With the NBA Finals and NBA draft behind us, all attention now shifts to the start of free agency on July 1 — and, more specifically, to the free agency of LeBron James. The best basketball player on the planet has the right to hit the unrestricted market once again, and as was the case in 2010 and 2014, the entire basketball-watching world will be waiting on his next move. So, while we’re waiting, here’s the latest in LeBron-related news and notes:
Previously, on the LeBron Tracker:
The Lakers are back in Kawhi Leonard talks with the Spurs
The most major recent development for James’ free agency didn’t even regard him. Rather, it’s about the Lakers and the Spurs, who once again resumed trade talks regarding Kawhi Leonard on Wednesday night, per Ramona Shelburne, Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
Why is that such a significant development for James? Per Wojnarowski, “the teams believe a deal for Leonard would likely clinch a free-agent commitment out of LeBron James to the Lakers.” Leonard, 26, is a Los Angeles native and grew unhappy with the way the Spurs managed his injury and rehab during this past season. He played in just nine games.
Of course, San Antonio isn’t just going to let an in-his-prime superstar walk for cheap. It’s a franchise that has been to 21 straight postseasons, after all. Per ESPN’s report, the Spurs are looking for more than what either the Pacers got for Paul George or what the Cavaliers got for Kyrie Irving last offseason. The Lakers have the assets — young players and future first-round picks — to make it work. Whether they end up bringing the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year — and perhaps, in turn, James — to Los Angeles is still to be determined.
The Celtics are also inquiring about Leonard
The Lakers aren’t alone in chasing Leonard. Around noon ET Thursday, Wojnarowski reported that the Celtics are also in the running for Leonard’s services.
The Spurs can still play long game with Leonard, try to repair relationship and get to a place where they're comfortable offering $219M super max. The urgency to get a deal done belongs to Lakers now, but circumstances and leverage can change quickly. https://t.co/RIralTBUe9
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
It’s also worth mentioning that Leonard has the option to opt out of his deal following next season, and his health remains a mystery. So Boston is taking a cautious approach. The Celtics, like the Lakers, have young promising players, and the Spurs supposedly would rather move Leonard to the Eastern Conference than have him playing elsewhere in the West.
Paul George opts out in Oklahoma City
Thunder forward Paul George opted out of his player option early Thursday morning, per Wojnarowski. He’s now in line to make roughly $10 million per season more than he would have under his current contract, which would have paid him $20.7 million in 2018-2019.
George, like Leonard, is a Los Angeles-area native. The 28-year-old averaged 21.9 points per game in his first year with the Thunder, often playing second fiddle to Russell Westbrook on a team that never really gelled as one. George is a terrific two-way player and a strong three-point shooter.
Even though the idea that George would return to Los Angeles was put in place last offseason when he was still a Pacer, his opting out doesn’t necessarily mean he’s heading to a new home. Being able to make an extra $10 million per year while keeping all options — including a return to Oklahoma City — open was a no-brainer.
For those wondering how the Lakers could possibly afford George, Leonard and James, here’s the answer, courtesy of ESPN’s Bobby Marks:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 28, 2018
Chris Webber thinks LeBron James should stay in Cleveland
Today in “NBA personality has an opinion on LeBron James,” Chris Webber joins the party:
Do you think LeBron should stay in Cleveland?#SummerOfLeBron
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) June 28, 2018
I’d like to see him stay. I’d like to see him recruit, and I’d like to see him try to win there. Not that LeBron ever can get lost, but it seems that there’s a better chance for him to get lost in the fray on the West Coast with a new team, a team that necessarily isn’t his, one he hadn’t put his imprint on earlier.
Stephen A. Smith says LeBron texted Kevin Durant, but sources close to LeBron say that never happened
Here’s Stephen A. Smith saying Thursday morning he received multiple calls saying James texted Durant regarding playing in Los Angeles.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) June 28, 2018
However, Thursday afternoon, veteran cleveland.com Cavaliers reporter Joe Vardon tweeted out the following:
Sources close to LeBron: He didn't text KD and his going to the Lakers would not be sealed (or doomed) by whether or not they trade for Kawhi. … Man, we'll all be better when this is over, one way or the other
— Joe Vardon (@joevardon) June 28, 2018
In any event, James has played everything regarding his potential landing spot very close to the vest, and Durant is most certainly heading back to Golden State on a reworked deal.
FiveThirtyEight has the perfect LeBron matrix
Using advanced stats and projections, FiveThirtyEight’s matrix weighs James’ legacy versus James’ championship possibilities for all 30 teams.
6 teams—Houston, Golden State, Philly, Utah, Minnesota, Boston—give LeBron greater than a 50% chance to win a title under a 4-year contract. Of those, we think Philly would be best for his legacy. pic.twitter.com/uWSBOF0qXj
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) June 28, 2018
From Neil Paine:
Using our CARMELO player projections and a little modeling of each team’s salary-cap situation, we created 30 hypothetical LeBron James free-agency scenarios, one for each NBA franchise. Not every team can afford to outright sign LeBron, of course, so we had to make some trades and shuffle around some salaries to squeeze him onto each roster — sometimes at the cost of many other promising players. (On the other hand, a few teams even managed to snag another big-time free agent — such as Paul George — to accompany LeBron, although that arrangement was rare.) Based on each team’s projected talent level and average age after adding LeBron, we then estimated its odds of winning at least one NBA championship over the next four years — which, based on LeBron’s history, is presumably how long he’d sign on to a new city.
Of course, winning rings is only part of the equation behind any LeBron decision. The other half: legacy. How will a new team affect how James is perceived in the greater pantheon of NBA legends? To measure that, we took an informal straw poll of FiveThirtyEight staffers and friends of the site, asking them to rate how much each destination would help or hurt James’s legacy, in a narrative sense. On our scale, a “0” means going to that team would damage James’s reputation among historical greats, while a “10” means that making the move would benefit it. (Admittedly, it’s not the most scientific metric in the world. OK, fine, it’s not at all scientific.)
It’s a fascinating look at how advanced numbers see NBA teams progressing as contenders for the next four years. Sorry, Knicks, Suns and Kings fans.
Will the jerseys burn?
James posted the second-most jersey sales this season, only behind Stephen Curry, per Darren Rovell of ESPN. Prepare for a lot of wine and gold No. 23s either going up in flames in a few days or being worn proudly for years to come.
LeBron followed Jayson Tatum on Instagram
Because social media runs everything, James following the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on social media caused a minor uproar across the NBA hemisphere. The Celtics, though not considered a frontrunner for James, are likely to make some moves this offseason as they project to be one of the top teams in the league when healthy.
James, who changed his social media profile pictures and his Twitter header on Monday, recently returned to social media after taking his customary break from them during the playoffs.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Why Conor McGregor’s bank account is suddenly the topic du jour
• What Kevin Durant’s reported opt-out really means for Warriors
• TV host makes racist gesture when South Korea saves Mexico
• Paul George to opt out of his contract and become a free agent