2018 NBA free agency: Who's going to sign LeBron James, plus 10 burning questions

There's about a quarter of the regular season left, with teams jostling for playoff position and no shortage of storylines. A wise man once said he tried to have "the longest view in the room," though, so let's step back from the day-to-day chatter and take a look at free agency, which will begin on July 1. 

Who's getting LeBron James?

Let's ask venerable podcaster and Denver Nuggets forward Richard Jefferson (via ESPN's Dave McMenamin):

"He'll address it with his family when the season is over. I don't know, no one knows, people can guess, everyone wants to now throw these shots in the dark. 'Oh he's going to go here, he's going to do this. He played junior high hockey with this person so maybe he'll go play in Minnesota.' Shut up. No one knows. No one knows."

Jefferson is right. If LeBron James himself doesn't know what he's going to do, then all we are doing is guessing. But guessing can be fun, and there's no way to talk about this summer without starting with James. This one question is really a bunch of more specific questions:

  • Have the Cavaliers done enough to keep him? The pieces on this post-deadline team fit much better, but Cleveland is only 3-4 since the All-Star break. No longer are the Cavs considered a lock to stroll to the NBA Finals, and if they get there, they'll be underdogs against either the Warriors or the Rockets. Let's see what they look like when Kevin Love comes back, how they do in the playoffs and what happens with the Brooklyn pick in the lottery. That pick, either used on a future star or traded away for a proven star, could be the key when it comes to showing James he can win more championships in Cleveland. 
  • Are the 76ers rumors real? If sentimentality doesn't play a part in this, I'm not sure how anyone could choose the Cavaliers' roster over what Philadelphia has built. The Sixers have two franchise-player talents aged 21 and 23, a few more-than-capable role players and enough cap room to sign James outright. James could stay in the East, mentor Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and compete for championships until he retires. This is not your typical young, up-and-coming team.
  • Can the Rockets become a true superteam? Hey, remember when James told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck that he'd take a pay cut to play one or two seasons with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade? What about if you substituted James Harden -- all but certainly this season's MVP -- for Wade? This scenario isn't as implausible as it may seem on the surface, provided that these guys are cool with sacrificing money. (Wade could even be involved, too, but I'm just assuming he's done jumping from team to team.)
  • Does LeBron want to revitalize the Lakers? They don't have a player as good as Embiid or Simmons, but in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, they have a hell of a lot of potential. And they have Hollywood, a storied history and Magic Johnson sitting in the room for the meeting. I would not dismiss this possibility, especially if the front office can recruit someone like Paul George to join him. Which leads us to …
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LeBron James and Paul George will have tough decisions to make this offseason. USATSI

Did the Thunder lose Paul George the moment that Andre Roberson got hurt?

It isn't always obvious when a moment completely changes a franchise's trajectory. On March 5, then-Blazers swingman Wesley Matthews crumpled to the floor with a ruptured Achilles. Portland was hoping to make a deep playoff run, but instead was eliminated in five games in the first round, setting the stage for a drastic roster overhaul. LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the Spurs, Matthews signed with the Mavericks, Robin Lopez signed with the Knicks and Nicolas Batum was traded to the Hornets, leaving Damian Lillard as the only returning member of the Blazers' starting five. 

If George walks, then the Roberson injury could be seen similarly. Oklahoma City has not been able to sustain its dominant defense with only one all-world wing defender, and there's no guarantee it will make any noise in the postseason. The worse they fare, the harder it will be to re-sign George.  

Is New Orleans going to bite the bullet on another max contract?

Last summer, the Pelicans could not negotiate from a position of strength with Jrue Holiday. If they had let him walk, they would not have been in a position to replace him, and the front office was under immense pressure to construct a playoff-caliber team. Holiday signed a five-year, $126 million deal, which felt like both an overpay and an inevitability.

This time, they will be in a similar position with DeMarcus Cousins. The difference is that this is more complicated -- there is no guarantee the center will come back strong from his ruptured Achilles, and the team has actually improved on defense without him. Is New Orleans confident it can a true contender around Anthony Davis and Cousins? Is it worth potentially misallocating resources when the alternative means disappointing Davis? These are tough questions, and they don't even address the other variable here: How other teams value Cousins. 

Take the Lakers as an example: Would they max him out in an attempt to recruit James or George? If I was representing Cousins, I'd at least try to use them as leverage. 

What will happen with DeAndre Jordan and Nikola Jokic's options?

These fringe stars are interesting for different reasons. Jordan has a player option, so he could (a) become a free agent and chase a payday, (b) orchestrate a Paul-like trade to a team that doesn't have cap space or (c) simply opt in and delay free agency by a year. Jokic, meanwhile, has a team option. The Nuggets can pay him $1.6 million next season and let him become an unrestricted free agent after that, or they can decline the option and let him become a restricted free agent this July. I'd bet on the latter, and a max contract starting at about $25 million.

What's up with Chris Paul and Clint Capela?

There hasn't really been any speculation about Paul's future because everything has gone so swimmingly in Houston. There is no reason he and Harden shouldn't have a long-term partnership. But is a five-year deal worth about $205 million really OK with the Rockets, given that Paul will turn 33 this summer?

I suspect the answer is yes, although I wonder whether or not Paul would be willing to take a discount if it helped the front office stack the team even more. That's one way for Houston to get LeBron.

Another intriguing Rockets free agent: Clint Capela. The big man is having a dream season, and he hasn't even turned 23 yet. He's not a traditional max player, but could command that kind of deal in restricted free agency. 

Who wants Isaiah Thomas?

This is where you are expecting a brinks truck joke, and I'm not going to do it. When healthy, Thomas has proven he can lead an offense, scoring at a high volume with great efficiency. The question is how confident teams are that he will be healthy for the life of his contract, and how much they are willing to pay for a player with obvious defensive limitations. It's worth mentioning that he will turn 30 in the first year of this new deal. 

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Will someone bring a Brinks truck for Isaiah Thomas this offseason? USATSI

Thomas has had his moments since the Lakers rescued him from Cleveland, but it seems obvious that they'll let him walk and hunt bigger game. Is there a team out there that will give him the payday he's looking for? Indiana and Chicago are fascinating hypothetical landing spots. 

What the heck will happen with the restricted free agents?

This could be a story on its own. In addition to Capela, the likes of Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Jusuf Nurkic and Rodney Hood will all be looking for long-term deals on the restricted free agency market. How will teams evaluate Gordon's impressive individual production in the context of the Magic's awful season? Are the Bucks ready to commit to Parker when it's not clear he's a perfect fit next to Giannis Antetokounmpo? We could keep going down that list asking questions. 

Got any under-the-radar names to watch?

Yes, here are 12 of them: Montrezl Harrell, Jerami Grant, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, Mario Hezonja, Seth Curry, Doug McDermott, David Nwaba, Dewayne Dedmon (player option), Aron Baynes, Joe Harris, Kyle Anderson (restricted).

Who will accept a Lou Williams-style discount?

Honestly, "discount" might not even be the right term here. The market is so different than it was a couple of summers ago, and there aren't a ton of teams that are going to have money to spend this summer. If you're Derrick Favors, J.J. Redick, Nerlens Noel, Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza, Tyreke Evans or Wayne Ellington, it is hard to know how to set reasonable expectations.  

What about Will Barton, though?

Barton is in the same boat as Favors, Redick, et al.

Could Kevin Durant change teams again?

No.

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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