NBA Free Agency 2018: Latest Rumors and Signing Predictions for Top Stars

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James' eye is shown during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

At least one major domino has already started to influence NBA free agency. 

No, it wasn't the draft. Many of the top names on the market such as LeBron James and Chris Paul are seasoned veterans who want to win now. Meaning, it was an interesting move on the board when Carmelo Anthony decided to stick with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. 

The other decisions won't come quite as quickly, not with so much at stake for all involved and many waiting to see how the league restructures if and when Kawhi Leonard departs the San Antonio Spurs. 

That isn't a guarantee, but it heightens the drama surrounding the open market. 

            

LeBron James 

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Right on cue, the drama surrounding James remains reliant on what happens elsewhere. 

James could be the driving force behind every move on the market like he was when he took his talents to Miami in 2010. But the longer it drags on, the more apparent it is he's going to wait. This idea received more confirmation Friday on FS1's Undisputed, where reporter Chris Broussard said "so many moving parts" have delayed the process for James. 

It makes perfect sense, really. James just lost another Finals to the Golden State Warriors despite playing huge minutes and over the course of the regular season averaging 27.5/9.1/8.6, all of those numbers the biggest totals in years. 

James will 34 years old in December, and his window will start to close, so he's likely no longer looking for a team to carry. He can't show his hand too early and wind up in a less-than-perfect scenario for his needs now, which might come down to his playing off the ball more instead of being the main facilitator. 

This is why back in March, Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported James would consider rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as joining the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers. 

At this point, James sticking in Cleveland isn't as unlikely as it seems. Houston has too much on the books, and Paul sticking around isn't guaranteed. The Lakers have rebuilt well over the years while getting shunned by free agents, but James coming to town doesn't promise competing for titles. The 76ers are exciting but a few years out, and there is only one ball to go around. 

In Cleveland, James still has the ability to lure free agents to town and can push the front office in the direction he wants when it comes to molding the roster. The longer it drags out, the more it seems like he could wind up staying home and using his control to craft his end-of-career outlook. 

Prediction: James re-signs with the Cavaliers 

             

Chris Paul 

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Players staying with their current teams is a bit boring for all besides fans of those teams, but here we are. 

According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the Rockets have "a strong sense"  Paul will put ink to paper on an extension with the team. 

And why not? The team won 65 games last year out of the Western Conference, took the Warriors to seven games in the conference finals and Paul himself averaged 18.6/7.9/5.4 during the regular season. 

Unless the Rockets balk in negotiations, Paul is going to get his five-year deal worth $205 million regardless of the fact it would pay him a ridiculous $46.7 million over the final year. Feel free to pair this with the idea Paul has been working hard at recruiting James to Houston, according to according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (h/t Ben DuBose).

James probably isn't happening, which is fine based on what the Rockets were able to accomplish a year ago before an unfortunate injury hit Paul. The Rockets are like the Warriors in that they don't need James to contend, so unless something unexpected happens on the financial side of things, expect Paul to stay put as opposed to rolling the dice on teaming up with a different superstar in a different location. 

Prediction: Paul re-signs with the Rockets 

       

Kawhi Leonard

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Leonard saga has the power to bring the NBA to a grinding halt. 

Not hard to see why, as Leonard is 26 years old and at his peak in 2016-17 averaged 25.5/3.5/5.8 on 48.5 percent shooting from the floor while doubling as one of the best defenders in the game. He's also one of the rare few apparently willing to walk away from coach Gregg Popovich. 

If the Spurs must lose Leonard this offseason thanks to a botched relationship beyond repair, Amick reported the front office won't consider trading him to a team in the Western Conference. 

On first pass, it seems silly to eliminate the trade suitors pool by half right out of the gates. But it speaks to the respect the Spurs have for Leonard in that they don't want to have to play him in the playoffs until the Finals. 

There are only a handful of teams in the Eastern Conference who would have what it takes to trade for Leonard, including the 76ers: 

Also worth a note are the Boston Celtics, given the asset hoarding of Danny Ainge's front office. But most interesting of all is a note by Amick suggesting the Cavaliers have poked around the idea of a trade, though there is "no traction on a possible deal." 

For Leonard, the idea of running roughshod on an entire conference before getting a shot at an old Western Conference rival has to look appealing. And outside of San Antonio, he's going to face less backlash than Kevin Durant did if he goes and teams up with a player like James. 

With it seemingly clear Leonard won't allow the relationship with the Spurs to be fixed, look for him to elbow his way to Cleveland and a returning James as the Cavaliers undergo one last transformation around James.  

Prediction: Leonard joins the Cavaliers 

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