The NBA free agency season, which begins tonight at midnight, is essentially about the fate of three All-NBA small forwards.
LeBron James, 34 years old in December, (maybe) the greatest player of all time, has opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will enter the fourth act of his career with the Cavaliers or some other team.
Paul George, 28, will sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder or some other team, his third in three seasons.
Kawhi Leonard, who turned 27 on Friday, is not a free agent, but he has requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs — a dynamic that could affect or be affected by James and George.
The Los Angeles Lakers might be the favorite to acquire each of them — but not all three of them together. If that makes sense. Or maybe they could.
James was the second-best player in the league last season behind James Harden and just head of Anthony Davis. George was somewhere in the top 20, partly because playing with Russell Westbrook stunted his excellence. Leonard (nine games last season) is still recovering from a mysterious quad injury. Presumably.
Which brings us to my annual player rankings — the top 40 players in the league sorted by age — based only on last season, including the playoffs.
A player’s age is his age on Feb. 1, 2018, per Basketball-Reference.
Free agents are highlighted.
Age 19 | 1. Jayson Tatum, Celtics.
Among the 10 best 19-year-olds in history, along with teammate Kyrie Irving.
Age 20 | none
Age 21 | 1. Ben Simmons, 76ers. 2. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz.
Mitchell is the better scorer. Simmons is the better everything else.
Age 22 | 1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves. 2. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets.
Towns was on my All-NBA second team, Jokic on my third. The Nuggets center will be the better player over the next five seasons.
Age 23 | 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. 2. Clint Capela, Rockets. 3. Joel Embiid, 76ers.
Embiid is the wunderkind, Capela the hard-working role player. I’ll take Capela, who was in the lineup more and better in the playoffs.
Age 24 | 1. Anthony Davis, Pelicans. 2. Otto Porter, Wizards.
3. Andre Drummond, Pistons. 4. Steven Adams, Thunder.
5. Bradley Beal, Wizards. 5. Kyle Anderson, Spurs.
Yes, Kyle Anderson.
Age 25 | 1. Victor Oladipo, Pacers. 2. Rudy Gobert, Jazz (56 games). 3. Kyrie Irving, Celtics. 4. Tobias Harris, Clippers.
Gobert is better than Oladipo, but he missed too many games.
Age 26 | 1. Khris Middleton, Bucks.
Kawhi Leonard, please pick up the white courtesy phone.
Age 27 | 1. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers. 2. Paul George, Thunder. 3. Jrue Holiday, Pelicans. 4. Kemba Walker, Hornets. 5. Robert Covington, 76ers. 6. Draymond Green, Warriors. 7. Klay Thompson, Warriors.
The Warriors duo had a disinterested regular season. DeMarcus Cousins missed 34 games. John Wall missed 41. Gordon Hayward missed the season.
Age 28 | 1. James Harden, Rockets. 2. Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves (59 games). 3. Demar DeRozan, Raptors. 4. Eric Bledsoe, Bucks.
Isaiah Thomas missed 50 games. Might not return to the rankings.
Age 29 | 1. Russell Westbrook, Thunder. 2. Kevin Durant, Warriors. 3. Stephen Curry, Warriors (51 games). 4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers.
Westbrook averaged a triple-double again, and it was the best-kept secret in the league. Kevin Love missed 23 games.
Age 30 | 1. Joe Ingles, Jazz. 2. Darren Collison, Pacers.
Mike Conley missed 70 games.
Age 31 | 1. Kyle Lowry, Raptors. 2. Al Horford, Celtics.
Maybe the two most underrated players in the league. Every season. Just indispensable.
Age 32 | 1. Chris Paul, Rockets (58 games). 2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs.
Paul Millsap missed half the season.
Age 33 | 1. LeBron James, Cavaliers.
Age 33 All-Star team | James, Michael Jordan (1996-97), Karl Malone (1996-97), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1980-81) and Jerry West (1971-72)
A complete list of the league’s old players:
Age 34 | 1. Andre Iguodala, Warriors. 2. Devin Harris, Mavericks-Nuggets. 3. Jarrett Jack, Knicks. 4. Channing Frye, Cavaliers-Lakers (53 games).
Age 35 | 1. Tyson Chandler, Suns (46 games). 2. Nene, Rockets (52 games). 3. Tony Parker, Spurs (55 games). 4. Jameer Nelson, Pelicans-Pistons (50 games). 5. Emeka Okafor, Pelicans (26 games).
Age 36 | 1. Zach Randolph, Kings (59 games). 2. Kyle Korver, Cavaliers. 3. Dwyane Wade, Cavaliers-Heat. 4. Jose Calderon, Cavaliers (57 games). 5. Joe Johnson, Jazz-Rockets (55 games). 6. Tony Allen, Pelicans (22 games).
Age 37 | 1. Pau Gasol, Spurs. 2. David West, Warriors. 3. Jamal Crawford, Timberwolves. 4. Richard Jefferson, Nuggets (20 games). 5. Nick Collison, Thunder (15 games). 6. Udonis Haslem, Heat (14 games).
Age 38 | 1. Damien Wilkins, Pacers (19 games).
Age 39 | 1. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks.
Age 40 | 1. Manu Ginobili, Spurs. 2. Jason Terry, Bucks (51 games).
Age 41 | 1. Vince Carter, Grizzles.
When players hit 34, they can either (1) play out the string with assorted injuries (2) become a cap-friendly, useful role player for the Warriors or Spurs (3) an overpaid, less useful role player for the Cavaliers (4) or the bookend European franchise player opposite No. 3 pick Luka Doncic.
Expect LeBron to bust this current mold.
— Kevin Brewer