We made it. After weeks of whispers, screenshots of Instagram likes, and definitely no tampering whatsoever, the gates of free agency officially opened at 12:01 a.m. ET on Sunday. We’ll be keeping track of all of the rumblings, reported agreements, and every meal LeBron James will eat until he makes his decision.
12:51 a.m. ET: Here are a couple rapid-fire reports that we’ll sum up in a few sentences. (A round-up within a round-up—we’ve arrived at free-agency inception):
- Rudy Gay is reportedly planning on re-signing with the Spurs for one year at $10 million. This feels like hasty roster damage control should Kawhi Leonard leave, and signals that there aren’t immediate plans to rebuild in his absence.
- Aron Baynes is reportedly sticking with Boston for a two-year, $11 million deal. This is a smart (and quite affordable) re-signing for the Celtics. Brad Stevens made the most of Baynes, who is a solid backup that took on added responsibility when injuries hit the roster.
- Joe Harris reportedly agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with Nets. Yay! Harris, 26, is a knockdown outside shooter and was a valuable contributor off the bench for Brooklyn last season.
- Jerami Grant reportedly agreed to re-sign with OKC on a three-year, $27 million deal. Grant is a solid role player, but his new deal could bring OKC’s luxury tax bill up to $40 million. The signing was reportedly a way to please Paul George. And it worked!
- Ersan Ilyasova reportedly agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with Milwaukee. Oof. That’s a lot of money for a player that spent last season split between obscurity (a.k.a. Atlanta) and on a minimum in Philly. Ilyasova is a good fit next to Giannis, but this only furthers the idea that Milwaukee’s front office may be a bit overmatched, and maybe signals the end of the Jabari Parker era.
- Mario Hezonja reportedly flirted with the idea of the Knicks. All he needs is a stage! And there’s none bigger than Madison Square Garden. This is the perfect flyer for a rebuilding Knicks team to take.
- Trevor Ariza reportedly agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with Phoenix. This one hurts for Houston. Ariza was an integral part of their 3-and-D attack, and his ability to guard bigger players, like Kevin Durant, allowed Houston to play super small with P.J. Tucker at the 5. But he’s a big get for a young Suns team looking to take a big step forward.
- Doug McDermott is reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $22 million deal with the Pacers. The Pacers missed out on Will Barton, who went back to Denver, but they at least get another shooter to open up the floor for Victor Oladipo.
- Derrick Rose is reportedly re-signing with the Wolves on a one-year deal: *Sigh.* Tom Thibodeau’s Minnesota TimberBulls are back. Shortly after rumors circulated that Thibs was considering bringing in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng should they get released this offseason, he went ahead and brought back Rose, presumably to continue to further stunt Tyus Jones’s growth. — O’Shaughnessy and Verrier
12:27 a.m. ET: Run it back, baby! Chris Paul is reportedly in Houston for the long haul, and committed to a four-year, $160 million maximum contract. There was noise earlier in the week that 33-year-old Paul wouldn’t take a paycut to stay with the Rockets, which appears to be true. CP3 will be 37 by the time his contract is up, even more proof that the franchise firmly believes this is its window to win a championship. By 2022, the final year of the deal, he’d be making $46.7 million.
Houston will also have to re-sign Clint Capela. Capela, a restricted free agent, added another element to Houston’s drive-heavy, 3-heavy offense, and is also crucial to the Rockets win-now mission. — O’Shaughnessy
12:20 a.m. ET: Summer hype house parties never lie. Paul George is indeed returning to Oklahoma City:
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that George will sign a four-year maximum contract worth $137 million to stay with the Thunder. OKC also inked Jerami Grant, its other main free agent, to a three-year deal worth $27 million, per ESPN. — Verrier
12:14 a.m. ET: DeAndre Jordan and the Mavericks have reportedly verbally agreed on a one-year contract that will pay the center about as much as he gave up on his option with the Clippers, per Marc Stein. Honey, we have been here before. And let me tell you, thanks to a couple iOS updates, there are many, many more emojis now than there were three years ago. (Though I guess one from the 2016 update is fine.)
Sure, DAJ signing with Dallas has implications around the league—the Warriors reportedly wanted to reach out to the big man; all hope of him to the Bucks to team up with Giannis Antetokounmpo is gone; it creates more demand for DeMarcus Cousins—but most importantly, public trust is at risk. The two sides reached (reached!) a deal in 2015; owner Mark Cuban said he thought Jordan was going to be “our best player for years to come” (maybe after years to come). I’ll believe it when the ink is dry, the paper is laminated, and that contract is put into a vault. — O’Shaughnessy
11:23 p.m. ET: Ahem.
While front line players across the league position themselves to sign at the first possible moment of free agency, it’s only fitting that Will Barton springs into action. The man whose absence caused Damian Lillard to nearly revolt this past fall will not (officially) even make it to the market, despite reported interest from the Pacers. Barton will re-sign with Denver for “just north” of $50 million over four years, according to Yahoo Sports’s Chris Mannix. (ESPN reported it at $54 million.)
Barton became an integral part of the Nuggets’ high-octane offense, and even moonlit as a lead option as injuries began to pile up last season. The 27-year-old finished with career highs virtually across the board: 15.7 points on 45.2 percent shooting, four rebounds, 4.1 assists over 33.1 minutes a game. With Nikola Jokic expected back on a new max deal, Paul Millsap hopefully healthy, and Jamal Murray with another year under his belt, Denver could push into the range of the Warriors and Rockets on offense. (Defense is another issue, but Barton should at least help more than he hurts there.)
