MIAMI — The Warriors have been crowned NBA champions, and just like that the most exciting offseason in sports has begun.
There are plenty of intriguing storylines entering the summer like LeBron James’ future, the Kawhi Leonard-Spurs situation and Paul George’s impending free agency. Here’s a rundown with the eight biggest questions of the 2018 NBA offseason, including our predictions for how each will play out.
Where will LeBron James play next season?: This is undoubtedly the biggest question of the offseason. James will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if he opts out of a $35.6 million player option in his current contract with the Cavaliers for next season. The assumption is he’ll do just that and enter free agency, which is sure to be crazy (and fun). As of right now, the top contenders to sign James are reportedly the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Sixers, Lakers, Rockets, Spurs and Heat. Staying in Cleveland isn’t out of the question, but it seems like James will at least take a look at other places after the Cavaliers were swept by the Warriors in the Finals.
Prediction: LeBron James signs with the Lakers. But really anything can happen when it comes to LeBron.
Will Paul George leave the Thunder?: George is expected to opt out of the final year of his current contract to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. While he’s repeatedly said that he enjoyed his one year with the Thunder playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony this past season, a disappointing first-round playoff exit has to make George think. There will be a lot of teams interested in him, but he’s long been rumored as a future Los Angeles Laker. George grew up in the Los Angeles area and the Lakers have the cap space to offer him a max contract. Hmm …
Prediction: Paul George signs with the Lakers.
How will the Kawhi Leonard situation play out in San Antonio?: This has been one of the strangest NBA storylines in a long time. Nobody really knows what’s going on with Leonard’s lingering quad injury. The Spurs didn’t expect the injury to keep him out for basically the entire 2017-18 season, but Leonard felt the pain was too bad for him to play through and took it upon himself to look for treatment away from the team. It seems like the trust between Leonard and the Spurs organization has been frayed. But San Antonio isn’t about to just give up on a 26-year-old superstar. The Spurs will try to smooth things over with Leonard this offseason before they even think about trading him.
Prediction: Spurs mend the relationship and keep Kawhi Leonard.
Will the Celtics stand pat?: This seems like the obvious move for the Celtics, which feature a loaded roster that already includes an impressive mix of established stars and young talent with star potential. But after the Celtics advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward injured, does it make Boston consider dealing Irving or Hayward to pile up even more assets or get in on a possible Kawhi Leonard trade? Either way, the Celtics are well-positioned to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Prediction: Boston keeps core of stars together, but deals away a secondary piece like Terry Rozier.
Where will DeMarcus Cousins play next season?: Cousins’ decision to unfollow the Pelicans’ Instagram account has the NBA world wondering what’s next for the big man. There weren’t many who thought Cousins would leave New Orleans a few months ago, but an Achilles tendon tear he suffered in January changed everything. There’s fear that Cousins won’t be the same player when he returns from injury and the Pelicans were able to go on an impressive playoff run without him this year. Cousins is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and could be available at a cheaper price than previously expected. The Pelicans reportedly are not expected to offer Cousins the five-year, max contract he would have otherwise received if not for the Achilles tear. Will Cousins be OK with taking less money to continue playing next to Anthony Davis or will another team give him the max deal he’s looking for?
Prediction: DeMarcus Cousins signs with the Dallas Mavericks.
Will Carmelo Anthony start next season with the Thunder?: Anthony has a player option worth $27.9 million in his contract with the Thunder for next season. Expect him to opt in to that deal as a 34-year-old who seems to be on the decline. Oklahoma City could try to trade the 10-time All-Star, but it’s going to be really hard to include his pricey contract in a deal. The Thunder and Anthony could also try to work together on negotiating a buyout, but Anthony is not expected to forego much money to help facilitate that. Another option is for Oklahoma City to use the stretch provision on Anthony’s $27.9 million salary for next season, stretching that amount over three seasons if he’s waived after July 1 to lower the cap hits to $9.3 million over the next three years. Or the Thunder could just keep him for one more season.
Prediction: Oklahoma City trades Carmelo Anthony in a swap of unappealing contracts.
Will the Raptors blow up their core?: The Raptors have been one of the NBA’s top regular-season teams for the past three years. But they’ve been eliminated in the playoffs by James and the Cavaliers in each of those three seasons. So, now what? Is it time for the Raptors to break up the All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry? That route will probably be considered. But change has already happened in Toronto, as it fired head coach Dwane Casey in May. How much more change is in store for the Raptors?
Prediction: Toronto keeps DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry for at least one more season.
Will Dwyane Wade retire?: Wade isn’t sure what he’s going to do yet — retire or return for a 16th NBA season. For the first time in Wade’s career, he admitted publicly that he will consider retirement this offseason. That doesn’t mean the 36-year-old can’t still play, though, as he averaged 16.6 points on 44.3 percent shooting in the playoffs and looked like the Heat’s best player at times. We do know one thing: If Wade returns, it will very likely be as a member of the Heat.
Prediction: Dwyane Wade returns to play one more NBA season and it’s with the Heat.