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With the end of the NBA regular season close, the league has hit the point where the rumor mill steps into the picture for the non-playoff teams.
Well, most of the non-playoff teams.
With names like LeBron James having an unknown future ahead, a potentially deep-looking market with the king at the top makes for yet another thrilling summer. Sprinkle in some other notables from around the Association and it’s clear another major shift in league hierarchy could be on the way.
These are the notable rumors and speculation making the rounds.
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It wouldn’t feel like a rumor mill lately without Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas, the odd fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers before James’ team blew it up at the deadline, has found an interesting home with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s 29 years old and heading to free agency, so it makes sense if his current goals don’t necessarily align with the young roster featuring names like Lonzo Ball.
Ask Thomas, though, and he doesn’t sound like a guy ruling out a return to the Lakers.
“I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said, according to the Los Angeles Times‘ Tania Ganguli. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”
Since joining the Lakers, Thomas has put up 15.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game on average while coming off the bench, a role he doesn’t seem opposed to at this point. But it’s natural to speculate he wants to hit the market and cash in on a major deal, especially because it could be his last chance to do so.
Where things get interesting, though, is with the Lakers and how much they accomplish this offseason. If they can’t lure any big names to town, Thomas might not see the financial deal he’s looking for—if they land a big fish and want to compete, it would make more sense to give him what he wants and bump his minutes.
To his credit, Thomas has done everything right since landing with the Lakers. At this point, his best option might be to sign a one-year deal and delay his quest for a major contract on the hopes of a better market next offseason.
Prediction: Thomas re-signs with the Lakers
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It doesn’t get much stranger than the saga between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard still hasn’t returned to the Spurs while rehabbing an injury, delaying what many thought was a return earlier in the month of March. Drama surrounding his rehab and seeking outside consultation has continually popped up since the saga began in January.
Now the Spurs are running out of time get Leonard back on the floor and make a serious push at the playoffs in the Western Conference, to the point there was a players-only meeting where his teammates asked him to return, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a man owning an NBA Finals MVP trophy, would obviously provide a boost for the Spurs. But if he doesn’t return and the Spurs miss the playoffs, it’s right to start wondering what happens this offseason ahead of a player option in 2019.
According to ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright, the plan is to offer another max: “Popovich and sources within the organization have long maintained that the team will continue to err on the side of caution when it comes to Leonard’s injury. It’s expected the club will offer the forward a max contract extension worth more than $200 million over the summer.”
Leonard has plenty of reasons to take his time with a return and not risk his long-term health at the age of 26. Ideally, he’ll nail down the contract over the summer, though it means the 42-30 Spurs could have a hard time hanging on in the playoff picture over the final 10 games.
Prediction: Leonard signs an extension
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Let the rumor mill tell it, LeBron has narrowed his search in free agency to four teams.
LeBron, at least for now, will consider his Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.
None of the four are too surprising. Thomas, among others, are out of Cleveland and the roster boasts guys like George Hill and Larry Nance playing well while sitting third in the Eastern Conference. Maybe the team doesn’t have enough juice to make a title run, but it’s clearly shaped in LeBron’s ideals and shouldn’t have a problem luring more talent in free agency.
Elsewhere, Houston has James Harden, the guy averaging 31.2 points per game, and known friend of LeBron Chris Paul is down there helping out. The Lakers and 76ers take more of a young-upside slant, with the latter boasting the Ben Simmons-Markelle Fultz tandem and Joel Embiid down low.
We could argue for days about which locale is the best for James, who still averages 27.4 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game. But any of the four would love to have him, even at the risk he starts a small regression considering he turns 34 years old next December.
For now, the conservative route is probably the best route. It’s still hard to see LeBron leaving Cleveland again, especially after the team made the push to punch the reset button and put themselves in a position to throw down a good pitch this summer.
Prediction: LeBron re-signs with the Cavaliers