The 2018 NBA free-agency period will answer two burning questions. What's next for LeBron James, and can the Los Angeles Lakers land a star player? For those listening to the rumors, the storylines intersect in what could become a memorable summer.
Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid took to Twitter in an effort to stir the free-agency waters with a poignant message via Twitter:
Piggybacking off Embiid's tweet, James potentially faces a decision on the final chapter of his playing career. If the 33-year-old chooses the Lakers, he'd join a franchise that saw several NBA legends come and go. Does that really matter to him?
Magic Johnson said he'd "step down" if there's a letdown over the next two summers. The self-imposed clock is ticking on the Lakers team president. Does Los Angeles have a shot to sign center DeMarcus Cousins as an alternative or in addition to James?
After acquiring guard Zach LaVine on draft day a year ago, the Chicago Bulls have a tough decision to make with other rebuilding teams looking to pry him away. Who's in pursuit, and will the front office match the offer sheet?
Cleveland Cavaliers Unsuccessful in Early Offseason Communication with LeBron James?
Lack of communication isn't a good sign in any situation. According to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, LeBron James gave the cold shoulder to the Cleveland Cavaliers early in the offseason, leaving his agent, Rich Paul, to deliver the message about his decision to opt out of his $35.6 million player option.
"The Cavs have tried unsuccessfully to engage James this summer, according to multiple sources. He has again left Paul to handle all of his communication. James has been much more proactive in past summers working with the Cavs than he has been since the Finals ended in a sweep."
Lloyd pointed to James' 2010 exit when he went silent and then bolted to the Miami Heat as a cautionary reminder for Cavaliers fans.
However, ESPN.com reporter Dave McMenamin revealed general manager Koby Altman spoke to James at the start of free agency:
The Lakers and Sixers are viable teams to land James with enough cap space and the assets to keep the league's biggest star in contention for a title. After the Golden State Warriors swept him in the past NBA Finals, he talked about staying in "championship mode."
Last year, the Sixers punched their ticket to the postseason as the No. 3 seed and the Lakers went 35-47, 12 games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
If James truly seeks to rack up more rings to improve his 3-6 NBA Finals record, Philadelphia could help him achieve that goal on a more immediate basis with two rising stars in Embiid and Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons.
Keep in mind Kawhi Leonard could head to Philadelphia as well. The San Antonio Spurs would prefer to trade the two-time Defensive Player of the Year to an Eastern Conference team, per longtime NBA scribe Chris Sheridan. The Sixers have discussed a trade package involving forwards Dario Saric and Robert Covington in exchange for the 27-year-old, per Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer.
Even without Leonard, James would still join a top-three team in the Eastern Conference with a strong possibility of claiming the No. 1 spot with him on the roster.
Prediction: LeBron James signs with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Los Angeles Lakers Turning Their Attention to DeMarcus Cousins?
So, it's on to the next one for the Lakers, who hope to land an established star this summer. According to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, Cousins surfaces as the next name to watch as the league awaits James' decision:
The New Orleans Pelicans would pose strong opposition to Los Angeles for Cousins' services. He's expected to meet with both teams in the near future, per Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:
As Cousins rehabs a surgically repaired Achilles, he's likely looking at a short-term deal, and the Lakers may offer the max to bring stardom to the franchise.
In a series sweep, the Pelicans dominated the Portland Trail Blazers as the (No. 6) lower seed with Cousins on the bench because of injury. New Orleans may not push as hard for the four-time All-Star with Nikola Mirotic at the 4 spot.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers sign DeMarcus Cousins.
Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks Set to Make a Run at Zach LaVine?
In the previous campaign, the Bulls took a significant step backward in the standings as head coach Fred Hoiberg looked to develop the youth on the roster. LaVine appeared in just 24 games after he fully recovered from a torn ACL. He averaged 16.7 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting from the field.
According to Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson and NBC Sports Chicago reporter Vincent Goodwill, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks have an interest in the 23-year-old guard:
As a result, the Bulls will likely have to match an offer sheet for LaVine to retain him. According to Spotrac, Chicago holds the second-most practical cap space at $39.5 million. The front office shouldn't have an issue matching the deal financially, but the team must decide if he's worth the contract.
Chicago acquired LaVine as a featured asset in the 2017 draft-day trade deal that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Unless he looks far less impressive than originally thought, it's difficult to see the Bulls letting him go after 24 games coming off a major injury.
Prediction: Chicago Bulls match an offer sheet for Zach LaVine.