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NBA Free-Agency Watch: LeBron Makes His Announcement

Plus: Fred VanVleet’s bet pays off in Toronto, and the Rockets’ uninspiring start to their hunt for a new Ariza

NBA Free-Agency Watch Getty Images/Ringer illustration

NBA free agency never sleeps, and neither do we. We recapped the deluge of deals from the wee hours of Sunday morning here. Below is all of the news that happened after the sun came up.


LeBron James Is Officially a Laker. Right on Time.

In 2010, an 11-minute televised announcement that took up real estate on the most-watched sports network in America. In 2014, an as-told-by letter to the world in a magazine. In 2018, a short-ass tweet memo. Who says LeBron hasn’t become more understated over time? — Chau

It’s Mario Hezonja Time at MSG

The Hezonja revival is afoot, and it’s going to take place in the mecca of basketball. To that, I say: Hell yes. Hezonja, the fifth overall pick in 2015, signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the New York Knicks Sunday night. It’s not the value you’d expect out of a lottery selection, but Hezonja’s one-year contract speaks to both Orlando’s inability to develop him, and the questions the Croatian wing has to answer about his game in order to demand a long-term commitment. The change of scenery should help. Hezonja just wrapped up his best season in the NBA, but even then averaged only 9.6 points per game on 44.2 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from 3 (not great considering his reputation as a sharpshooter entering the draft). But New York is hoping that there is untapped upside in the 23-year-old. The Knicks need everything he brings to the table: size, athleticism, and scoring, and now that career expectations have tempered to a far more reasonable level, Hezonja could deliver on all fronts. I can’t wait until he lights the Garden on fire. — Uggetti

Fly, Elfrid Payton. Fly.

Forget LeBron. ELFRID PAYTON IS COMING HOME.

My guy with a Fleur-de-Bee tattoo is taking his rightful spot on the Pelicans’ roster, signing a one-year deal with his hometown team. Not only is Payton’s right arm a living memorial for the decade the franchise existed in New Orleans as the Hornets, he grew up in nearby Gretna, played college ball at Louisiana-Lafayette, and was drafted with one of the picks the then-Hornets gave to the Sixers in the Jrue Holiday trade. Two years ago, in the thick of another gross-ass summer, I ran into Payton at a Felipe’s Taqueria in the French Quarter. Who chooses to eat terrible Mexican food during their offseason? Native son Elfrid Payton, that’s who.

Basketball-wise, this move may be more of an awkward fit if the Pels intend to keep Rajon Rondo (which, per Marc Stein, they do). Payton is basically Rondo without the supercomputer brain—he’s shot under 30 percent from 3 in his career, and his natural command of the floor often leads to empty-calorie assist numbers and triple-doubles. But there’s still a good point guard in there, and playing next to Anthony Davis and without a bushel of asparagus flopping in and out of his vision could help the 24-year-old unearth it. Rondo has played more than 70 games just once in the past eight seasons, and a one-year flyer is a good high-reward, low-risk gamble for both sides if the price is closer to the veteran’s minimum than what Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took to return to Team Klutch. Justin Verrier

Is Ed Davis the New Will Barton?

Damian Lillard is upset.

Fa Eva Eva my dog smh... @eddavisxvii

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

The Blazers are not keeping Ed Davis. In fact, Davis made his offseason decision quickly, agreeing to terms on a one-year, $4.4 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets amid the first torrent of deals in the early hours of Sunday. Davis is one of the best backup centers in the league; the fact that Portland wasn’t able to re-sign him at that price seemed surprising, especially given his desire to remain in Portland. Lillard and C.J. McCollum wanted him back in the fold, too:

After the news broke, Lillard tweeted a cryptic emoji combo of a peace sign and a watch. And Davis, meanwhile, reiterated his interest in returning to Blazers’ reporter Jason Quick: “I said I wanted to come back.”

