The Thunder can present George with a lucrative financial offer and an excellent chance of consistently being in the playoff mix. He doesnt have to worry about being the main option with Russell Westbrook leading the offense.
If George ultimately chooses the Lakers, he becomes the All-Star talent Los Angeles would need to appeal to James.
The problem from Houstons perspective, though, is Paul missed 24 games during the regular season and sat out the last two games of the Western Conference final with a hamstring injury.
The Philadelphia 76ers currently have $27.6 million available to boost their roster, so they will have to make a separate move to create a max slot in order to sign James.
June 29: Last day for players and teams to exercise or decline contract options for the 2018-19 season
Free agency is a constant negotiation on both sides. The Rockets got so close to the NBA Finals last season with Paul that breaking up their current core group after one year wouldnt be in their best interest.
James has a$35.6 million optionwith the Cleveland Cavaliers that he has until June 29 to accept or decline.
Durability hasnt been a strength for Paul, who has missed 53 games over the past three seasons. He isnt a young player anymore at 33 years old, so his body will presumably be more fragile moving forward.
The 28-year-old averaged 21.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He also shot 40.1 percent from three-point range.
Hitting the open market for the first time in his career, George could be one of the biggest factors in determining what happens this offseason.
MPJs Status for Next Season Unclear
Paul Georges difficult finish to the 2017-18 seasonhe scored five points on 2-of-16 shooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder in a Game 5 playoff loss to the Utah Jazzshouldnt take away from his overall solid year.
When the Rockets made that deal for Chris Paul, knowing they would re-sign him [once he hit free agency], they made a conscious decision that they were gonna have to live with [paying him] $46, $47 million a year salary when hes not nearly the player anymore in his late 30s, but, were gonna make a run at it now, we wanna win a championship now.
During an episode of his podcast earlier this month, ESPNs Adrian Wojnarowski (via Clutch PointsShane Mickle) noted Paul has no intention of taking a discounted deal to stay with the Rockets:
From the outside looking in, despite what the oddsmakers say, there doesnt appear to be any overwhelming favorite to sign James at this point.
The Cavaliers, despite reaching the NBA Finals in each of the past four seasons with James, are in bad shape to get markedly better this offseason without some clever maneuvering. They have $137.9 million incontracts on the booksfor 2018-19 with James $35.6 million option factored in.
If the four-time NBA MVP declines the option, its open season for teams to make their best pitch to secure his services. The Cavs have the ability to present him with asuper-max contract offerof $205 million over five years.
This offseason is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in NBA history with the number of superstar players who are likely to be available in free agency. There is also the potential for a flurry of trade activity involving All-Stars who are unhappy with their current situation.
However, per FS1s Chris Broussard, the Rockets may not be so quick to pony up a max contract offer to Chris Paul:
Given the heavy burden James shouldered leading the Cavs to the NBA Finals last season, only to be swept by the Golden State Warriors, bringing back a roster with Jordan Clarkson as the No. 3 scoring option may not be appealing to a transcendent star who will turn 34 in December.
Is Paul George the key to this offseason?
Paul was terrific in his first season with the Rockets. The nine-time All-Star averaged 18.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
Per Basketball InsidersEric Pincus, the luxury tax threshold is $123 million. ESPNsBrian Windhorstnoted in February that Cleveland could be paying up to $300 million on payroll next season between player salaries and luxury tax penalties, assuming James stays with the organization.
There are credible reporters who think, at the very least, George is now wrestling with a real decision. With that in mind, should George actually decide to re-up with the Thunder, that could convince other theoretical trade partners that despite whatever youre hearing from Leonards group, theres a legit chance of retaining him even if youre not the Lakers.
After finishing one win short of reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Houston Rockets would seem eager to bring back their core group of players to take another shot at taking down the Warriors.
From what Im told, there is tension now between Houston and Chris Paul… @Chris_Broussard breaks down NBA free agency
Pincus notes the Los Angeles Lakers, who areheavy betting favoritesto sign James, could have $59.7 million in cap space available. Their biggest problem is they dont have another proven star on the roster, so they will need to make a separate deal first or rely on James to sign and start recruiting other stars.
Summer belongs to theNBAthanks to the start of free agency on July 1 and all the moves teams will be making to boost their chances at winning a championship next season.
For now, though, the focus will stick primarily with free agency and looking ahead at what could happen when the offseason negotiating period begins.
The $205 million question hovering over everything this summer is what LeBron James intends to do with his future.
Georges interest in the Lakers is more than just rumored. Hes openly acknowledged it. But at the same time, George has praised the hell out of the Thunder all season. He andRussell Westbrookappear to have formed a real friendship, and OKC can offer him the most money.
James will only be able to receive a four-year deal worth $152 million from other teams.
One potential scenario floated byMarc Steinof theNew York Timescould see James attempting to recruit Paul to a team with enough money available to sign two max players.