But what about the luxury tax, though? About $43 million combined for Jokic and Barton next season (plus another $12.8 million to the option year Wilson Chandler picked up) will push Denver deep into the tax, which is no small bill for a smaller market that has struggled to draw in recent years and came just one win shy of the playoffs last season. There are plenty of easy cuts on the roster—Kenneth Faried ($13.8 million next season), Mason Plumlee ($12.9 million), and Darrell Arthur ($7.5 million)—but teams all around the league will be looking to get off players (mostly big men) with bloated deals. If the Nuggets can work out a salary dump, it may cost them a draft pick. That’s not ideal for any team, let alone one that has yet to make the playoffs. — Verrier
10:06 p.m. ET: What seemed like the most boring, surefire free-agent situation—Kevin Durant re-signing with the Warriors—might have a little spice after all! The New York Times reported that Durant will tell Golden State at 12:01 a.m. ET that he wants another one-year deal with a player option for a second year. Obviously, that’s not a full, five-year max, and that means KD could be right back on the market next summer.
Now, Durant might be doing the Warriors another solid: If he does get a one-plus-one, it could give the front office more flexibility because of what they’d save in luxury-tax spending. (Why? Durant’s max salary for next season would be about $5.3 million more had he signed a four-year deal, according to multiple reports.) It essentially gives them a chance to beef up the bench with the taxpayer’s mid-level exception contract ($5.34 million).
But why dream small? This is the team that signed the second-best player in the league after two consecutive Finals trips and a ring, isn’t it? Marc Stein reported Friday that the Warriors will shoot their shot with DeAndre Jordan, Durant’s close friend. It’d be a hell of a paycut for DAJ, who opted out of his $24.1 million final year with the Clippers, but there’s something appealing about joining what’s being called one of the greatest, if not the greatest, teams in NBA history. (When do we hold the intervention with Golden State about their obsession with signing centers?)
If nothing else, a one-plus-one contract adds some additional heat to the Warriors’ dance with the cap. As I wrote soon after they won this year’s championship, Durant could very well be joined by Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in free agency if neither signs extensions (it’s in their wallets’ best interest not to). Next summer drama, and it’s not even midnight. — O’Shaughnessy
9:01 p.m. ET: Good news! The salary cap for next season has been set:
NBA has informed teams of 2018-19 season salary cap and tax: New salary cap: $101.8M; Luxury Tax: $123M. Non-Tax Mid-level: $8.6M; Tax-payers mid-level: $5.3M; Room Mid-Level: $4.4M. Bi-annual: $3.4M— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2018
Bad news: Your eyes glazed over five words in. Here’s what this means as we enter free agency: Teams looking to carve out cap space for a max contract may not have to dig as deep as they did last summer. Before it was announced Saturday, the most recent salary cap projection came in at $101 million, less than one million lower than the official number. The Lakers, for instance, gained an extra $500,000 in order to sign LeBron James, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Last year, the cap turned out to be lower than original projections, putting front offices with little wiggle room in even more of a bind. (For example, Boston traded Avery Bradley to make room for Gordon Hayward.)
The luxury tax coming in at $123 million puts Miami, Toronto, and Washington over the threshold before free agency begins (womp), with Golden State expected to join them as soon as they sign Kevin Durant. Maximum salaries were also set based on the announcement. LeBron, per Marks, can now re-sign with Cleveland for $206.79 million over five years, and sign elsewhere for $153.3 million over four years. —O’Shaughnessy
7:35 pm. ET: It seems Haley and I won’t be the only ones celebrating the opening of free agency with a summer hype house party. In another sign that Paul George maybe, probably, most likely will be staying with the Thunder, the All-Star swingman will ring in a new offseason in Oklahoma City, at the same time Russell Westbrook will be hosting a party for 500 of his closest friends that will include a live performance by Nas (I guess it’s easier to get elite NBA talent than rappers to OKC), reports ESPN’s Royce Young. “The invitation says, ‘The FOMO will be real,’” according to Young. Indeed. It is unclear whether Sam Presti will be popping out of a cake, but between the three-part documentary George is doing for ESPN, the persistent rumblings the past month that he’s focused on staying in OKC, and now this, the Lakers’ chances of microwaving a new Big Three in one week appear slim. — Justin Verrier
7:27 p.m. ET: LeBron James and his wife, Savannah, touched down in Van Nuys Airport on Saturday afternoon after vacationing in Anguilla. That matters because, first of all, taking a private jet to and from the Caribbean is extremely cool and I’m happy for them. Second, that puts LeBron in Los Angeles for the start of free agency. It looks good for the Lakers, one of the teams James is said to be considering. It looks so good that people are actually tracking his every movement. Here’s the landing:
A source tells ESPN LeBron James was on this plane that flew into Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles Saturday. The private jet pictured flew from Anguilla, where James was vacationing. pic.twitter.com/K7Lb9IKWdV— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 30, 2018
(Nailed it.) Here’s him and Savannah exiting the plane:
From The Decision Cave to LA.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 30, 2018
LeBron has landed pic.twitter.com/byKzWZlOtt
Here is a man named Ikaika Hall tailing what appears to be their car:
Actual, very serious quote from Hall: “We’ve pulled up beside him on a couple of occasions, but my wife won’t let me roll down the window and say anything to him because she says that, uh, she’s embarrassed, and that, well, I’m stalking.” Marriage is compromise.
An hour and a half after the jet landed, OddsShark put the Lakers as minus-5,000 favorites to sign LeBron. MINUS-FIVE THOUSAND! No wonder news outlets and random men are trailing LeBron. It’s like a documentary happening in the moment — except, like some juicy documentaries, there’s important context left out: LeBron has multiple houses in L.A., and lives here every summer. — Haley O’Shaughnessy