points and 7.9 assists per game. 

The problem from Houston's perspective, though, is Paul missed 24 games during the regular season and sat out the last two games of the Western Conference final with a hamstring injury. 

Durability hasn't been a strength for Paul, who has missed 53 games over the past three seasons. He isn't a young player anymore at 33 years old, so his body will presumably be more fragile moving forward. 

During an episode of his podcast earlier this month, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (via Clutch Points' Shane Mickle) noted Paul has no intention of taking a discounted deal to stay with the Rockets:

"When the Rockets made that deal for Chris Paul, knowing they would re-sign him [once he hit free agency], they made a conscious decision that they were gonna have to live with [paying him] $46, $47 million a year salary when he's not nearly the player anymore in his late 30s, but, 'we're gonna make a run at it now, we wanna win a championship now.'"

One potential scenario floated by Marc Stein of the New York Times could see James attempting to recruit Paul to a team with enough money available to sign two max players. 

Free agency is a constant negotiation on both sides. The Rockets got so close to the NBA Finals last season with Paul that breaking up their current core group after one year wouldn't be in their best interest. 

        

Is Paul George the key to this offseason?

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Paul George's difficult finish to the 2017-18 season—he scored five points on 2-of-16 shooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder in a Game 5 playoff loss to the Utah Jazz—shouldn't take away from his overall solid year. 

The 28-year-old averaged 21.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He also shot 40.1 percent from three-point range. 

Hitting the open market for the first time in his career, George could be one of the biggest factors in determining what happens this offseason. 

Per The Athletic's Andy Kamenetzky, George may indirectly help the San Antonio Spurs and their situation with Kawhi Leonard:

"George's interest in the Lakers is more than just rumored. He's openly acknowledged it. But at the same time, George has praised the hell out of the Thunder all season. He and Russell Westbrook appear to have formed a real friendship, and OKC can offer him the most money.

"There are credible reporters who think, at the very least, George is now wrestling with a real decision. With that in mind, should George actually decide to re-up with the Thunder, that could convince other theoretical trade partners that despite whatever you're hearing from Leonard's 'group,' there's a legit chance of retaining him even if you're not the Lakers."

Per Stein, one rival team thinks George could "strongly consider" a two-year deal to remain with the Thunder that includes a player option for the 2019-20 season. 

If George ultimately chooses the Lakers, he becomes the All-Star talent Los Angeles would need to appeal to James. 

The Thunder can present George with a lucrative financial offer and an excellent chance of consistently being in the playoff mix. He doesn't have to worry about being the main option with Russell Westbrook leading the offense. 

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