The 2017 offseason has been an eventful one, with multiple stars moving teams via free agency and trade. Looking (very far) ahead, the 2018 offseason period looks to be even more so, with more stars potentially on the market than any offseason in recent memory. As the 2017-18 season draws closer, here are some potential free agents to keep an eye on.
LeBron James*, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
Even as a 32-year-old in his 14th season, LeBron James is still the cream of the NBA crop; teams lucky enough to earn an audience with him will do whatever they can to accommodate the superstar forward. Rumors have swirled around James’ supposed departure for months and, should things continue to spiral out of control in Cleveland, expect him to opt-out and take his uber-efficient 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists elsewhere.
Russell Westbrook*, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
The reigning Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook has yet to commit long-term to the Oklahoma City Thunder and, until he does, should be considered a potential free agent. While he hasn’t been the most efficient player throughout his career, Westbrook showed how dominant he can be by averaging a triple-double across 81 games last season and only stands to get better with a more talented roster next year. Someone will pay through the nose for Westbrook’s off-the-charts production, it’s just a matter of who.
Adding Paul George via trade this offseason shows the Thunder are seriously committed to their current group and believe they can challenge the Golden State Warriors for Western Conference supremacy. However, if Billy Donovan’s squad is unable to make a deep postseason run, does Westbrook think he has a better chance somewhere else?
Paul George*, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
George is still expected by most to opt-out and sign with the Los Angeles Lakers next summer. The Thunder knew what they were getting in George when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him earlier in the offseason—a possible one-year rental. However, the Thunder are hoping they can convince him to re-up by pairing him with Westbrook. Don’t be surprised to see George on his third team in three years following next season, however.
Even if George still intends to leave for Los Angeles following the season, he is seemingly in a perfect situation. By trading for him, the Thunder not only give George a better chance at a title next season, but an in-house seat to recruit Westbrook away from the team should the duo want to continue playing together—possibly to Westbrook’s hometown Lakers.
Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets
Chris Paul remains an unrestricted free agent following next season after a trade sent him from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets. While Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is likely hoping to lock up the star guard long term, expect Paul to hold off on committing to anything before seeing how he meshes with fellow star-guard James Harden in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive scheme. If things don’t work out, Paul will be on the move again in 2018.
Regardless of the Rockets’ success Paul is still one of the best point guards in the NBA and will expect to be paid as such. Barring injury, anything short of a max contract is highly unlikely.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Character concerns aside, DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the best center in the league and is one of the many players in line for a max contract next summer. Now, with ample time to adjust to Alvin Gentry’s system and to form a rapport with superstar Anthony Davis and recently re-signed point guard Jrue Holiday, Cousins should flourish.
However, during his seven seasons in the NBA, Cousins has yet to be a part of a winning franchise. The success or failure of the Pelicans next season could determine whether Cousins remains in New Orleans or leaves to join a team that he thinks will give him a better chance to win a title. Talents like Cousins don’t hit the open market often and, given the fact that teams won’t have to give up anything to acquire him, the big-man should have a no shortage of suitors.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas has made it no secret that he expects to sign a max contract next summer. Since joining the Boston Celtics at the 2015 Trade Deadline, Thomas has been one best point guards in the league, averaging a career high 28.9 points in addition to 2.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game last season. Going into next season with fellow All-Star Gordon Hayward in tow, Thomas should see continued improvements in his scoring and efficiency, which should lead to even more money in the Brinks Trunk he so often talks about.
While questions about his size and his health remain, Thomas has proven himself worthy of a big-money deal. At the very least, a hefty raise from the $6,261,395 he’s set to earn in the coming season is expected for Thomas.
J.J. Redick, SG, Philadelphia 76ers
After signing a one-year max contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, J.J. Redick will be a free agent again next offseason. Expect the 34-year-old shooting guard to find the right balance of years and earnings as 2018 may likely be his last chance at a big payday. Redick should have no problem doing so after joining a 76ers team that badly needed offensive production from the shooting guard position; with more opportunities to impact the game than he had with the Clippers, expect Redick’s 15 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game stat line from a season ago to improve.
Brook Lopez, C, Los Angeles Lakers
Brook Lopez turned into one of the better outside shooting big-men last season and should see a continued improvement on his outside stroke and overall game with the Lakers next season. Lopez averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game on 47.4 percent shooting while hitting at a 34.6 percent clip from beyond the arc. His proficiency on the perimeter as a big-man alone should put him in line for a nice payday following next season.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was somewhat of a surprise to see on the open market this past offseason. After signing a one-year deal with the Lakers as a restricted free agent, Caldwell-Pope will be free to sign wherever he wants this time next year. Not many bring the same intensity Caldwell-Pope does on the defensive end. Combine that with his age and another season to improve his overall offensive game and Caldwell-Pope should be a highly sought after commodity as an unrestricted free agent.
Avery Bradley, SG, Detroit Pistons
Avery Bradley is often regarded as a defensive stalwart by his peers, but over the past few seasons has shown that he is a more-than-capable two-way player and will look to be paid like one. Bradley has consistently improved year after year since being drafted by the Celtics back in 2010; don’t expect anything different after an offseason move to the Detroit Pistons.
The 2018 offseason and free agency period has the potential to completely alter the NBA landscape as we currently know it. With so much talent expected to be on the open market, plenty of teams will have the opportunity to make some noise and put themselves in a position to improve and contend for a title.
* Indicates player has a player option for next season
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