Kevin Durant, Paul George and Chris Paul all made quick decisions to stay put and remain in the Western Conference.
And now LeBron James is joining them.
Just like that, the West got even wilder.
Day 1 of NBA free agency was not lacking for fireworks or firepower, led by James’ decision to leave Cleveland for a second time and join the Los Angeles Lakers. James agreed to a four-year deal worth $154 million, meaning his streak of eight consecutive Eastern Conference championships — four with Miami, four with the Cavs — will end next year.
He could still go to the NBA Finals, of course. He’s just going to have a much tougher time getting there out of the West.
Compared to his past free-agent decisions, James moved super swiftly — it took him eight days to reveal in 2010 that he was going to Miami, 11 days in 2014 to say he was going back to Cleveland. This time, it took about 20 hours.
Durant, George and Paul were way faster than that.
The bonanza started Saturday night when Durant decided to sign a two-year, $61.5 million deal with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, one where he’ll make $30.5 million this season. The terms were confirmed by a person familiar with the situation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot become official until the league’s offseason moratorium ends this week.
The deal comes with a player option for 2019-20, so Durant can — and likely will — become a free agent again next summer.
George and Paul made their announcements known not long afterward. George told a party in Oklahoma City that he’s staying with the Thunder, after agreeing to terms on what is a $137 million, four-year deal that comes with an option for the final season. Paul made his intentions known on Twitter at exactly midnight EDT Sunday, saying he’s staying with the Houston Rockets after agreeing to a four-year contract worth $160 million.
All three of those players will have designs on a title next season.
As if getting through one another won’t be tough enough, James is now coming to join the party. By the time he announced, just over $900 million worth of new deals had been agreed upon, based on figures confirmed to the AP by people involved in the various decisions — almost all of that money getting committed by teams in the West.
And all those clubs — Golden State, Oklahoma City, Houston, the Lakers, even Denver by locking up Nikola Jokic for $150 million and Will Barton for $54 million — could definitively say they were thrilled. More big moves in the West are possible, especially with DeMarcus Cousins still available in free agency and a candidate to return to New Orleans.
Durant’s move means the Warriors not only got to keep the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP, but they also get some financial flexibility in the deal since he could have gotten more money had the deal been structured differently.
For the Thunder, the win was that their risk paid off. Trading for George a year ago was panned by some critics, presumably because of the belief that he was already focused on joining his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
That move isn’t happening.
Not now, anyway, and barring a trade not for at least three years in what will be considered a massive victory for the Thunder and general manager Sam Presti.
“I’m here to stay,” George told the crowd at the party.
In Houston, Paul has told Rockets fans the same thing.
“UNFINISHED BUSINESS,” Paul wrote on Twitter at the exact moment that the calendar flipped to July 1 in the East, meaning the NBA’s free agency frenzy was officially open for the summer.
Houston took Golden State to seven games in the Western Conference finals back in May. Paul missed the last two games of that series with an injury, and the Rockets wasted big leads in both of those games — then had to watch the Warriors sweep Cleveland for the NBA title.
Paul averaged 18.6 points and 7.9 assists last season with the Rockets, who went 65-17 led by Paul and newly minted NBA MVP James Harden. ESPN reported he is signing a four-year deal that will be worth $160 million.
They were the initial wave. Sunday evening, James made his move.
He flew to Los Angeles on Saturday, creating a frenzy without saying a word.
Turns out, James was flying to his new home James spent the week vacationing in Anguilla. He’s the next superstar to follow in the legacy that Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson built for the Lakers.
Philadelphia star Joel Embiid weighed in on Twitter saying, “The Lakers are FOREVER gonna be Kobe’s and Magic’s team…. Process that.”
The 76ers met with James’ representatives Sunday, obviously to no avail. Embiid’s opinion notwithstanding, the Lakers are James’ team now.
And the East, for the first time in nearly a decade, will have a new king next spring.