NBA free agency: Where will LeBron James, Paul George and other stars sign this summer?

Ah, the dawn of NBA free agency, when hope annually springs eternal. The Boston Celtics are the reigning NBA champions, but your team may be one piece away, and he is waiting for a call to come to the rescue.

He could be looking for a $50 million maximum salary, the $13 million midlevel exception or a $3 million veteran minimum contract. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent in the coming days, and anyone could be the player who outperforms his contract and fulfills his promise as the final piece to the puzzle.

Or maybe you just want your team to tank. Let free agents walk. Take a flier on a project. Get weird. Double bigs. A small-ball center. A point forward. A flame-throwing defensive liability. It is all available.

This is your chance to build the perfect team, whatever that means to you. Let us get to free agency.

NBA free agency begins on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, when teams can negotiate contracts with free agents from other teams. Teams were allowed to negotiate with their own free agents as soon as the NBA Finals concluded.

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports Illustration)
(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports Illustration)

Paul George's decision on next season looms large. He owns a $48.8 million option to play for the Los Angeles Clippers next season. He has until Saturday to decide if he will opt in or out of the final year on his deal. Either way, he can still re-sign with the Clippers for a maximum of $221 million over four years.

He could also a) opt out and sign elsewhere or b) opt in and request a trade.

Only the Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons are expected to clear enough salary cap space to offer George the four-year, $212 million contract he would covet on the open market. The Sixers are a logical destination, as they are desperate for help on the wing between Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. George is a nine-time All-Star who, when healthy, remains one of the league's top two-way players, even at age 34.

Given how dominant the Boston Celtics were throughout the playoffs, teams will be looking for help to counterbalance All-NBA wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and George is their best chance to do so. If George is Option A, teams are not likely to resort to Option B until they know what George plans to do.

Oddly, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported recently that Philadelphia's interest in George "has significantly waned." That could also mean his interest in them is nonexistent. Regardless, George's decision will dictate whether the Sixers — the only contender with significant cap space — must pivot to alternative solutions with the $53 million they have available to spend. Potential sign-and-trade partners will also begin shopping their collections of assets once the best available two-way wing is off the board.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

LeBron James also holds an option to play in Los Angeles next season at the age of 40 for the Lakers. Opting out would allow him to a) convince the Lakers to improve the roster and b) negotiate a no-trade clause in L.A.

All of that may be worth the $1 million he would sacrifice from his $1 billion net worth by opting out.

Of course, James could sign anywhere for any price, though his agent, Rich Paul, all but ruled out the possibility that he would sign a veteran minimum contract with, say, the Phoenix Suns. James is still a member of the All-NBA third team and still worth every penny of the $50 million he will command as a starting salary. But because signing James means tailoring an entire roster to a 40-year-old, it is unlikely we will see him on any other team but the Lakers. They did just hire his podcast partner as their coach and draft his son.

DeRozan has long been one of the league's most underrated stars. He is a professional scorer who has developed into a productive playmaker, and that has made him one of the game's great clutch players. He should be the consolation prize for teams that fail to land George. Beyond them, it is a crapshoot.

Speaking of crapshoots. Bridges missed the entire 2022-23 season upon pleading no contest to felony domestic violence. When he returned to the Hornets last season, he was immediately accused of violating a resulting protective order — charges that were later dropped for insufficient evidence.

Harden orchestrated his way to L.A. last season because Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was one of the few people who could pay him as if he were still performing at an MVP level. So how much do you pay a soon-to-be 35-year-old who had no other suitors but the Clippers when he was available via trade last season?

Is it possible that Harris has been so overpriced for so long that he has become underrated? Much of the criticism of Harris was based on the five-year, $180 million contract he signed in 2019. He did not live up to his end of that bargain, especially in the playoffs. Might he be more attractive on an affordable deal?

Hartenstein is the best center available in free agency. He is a quality interior scorer, playmaker and defender, all of which benefited New York's thrilling playoff run. The Knicks are now hard-capped at the first apron ($178.7 million), which makes re-signing Hartenstein difficult, but can they afford to lose him?

The Nuggets lost Bruce Brown to a lucrative free-agent offer last offseason and run the risk of losing Caldwell-Pope this summer, unless ownership is willing to spend big. Whether or not Caldwell-Pope re-signs, Denver will be a title contender, but losing him would make their margin for error even thinner.

Surgeries to Thompson's left ACL and right Achilles cost him a step, but he will want to be compensated well for what he has given to a dynasty and what he can still offer as one of the game's greatest shooters. Is he worth more to anyone else than he is to the Warriors? Can he stomach wearing another uniform?

Russell is opting in to his $18.7 million option to play for the Lakers next season, and that's fascinating because the Lakers might aggregate his mid-tier contract in their pursuit of a third star.

Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison called re-signing Jones "Priority 1, 1A and 1B." They traded Tim Hardaway Jr. in order to retain Jones using the midlevel exception ($12.9 million). Is that taking half a step back to move forward? The Western Conference champions have work to do to improve.

[NBA free agent big board]

Let us count the ways ...