Early Odds on 2018 Free Agency: LeBron, George LA Bound?

Paul George (joshuak8 (Flickr) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0])

Now that all the noteworthy free agents have found homes, we can basically put a bow on the 2017 offseason. Sure, guys like Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, and Jeff Green are all still looking for suitors, but in this age of superteams, they provide the same impact as a single napkin on wing night.

One of the most obvious lessons we learned from free agency this year is that the NBA offseason is a whole lot more unpredictable than the NBA regular season, and a whole lot more entertaining, too. So let’s not bother dissecting the 82-game season ahead of us. We already know what’s going to happen: the Warriors will be nonpareils; LeBron will go to his eighth straight finals; Chris Paul and James Harden will flame out in the playoffs (but this time together).

Instead, let’s pull a Michael Bolton and get back to the good part! Just like 2017, the 2018 free agency period should see a couple teams make a bid to enter the super-team stratosphere and a couple existing super-teams get … super-er?

Here’s an early look at the notable players who could be free agents in 2018, and the odds on where they will sign next offseason. I’ll send out an early apology to fans of small-market teams. It’s not going to get any better for you moving forward.

2018 FREE AGENCY ODDS

LeBron James vs the Wizards
LeBron James (Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en])

LEBRON JAMES

  • Los Angeles Lakers: 3/1
  • Los Angeles Clippers: 4/1
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 5/1
  • Houston Rockets: 5/1
  • Miami Heat: 7/1
  • FIELD: 46/5

LeBron has a player option for 2018. After clashing with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert multiple times in the past, a second divorce is seeming more and more likely. James has property in LA, and his business ventures — not to mention budding acting career! — would benefit from his presence in California.

At 32 years old, James is only concerned with winning, so expect another superstar (see below) to head to LA with him. If he doesn’t head to LA, Houston is the next most likely destination, considering James’ desire to play with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony before he retires.


PAUL GEORGE

  • Los Angeles Lakers: 2/3
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 3/1
  • FIELD: 17/3

Paul George has a player option for the 2018-19 season, and he certainly plans on using it to opt-out of his contract. When George told Pacers brass he would not re-sign with the team, he also disclosed his strong desire to play for the Lakers.

However, the Thunder can now offer George more money than any other team, and the four-time All-Star just might enjoy playing alongside NBA MVP Russell Westbrook. But that’s assuming Westbrook chooses to stay, as well. Speaking of Russ …


RUSSELL WESTBROOK

  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 1/2
  • Los Angeles Clippers: 7/1
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 10/1
  • Denver Nuggets: 12/1
  • FIELD: 23/1

Westbrook also has a player option for 2018, but is set to make a healthy $30.5 million in the final year of his contract. After seeing Steph Curry sign for a little over $40 million per season, though, the reigning MVP may feel underpaid.

Yet, even if he does opt out, I don’t see Westbrook leaving OKC. Not only would it make him a total hypocrite, the Thunder are also making big moves to surround their star with talent. If he does decide to pack his bags, the Clippers would provide a big market and a nice fit. If there is a smaller-market team who could land a star next offseason, it’s Denver with Westbrook. The Nuggets want to run and have shown both a willingness to spend and a desire to compete now.


CARMELO ANTHONY

  • Los Angeles Lakers: 4/1
  • Houston Rockets: 9/2
  • Los Angeles Clippers: 9/2
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 7/1
  • New York Knicks: 9/1
  • FIELD: 15/4

Carmelo Anthony has an early termination option for the summer of 2018, and you can bet he’ll be using it. Even with the Knicks firing his arch-nemesis Phil Jackson, the relationship with the organization is tarnished beyond repair.

Besides, the 33-year-old would love an opportunity to team up with his friend LeBron James and compete for a championship. Wherever LeBron goes, expect Anthony to follow, if at all possible. There’s also a good chance the ten-time All-Star gets dealt before then.


CHRIS PAUL

  • Houston Rockets: 2/1
  • San Antonio Spurs: 5/2
  • Boston Celtics: 9/2
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 9/1 
  • FIELD: 9/1

Since Chris Paul actually opted into the last year of his contract with the Clippers so they could orchestrate a trade, the nine-time All-Star will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. With Houston acquiring his rights, they would be able to offer him the most money in free agency.

