NBA free agency live updates: KCP is Orlando-bound on 3-year, $66M deal

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 23: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers waits during a 96-93 Dallas Mavericks win in game two of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Crypto.com Arena on April 23, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 23: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers waits during a 96-93 Dallas Mavericks win in game two of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Crypto.com Arena on April 23, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Paul George is the top attraction in free agency. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Whatever NBA theatrics do come — once the clock strikes 6 p.m. ET, once free agents can begin contact with prospective teams, once several more trades shake the league’s landscape like a snow globe — this July will present the first case study of just how front offices and agents will navigate the new math and restrictions that come with the imposing second apron of the collective bargaining agreement.

That is the ultimate context of Paul George declining his player option and testing the open market. That is the cold, hard truth underscoring Denver’s plight to retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope after already losing Bruce Brown a year ago. That is why the Warriors have attempted to find trades — such as landing George — with Chris Paul’s non-guaranteed salary, sources said, as Golden State could still retain his valuable salary slot and further improve the roster around Stephen Curry.

It does not matter if Steve Ballmer or Joe Lacob has limitless pockets and is willing to pay the penalties that come with wading into the NBA’s new second apron like the luxury tax of yesteryear. The ability to front that bill doesn’t hand front offices get-out-of-jail-free cards that suddenly grant access to any mid-level spending power, the ability to aggregate salary in trade, send out cash or use traded player exceptions — let alone the frozen draft picks that looms like the bogeyman. It’s one thing if the Boston Celtics have six of their top eight players all under contract and under the age of 30. The Knicks’ threatening core is even younger and more team-controlled. It’s another thing building around aging star veterans all likely looking at the final contracts of their illustrious careers.

The Clippers, then, have made it clear to this point they have no intention of awarding any player — not Kawhi Leonard, not George, not James Harden — with a contract beyond three years, league sources told Yahoo Sports, in order to permit Los Angeles the future flexibility to evade the penalties of the second apron. The two sides have had months to find an extension similar to Leonard’s three-year, $153 million agreement in January, exchanging various proposals, sources said, but that critical lack of a fourth year from the Clippers, what could be the difference of some $60 million, is what’s prompted George to listen to offers from the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic once free agency begins, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports, in addition to George’s incumbent Clippers. The reality that dealing George to Golden State would have netted back 75 cents on the dollar — yet still cost a dollar and would still bring those second-apron challenges — were key deterrents in those fizzled trade discussions.

Both the 76ers and Magic, sources said, are prepared to lavish George with four-year maximum contracts, as were the Warriors if George would have exercised his $48.7 million player option for this upcoming 2024-25 season.

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