NBA free agency kicks off characteristically with a frenzy of movement, and 2018 lived up to the hype. LeBron James announced his move to to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Paul George stayed put in OKC. It was a frenetic first 24 hours, as it became increasingly hard to keep track of all the player movement, with ESPN analyst Adrian Wojnarowski dropping Woj bomb after Woj bomb.
From the Australian perspective, Aron Baynes agreed to terms to stay put in Boston, as the Celtics look increasingly likely to run it back with the full squad from last year, in a suddenly wide open LeBron-less Eastern Conference. But as the day wore on, we learned that Baynes may not be the only Australian talent to make the news in the free agency period.
After being drafted 36th overall in the 2017 NBA draft, Jonah Bolden chose to head overseas and hone his craft over immediately entering the NBA. Bolden spent last season playing for Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel-Aviv, though as reported by CBS, there has been speculation that he could be returning to the States as early as the 2018-19 season.
"With respect to the players we selected last year, players who we anticipated would be parts of the future here, I think it's most likely that the player you might see here early on is Jonah Bolden, who had a really good season at a EuroLeague level of competition playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv," former Philadelphia GM Bryan Colangelo said back in May.
In 21.1 minutes per contest, Bolden averaged 7.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists, across 29 appearances for Maccabi Tel-Aviv. With rival NBA franchises sensing his NBA readiness, David Pick tweeted yesterday that the 76ers have been floating Bolden's name in trade talks.
The trade whispers should not come as a major surprise, as Philadelphia have been engrossed in heavy speculation over their ability to land a third star to play alongside Aussie Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. After whiffing on LeBron, the Sixers will still hold hopes of acquiring disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. A true athlete with a 7-foot wingspan, the 22-year-old Bolden projects as an NBA rotation player from opening night after holding his own against physically mature professionals overseas.
Whether or not Philadelphia pull the trigger on a trade in the coming days remains to be seen, but for now, the next step in Bolden's NBA debut will be at the Las Vegas Summer League event that kicks off on Saturday morning Australian time. After an impressive display in averaging 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds at last years summer showcase, Bolden explained to ESPN's Nick Metallinos how his path overseas eventuated.
"There was rumours about this and that, but they broke it down for me of why they couldn't [add him] this year and I just respected that," Bolden says. "For me [it's an opportunity] to get another year to go improve my game and come back better next year."
Interestingly enough, Bolden's case for an NBA role with the Sixers appeared to have received a shot in the arm yesterday, as veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova agreed to terms with the Milwaukee Bucks. Ilyasova joined Philadelphia in February after reaching a buyout agreement with the Atlanta Hawks, before playing major minutes down the stretch and into the playoffs. With his exit, Bolden may be in line to collect some of those available minutes should he stay put.
Another impressive Summer League outing would only increase the intrigue in the young Aussies name. One gets the sense the major trade they were floating Bolden's name in would be the Kawhi trade, as San Antonio chase a haul of assets for losing their contracted star. But as always with this time of year, don't rule out anything, as nothing is off limits in the world of NBA free agency.
You can expect Jonah Bolden to be in an NBA uniform come October - it's just not clear which uniform it may be.