However, if things don’t go well with Paul and James Harden sharing the ball this year, he may only be a Rocket for one season. Paul was very interested in joining the Spurs this offseason, but was scared off due to the uncertainty surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge’s future. If that situation is worked out by 2018, Paul would be the perfect fit to take over for Tony Parker.

Chris Paul (Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/])

It’s also possible Paul could head to the Eastern Conference, especially if LeBron heads west. That would give Paul, who’s never been past the second round, his best chance of finally playing for a championship. Keep in mind, Paul was originally supposed to be traded from the Hornets to the Lakers. And it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Magic Johnson growing tired of LaVar Ball’s antics really quickly.


DEANDRE JORDAN

  • Los Angeles Clippers: 5/1
  • Portland Trail Blazers: 5/1
  • Washington Wizards: 5/1
  • Memphis Grizzlies: 6/1
  • Brooklyn Nets: 7/1
  • FIELD: 10/3

Life is about to be a lot different for Jordan, now that he doesn’t play with one of the best PGs in the league. The big-man has a player option in 2018, and if the Clippers regress too much, or he doesn’t fit in with their philosophy anymore, he could go searching for another elite distributor to play with.

The next contract Jordan signs will likely be his last opportunity to make big money, and he may value that more than winning. Keep in mind, Jordan already tried to leave the Clippers once.

Expect teams desperate for some rim protection to throw max money Jordan’s way.


DEMARCUS COUSINS

DeMarcus Cousins (Mike (flickr) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons])
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 7/3
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 5/1
  • Portland Trail Blazers: 5/1
  • Boston Celtics: 7/1
  • Toronto Raptors: 7/1
  • FIELD: 8/1

After acquiring Boogie Cousins before the trade deadline and pairing him with Anthony Davis to form the most formidable front-court in the NBA, the Pelicans didn’t go on the late-season run many expected. The combination of Fire and Ice (or Boogie and the Brow, if you prefer) proved it could work together, but New Orleans lacked the perimeter scoring and bench depth to win games.

The lack of team success doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans’ chances of re-signing Cousins in 2018, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. On the other hand, Boogie did spend the offseason trying to recruit for the team, and badgered Jrue Holiday to re-sign. These are signs of a player who wants to be around for the future.

It will all depend on the success New Orleans experiences with a full season of Cousins and Davis. A playoff berth in an ultra-competitive Western Conference will likely result in Cousins sticking around for at least a couple more seasons.

If Boogie does decide to leave, he loved his time in California, and would be the perfect big-man to pair with Lonzo Ball. It’s also possible he heads east for a near-guaranteed spot in the playoffs.


ISAIAH THOMAS

  • Boston Celtics: 1/9
  • FIELD: 9/1

If the Celtics had the room, they’d extend Isaiah Thomas right now. The Celtics assured Thomas he was in their immediate and future plans when they traded down from the first-overall pick, essentially passing on Markelle Fultz.

Boston may have to shed some salary before striking a deal with Thomas, but it will happen.


ANDREW WIGGINS

  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 5/2
  • Toronto Raptors: 6/1
  • FIELD: 14/19

When the T-Wolves acquired Jimmy Butler via trade during the NBA Draft, they basically got Andrew Wiggins 2.0. The two are very similar players, possessing excellent athleticism and an attacking mentality, but neither are great shooters from behind the arc. Their fit on the floor together is a little questionable.

It’s possible Wiggins could be relegated to a bench role this season, if Minnesota wants more three-point shooting on the floor with their starters. If so, the Canadian could have a very interesting summer in 2018 as a restricted free agent.

There are plenty of teams who would value Wiggins as a starting-caliber player, and would be willing to pay him that way, namely his hometown Raptors, who need more athleticism on the wing.

There’s also the possibility Tom Thibodeau loves the freakish athleticism of his current bunch, and demands Minnesota keeps them all together.


JOEL EMBIID

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 1/99
  • FIELD: 99/1

Philadelphia didn’t spend this long “Trusting the Process” to watch Embiid become a superstar elsewhere. There’s a good chance Embiid, a restricted free agent in 2018, doesn’t even sign an offer sheet from another team.