From a basketball perspective, there are credible reasons to the decision. Even if the Blazers don’t retain restricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic, it appears the team is confident enough in young big man Zach Collins’s ability to take on a heavier workload. Would Davis have been satisfied with being the third-string center and being passed by for the more versatile Al-Farouq Aminu in smaller lineups? Perhaps not. The Blazers are also firmly in the luxury-tax zone for next season, so signing Davis at $4.4 million would have actually cost them around $9 million. Davis was a casualty of the luxury tax and the latest example of the Blazers’ current state. Any cost-cutting measures will be seen by its stars as stepping backwards, but any moves they do make have the added pressure of vaulting them into elite territory, even when they don’t have the money to spend. — Paolo Uggetti

Houston’s Ariza Replacement Might Come From Abroad

Chris Paul’s as-expected agreement to a four-year, $160 million deal brings the Rockets close to the lowest bowels of luxury-tax hell, but the shocking departure of 3-and-D stalwart Trevor Ariza to Phoenix on a one-year, $15 million contract agreement was the real record scratch. Ariza’s absence will create a significant hole on a squad that champions two-way wings arguably more than any team in the league. Given the Rockets’ spending limitations, the role will likely be filled in a platoon format. Gerald Green, who re-signed Sunday on a one-year minimum, will have opportunities to expand his responsibilities on the team, but there will be others.

On Sunday, the Rockets agreed to several interviews with free agents, including Michael Carter-Williams (yikes) and James Nunnally (one of the many faces that came and went during the Sixers’ Sam Hinkie era) who plays for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce. These aren’t the most inspiring names for a team with a championship-or-bust mentality, but seasoned international role players like Nunnally are a growing phylum of NBA free agents, and Houston would be wise to find their hidden gem early. It’s a resource that the top teams are starting to mine—Brad Wanamaker, Nunnally’s teammate in Turkey and one of the best players in Europe, reportedly agreed to a deal with the Boston Celtics last week. The Rockets have seen what can blossom with their own eyes: Royce O’Neale, who spent the 2016-17 season playing for Gran Canaria in the Spanish ACB, had a rock-solid rookie season in the NBA and was a starter for the Jazz in their second-round series against Houston back in May.

There isn’t any glamour in these signings, but for teams in a financial crunch, signing players off the beaten path presents the best value relative to expectation. For an elite team with an established infrastructure, that’s all they really need. — Danny Chau

It’s Not You, It’s Ulis

The Suns waived Tyler Ulis on Saturday and unwittingly started a kerfuffle. Ulis has been best friends with Devin Booker, Phoenix’s franchise cornerstone, since the two played together at Kentucky. You don’t come up with handshakes this complex with acquaintances.

Booker is miffed that the franchise moved on from his best friend without telling Booker ahead of time, according to The Arizona Republic’s Scott Bordow. Booker, who won’t be able to leave Phoenix until next summer, doesn’t have much leverage to change anything with the team, but this lack of communication isn’t a great way to begin negotiations with the future of the franchise. — Heifetz

The Sixers Descend Into the Decision Cave

After a literal and metaphorical record day for flight tracking (and amateur stalking), it is confirmed that LeBron James has set up a “decision cave” in Los Angeles. The first invitees will be Philly coach and interim president of basketball operations Brett Brown, plus Sixers co-owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who are scheduled to meet with James’s camp on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The only catch is James reportedly won’t actually be in the meeting, making good on a report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that James didn’t want to hear elaborate pitches from teams. Instead, the Sixers will meet with LeBron’s agent Rich Paul, who has a pre-existing relationship with the team as the agent for the Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons.

The Sixers, who let Ersan Ilyasova and confetti king Marco Belinelli leave in free agency at the stroke of midnight Sunday, have the cap space to offer LeBron James a maximum contract, which, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, would be a four-year deal worth $153.3 million. Marc Stein of The New York Times tweeted that the Sixers fancy themselves a top contender to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs, which may have been the topic du jour at the meeting. — Heifetz

The Six Keeps Its Sixth Man

When Fred VanVleet went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft, he tweeted out three words: “Bet on yourself.” On Sunday, according to multiple reports, he signed a two-year, $18 million deal to remain in Toronto and now he’s doubling down on his own advice.

The Toronto point guard finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season as he became a key cog for the Raptors’ renaissance, and averaged 8.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game, including 41.4 percent on 3.4 attempts per game from behind the arc.

With VanVleet now staying in Toronto, the Raptors have now locked in the top 11 players in minutes per game from last year’s squad. VanVleet and starting point guard Kyle Lowry will both be free agents in 2020. Considering how far VanVleet has come in the last two years you can bet that he’ll have his eyes on the starting gig two years from now. Danny Heifetz