The 2018-2019 NBA season tips off in late October but, really, it started Sunday on the first day of free agency.
The first big shot came at about 7:30 p.m. when the Klutch Sports Group announced that LeBron James, the NBA's most coveted free agent this summer, has agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thursday is the first day Teams can officially sign free agents and make trades.
With James in the fold, the Lakers are expected to step up their efforts to obtain disgruntled Spurs All-NBA forward forward Kawhi Leonard in a trade. Leonard sent shock waves through the NBA last month when reports surfaced that he wants out of San Antonio and has requested a trade to Los Angeles, preferably to the Lakers.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnaworski reported earlier Sunday that James' agent, Rich Paul, was meeting with Philadelphia 76ers representatives Sunday in Los Angeles. Still, the Lakers remained the heavy favorites to land James.
Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl around Leonard, who was limited to nine games last season by a mysterious quadriceps injury. The Phildelphia 76ers were trying to sell James’ representatives on the belief they have a “real chance” to obtain Leonard, Mark Stein of the New York Times reported earlier Sunday.
The diagnosis of Leonard’s injury and his rehabilitation led to a rift between Leonard and the Spurs’ organization. He stopped going to games late in the regular season and was not on the bench for any of the team’s five playoff games against champion Golden State in the first round.
Citing sources, Chris Haynes of ESPN.com reported June 15 that Leonard had “grown frustrated with how the (Spurs) organization handled his quad injury and feels the franchise turned on him once he sought a second opinion.”
On the local front, the Spurs reportedly have come to terms with two familiar players, veteran forward Rudy Gay and sharpshooting guard Marco Belinelli.
Gay, who had opted out of the second year of his contract with San Antonio, has agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal, according to sources.
Belinelli, a member of the Spurs’ 2013-14 championship team, reportedly has agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract to return to San Antonio.
As the frenzy of free agency began, the Spurs’ Summer League team flew to Salt Lake City on Sunday. The Silver and Black will play three games in the Utah Jazz Summer League this week, starting Monday night against Utah. They play Atlanta on Tuesday and Memphis on Thursday.
The Summer League will be the first chance for Spurs fans to see the franchise’s two 2018 draft picks, Miami (Fla.) guard Lonnie Walker IV and Southern California power forward Chimezie Metu. San Antonio selected Walker with the No. 18 overall pick and Metu at No. 49.
“Just going there to win,” Metu said, looking ahead to playing in the Summer League. “Trying to help (us) win and contributing in any way that I can.”
Walker and Metu met with the San Antonio media Friday for the first time after the Summer League’s first full workout. Walker’s enthusiasm and passion for the game was palpable as he talked with reporters about getting back on the court this week.
“Very excited,” Walker said. “I’ve got a lot to prove. I’ve got a lot to show. I’m hungry. I’m starving and I’m ready to work, and I’m ready to show I’m one of the best players in the draft.”
Walker, 6-foot-5 and 204 pounds, averaged a team-high 11.5 points in his only season at Miami. Long and athletic, Walker has the potential to develop into a force at both ends of the court in time, Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said.
“He is a very gifted athlete, but he’s so team-oriented that he’ll adapt to any role that Coach Pop (Gregg Popovich) decides is appropriate for him,” Larranaga said. “He doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body. He’s very humble.
“He’s hard working. He’s competitive and loves challenges. He’s also someone that loves winning and is not afraid of the moment. He made four game-winning shots this year as a freshman. Most guys don’t make one game-winning shot in a four-year career.”
Walker was born and raised in Reading, Pa., which in 2011 was ranked the poorest city in the country. But Walker, the third of three children in his family, excelled in the classroom and on the basketball court to escape the cycle of poverty.
“People don’t understand where I come from,” Walker said after being drafted by the Spurs on June 21. “I talked to my mom earlier today. We don’t have to worry about sharing a cheeseburger for dinner. We don’t have to worry about sharing some Doritos for breakfast. Things of that nature. I got her back. Same way she got my back for the past 19 years.
An honor student at Reading High School, Walker was a 2017 McDonald’s All-American and was ranked the country’s No. 12 high school prospect by ESPN as a senior. He also had offers from such traditional college programs as Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova and Syracuse.
Walker, 19, made an impact quickly, on and off the court, at Miami.
Walker’s exploits on the basketball court and his community work have made him an icon in Reading, Larranaga said. Reading has a population of about 88,000. Reading is about halfway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital.
“When he left his high school practices, there were kids outside to take his picture and ask him to sign autographs,” Larranaga said. “And I don’t mean one day. I mean all the time. So much so that our staff and I made him a promise that if he signed with us, we would bring the team to reading to play.
“And when we got him, we went to the local hockey arena, which seats 7,000. The manager of the arena said, ‘If you guys play here, it will sell out within two weeks. They sold 7,000 tickets (for a game against La Salle) because Lonnie is a major part of the community, and he will be the same with the San Antonio Spurs.
“Lonnie Walker will do everything he possibly can to become a part of the San Antonio community and be a valuable asset to the city. He’s just that kind of person. Whether it’s visiting kids stricken with cancer or going to a local elementary school to read to underprivileged students, he’s a unique personality and a very family- and team-oriented guy."