NBA stars don’t wait for LeBron as free-agency frenzy begins

If the Lakers had any thought of a three-pronged superteam, that quickly went out the window before free agency had even started.

Paul George elected to stay in Oklahoma City, spurning a potential Hollywood tandem with LeBron James and possibly Kawhi Leonard as well. ESPN was the first to report the deal.

With free agency set to start at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, James had flown in to Van Nuys Airport from Anguilla, where he had been vacationing in what had been termed his “Decision Cave.” King James had tried to pressure the Lakers into trading for San Antonio’s disgruntled Leonard, and inking George. No such luck.

George didn’t take a single free agency meeting with Lakers president Magic Johnson or anybody else. He arrived in Oklahoma City and attended a house party thrown by Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook. The guests had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and George made his announcement there.

For Oklahoma City, it was a thunderous victory, dealing for a player that to the outside world seemed hell-bent on getting home to Los Angeles, and successfully selling him on staying. For the Lakers? And King James? Not as good.

James opted out of the final year of his contract Friday, and looks to be set to leave the Cavaliers. But if the Lakers can’t pry Leonard away from San Antonio, and with Kevin Durant staying in Golden State as expected, would James head to Los Angeles on his own?

DeMarcus Cousins’ Achilles tendon injury may have cost him a long-term max deal and made a return to New Orleans likely. But with George staying with the Thunder, Cousins has emerged as a possible fit in with the Lakers on a short-term max deal.

Neither James or his agent Rich Paul are expected to meet in person with Cleveland. After he opted out of the final $35.6 million year of his contract, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is reportedly fine with that. Considering the Gilbert’s immature, racially-tinged letter in 2010, that shouldn’t be a shock.

“Dan Gilbert is known for not being particularly fond of LeBron James. He doesn’t mind the thought of LeBron James leaving at all,” Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN. “As a matter of fact I had one executive tell me “Excuse me, I can’t wait until he leaves because I’ll get my team back.” This is something Dan Gilbert has actually echoed. This is a person who views himself as being stuck with LeBron James.”

Be careful what you wish for.

With it looking more likely by the day that James will leave, the Cavaliers have no intention of having a fire sale or dealing Kevin Love according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Meanwhile, James’ decision to opt out largely limits his choices.

Though James still could sign with the 76ers, the Lakers are viewed as the leaders. But Durant and George re-upped with their teams, and Leonard still hasn’t managed to get traded from the Spurs.

Los Angeles is trying to hammer out a deal for Leonard, but reports are the Spurs are looking for a “Nets-Celtics” level trade. So far the Lakers haven’t been able to cobble together a package to entice them and it’s unclear if Lonzo Ball’s torn meniscus in his left knee will make that even harder.

Durant took another one-plus-one deal that helped the Warriors maintain their dynasty. It saved Golden State $20 million in luxury-tax costs, and should make using the mid-level exception palatable. They can not only keep the Hamptons Five lineup together, but add a target like Jamal Crawford, Trevor Ariza or even Nets buyout candidate Dwight Howard. The rich get wealthier.

The Mavericks are so intent on landing free agent DeAndre Jordan that they declined Dirk Nowitzki’s $5 million option with the plan to re-sign him. And Chris Paul took a four-year deal to stay in Houston.

Precious few teams have legitimate cap space, which could squeeze the non-max players hoping to make more than the aforementioned mid-level/bi-annual exception. When the dust settles we could see bargains for teams, bitterness for players and agents fielding angry calls from clients.

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