2018 NBA Free Agency: Where will LeBron James land? Identifying the biggest under-the-radar free agent

In the NBA there are three seasons -- the regular season, the postseason and free agency season. The free agent sweepstakes will begin on July 1, with all eyes on LeBron James' next decision. But focusing solely on James would do a disservice to an incredibly strong and deep 2018 free agency class.

As usual, players are keeping their preferred destinations close to the vest, leaving us to speculate as the rumors continue to flow. Our CBS Sports NBA experts answered some of the most pressing questions heading into free agency.

Who has the best odds at landing LeBron in free agency? 

James Herbert: According to Vegas, it's the Lakers. That makes sense for lifestyle reasons and because he could potentially bring Paul George with him and facilitate a trade for a third star. It would not surprise me to hear James talking about wanting to be a part of the franchise's storied history a few weeks from now. It would be unwise, though, to dismiss the Philadelphia 76ers or Houston Rockets. Philadelphia could offer him a few things he's never had -- a dominant center, a freewheeling offense and an opportunity to reduce his workload by playing off the ball -- and the Rockets could offer him the best chance to dethrone the Warriors

Brad Botkin: The say the easiest answer is usually the right one, and the Lakers is the easiest answer. No sign and trades. No salary cap gymnastics. The Lakers have the room to sign two max free agents with no fuss. The best player in the game bringing a marquee franchise back to prominence clearly has a ring; whether that's enough to get LeBron an actual ring -- his fourth -- that's up for debate. If Paul George joined him, they would be very formidable in the West, but the real question would be if they'd be willing to package some of their young talent, maybe even Lonzo Ball, to go in search of a third star. It's all very doable. Like James said, you cannot rule out Houston or Philly. To me, LeBron in Houston, assuming they are able to keep Chris Paul and Clint Capela on board, would make the Rockets the title favorites. Given the challenge the Warriors present, the Rockets, and maybe the Celtics, are the only teams within range of challenging them for real, and clearly LeBron is out to beat the Warriors. For some reason, my bet is the still the Lakers. 

Colin Ward-Henninger: Everyone seems to think Lakers, which makes me wonder if LeBron will do something to surprise us. I don't think he's done winning championships, and the Rockets have already proven that they can give the Warriors a run for their money. Add LeBron to the James Harden-Chris Paul dynamic and you have an immediate contender, one that is more than ready to take on Golden State. The question is how Houston can figure out how to get LeBron there and still keep its main pieces, but we've seen Daryl Morey work his magic before. My bet is that LeBron is in Houston next season.

Which under-the-radar free agent do you expect to make a big impact next season? 

Herbert: Luc Mbah a Moute. Based on his regular-season performance, he was last summer's best value signing. Houston got him for the veteran minimum, and it surrendered 101.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to 105.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. I wonder if he will be willing to return to the Rockets on the same kind of discount deal or if another contender will snap him up. If I was in Golden State's front office, I'd go after him. (Alternative answer: Aron Baynes, whose defense -- especially in the playoffs -- was also game-changing.)

Botkin: I'll go with Tyreke Evans. I still have no idea why the Grizzlies didn't trade him at the deadline, but he can help a lot of teams as a starter or big-time scorer off the bench. If you're a good team, Marcus Smart can really help you win (he's not going to put up numbers on a bad team), but my guess is he stays in Boston and I'm not sure he's really under the radar anyway. Also pay attention to Avery Bradley. Two-way players are very important right now. But Evans can flat-out get you 20 to 25, and as defenses pretty much switch everything these days, his ability to score in a variety of ways, either from deep with a hugely improved 3-point shot or with his strength getting into the paint, is very attractive. 

Ward-Henninger: One name that people aren't talking about enough is J.J. Redick. He may not be as flashy as some of the sexier names like DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, but Redick might have an even bigger impact next season. He was a crucial piece of the Sixers resurgence last season, and is almost ideal for the modern NBA -- a knock-down 3-point shooter who's capable enough defensively to not be exploited. He's also a proven playoff performer, and can fit into pretty much any offensive system. Teams without enough money to afford Redick should give Seth Curry a hard look. He missed the entire 2017-18 season to injury, but is a career 43 percent 3-point shooter who can play both guard positions.

What's one way the playoffs have affected free agency?

Herbert: It's difficult to imagine Paul George staying with the Oklahoma City Thunder now. The Utah Jazz shut down their offense for the vast majority of the first round, with Carmelo Anthony an obvious detriment to his own team and Russell Westbrook left to jack contested jumpers. (I still can't believe Westbrook shot 17-for-39 and 18-for-43 in Games 5 and 6, respectively.) George himself played well for most of the series, but scored just five points on 2-for-16 shooting in the game that ended his season. There are better opportunities out there for him, so if he decides to re-sign with the Thunder, I'll eat my hat. 

Botkin: Isaiah Thomas won't be highly sought after. As I mentioned earlier about all the switching happening now, the playoffs reinforced that you just can't afford to have a player like Thomas on the floor in a meaningful game for long stretches, and certainly not at the end of games. You have to be able to defend one on one, preferably against multiple positions, at least adequately. If we didn't already know his chances of getting a significant deal were gone, this year's playoffs cemented it. 

Also, the Pelicans have to be leaning toward re-signing Demarcus Cousins. I know he's coming off an Achilles tear and it's a lot of money for a guy who will be well on the wrong side of 30 at the end of a presumably max deal, but as we saw in the playoffs, talent wins. If the Pelicans had the cap space to pursue, say, a Paul George, I would clearly say that would be the preferable route to keep Anthony Davis the clear No. 1 and continue with the perimeter-oriented, high-pace attack they established down the stretch and in the playoffs. But they can't do that without some serious roster finagling, and they clearly aren't good enough to compete with elite teams without a second star. So again, you probably bring back Cousins and play the two-big card. Maybe that gives you advantage on the boards and down low against all these teams going to a position-less attack with playmakers everywhere, but it probably exposes you on defense nearly equally as Cousins isn't going to be guarding anyone on the perimeter any time soon. It's not perfect, this Davis and Cousins match, but again, you need two, if not three elite players to be a true threat. Cousins is elite. I suppose you continue to figure out the fit on the fly, if only for lack of options. 

Ward-Henninger: Due in part to DeMarcus Cousins' Achilles injury and DeAndre Jordan's Clippers missing the playoffs, Clint Capela became the top center in this year's free agent class after a brilliant postseason performance. Capela outplayed Rudy Gobert in the Jazz series, and proved that he could not only stay on the court, but also be effective against the Warriors (he averaged a quiet 10.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 29 minutes per game in the Western Conference finals). Entering restricted free agency at just 24 years old, Capela could get a max offer in the coming weeks.

CBS Sports Writer

James Herbert is somewhat fond of basketball, feature writing and understatements. A former season-ticket holder for the expansion Toronto Raptors, Herbert does not think the NBA was better back in the... Full Bio

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