The 2018 NBA offseason will alter the balance of power more than the previous two combined.
Last year witnessed a migration of top ballers from the east to the west, despite the Celtics making the biggest free agent splash when they signed Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz. The previous year consolidated the Golden State Warriors’ grasp on the association by landing Kevin Durant.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans have to deal with expiring or player-option contracts for the five most important NBA free agents in 2018. These teams will become irrelevant, making them unsuitable Las Vegas online betting plays, if executives can’t convince top players and their agents to resign.
LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
Agent: Rich Paul
In 2010, The Decision was broadcast on ESPN, revealing LeBron’s choice to take his talents to South Beach. Cleveland’s sky was choked with burning jerseys and owner Dan Gilbert penned an angry, embarrassing letter in Comic Sans font. James would go on to win championships with the Heat as Cavaliers fans stewed.
In 2014, LeBron announced The Return, spurning the Miami Heat to bring glory to Akron and Ohio. This would lead to the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, finishing with “The Block”, widely considered the greatest defensive play in Championship history.
Rumors circulated after Cleveland won their first major sports title since 1964, suggesting that LeBron would move to the west coast. Whoever lands LeBron will instantly be considered a contender to challenge the Warriors for the 2019 title. Can you imagine picking the Cavs as 2019 futures picks without LeBron on their roster. We sure can’t.
DeMarcus Cousins – New Orleans Pelicans
Agent: Jarinn Akana
When agent Jarinn Akana stated that DeMarcus Cousins will not sign an extension, he scared potential trade partners for the all-star big man. Jarinn did what all great agents do, working to ensure his client receives the biggest possible payday when unrestricted free agency arrives.
Cousins is a unique talent in the NBA, capable of brutalizing opponents in the paint and popping sweet jumpers from the perimeter. New Orleans gave a big ransom to pry DeMarcus away from the Sacramento Kings, creating a fascinating experiment with Boogie and the Brow sharing the court. Whether Cousins stays appears to depend on the success of the Pelicans, which is far from guaranteed.
GM Dell Demps’ employment status is directly linked to New Orleans keeping Cousins. The Pelicans will likely have to rebuild again if DeMarcus doesn’t re-sign.
Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder
Agent: Aaron Mintz
Paul George is a top five player in the NBA, on some nights. PG13 can score from anywhere on the floor, and becomes impossible to defend against when he heats up. George also happens to be one of the best small forward defenders, capable of guarding positions one through four with his mix of speed, length and smarts.
After being stuck with the Pacers for years, George might be looking to secure a position on a team capable of making it to the NBA Finals. He ran into LeBron repeatedly during his Eastern Conference Finals appearance with Indiana, and if the Oklahoma City Thunder can’t mesh as a unit, he’ll look for employment elsewhere.
Either way, Paul George will opt out of his current contract, which pays $20.7 million, for a much-deserved raise.
Isaiah Thomas – Cleveland Cavalier
Agent: Aaron Goodwin
Thomas earned his fame the hard way, overcoming the odds to become Mr. Fourth Quarter for the Celtics. A shocking trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers will give him an opportunity to grow his legendary status when he returns from a hip injury.
“They better bring out the Brinks truck,” Thomas said when discussing his contract situation. “They’re paying everybody else.” There’s no doubt that Mighty IT will receive a hefty payday on his current compensation of $6.2 million.
Given the uncertainty swirling around Cleveland, and Dan Gilbert’s mercurial nature, it’s next to impossible to predict which team he’ll sign with in 2018.
Carmelo Anthony – Oklahoma City Thunder
Agent: Brandon Rosenthal
Carmelo Anthony returned to the west coast after Phil Jackson ran a truck over the New York Knicks lineup. Melo genuinely appeared as if he wanted to win a title in the Big Apple, but gross incompetence from Jackson and owner James Dolan prevented any sort of progress.
Melo shocked the NBA when he waived his no-trade clause to enable a trade to the Thunder, joining Russell Westbrook and Paul George as a potential contender to topple the Warriors.
Unlike other free agents with early termination options, Carmelo Anthony, because of his age, probably won’t be able to get a raise on his $27.9 million contract. If Melo chooses to exercise free agency, he’ll do so to win a ring instead of increasing his income.