2019 NBA Free Agency Preview
The Finals and the NBA Draft highlighted an exciting June in the NBA, but the fun is just beginning. Free agency kicks off June 30 at 6 pm EST when players can start talking to teams about deals. Those deals can’t be signed until July 6, but almost all of those agreed to in principle get done (DeAndre Jordan to Dallas, anyone?). This talent in this year’s free agent class is enormous, and the ramifications of some of these signings will reverberate across the Association for years to come.
With the Draft results locked up, salary cap space taking shape, and roster needs in focus, we can begin to guess where the top names will end up when the dust settles. With free agency in the not-too-distant future, let’s dive into some of the most notable storylines and examine the top-50 free agents of 2019.
- The Lakers finally nabbed Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade, so the question remains how the rest of the roster will be constructed. Will the Lakers target a big star in free agency or some quality veterans and shooters on more affordable deals?
- The Clippers are the front-runners to land Kawhi Leonard if he leaves Toronto, but if they strike out on him, who can they bring in to help the team take the next step forward?
- The Celtics will likely be without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford next season, so they need to make a big free agent signing after missing out on trading for Anthony Davis.
- The Atlanta Hawks ended up with two top-10 picks in this year’s draft, and they upgraded the roster significantly. The Hawks did take on the contracts of Allen Crabbe, Solomon Hill, and Evan Turner, so one question remains: what is this team doing?
- The Warriors sustained heavy injuries in the playoffs that will leave Kevin Durant out for next season and Klay Thompson out for most of it. Both are free agents this summer, and both could be offered max deals by Golden State. The status of their signing back on with the Dubs is up in the air, but it seems far more likely Thomspon re-signs with Durant going elsewhere.
- Can the Knicks finally change their fortune with a huge free agent signing such as Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard? Striking out this summer would be met with astounding disappointment from management and fans alike.
- The Milwaukee Bucks will have to pay Malcolm Brogdon and Kris Middleton this summer if they want to keep 2019’s core together. Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic are also free agents, so the team with the best record in the NBA last season could see some shakeups.
Here are the top 50 NBA free agents, with predictions and notes on some of the biggest names.
1. Kawhi Leonard: Toronto Raptors
This is the move tha t makes the most sense. Kawhi is a SoCal kid, but that doesn’t trump all of the benefits he has available to him if he stays with the Raptors. Toronto can offer a 5-year, $190M max deal to Leonard this summer. That’s more than any other team could offer him, and he already gave up a guaranteed max last summer when he requested to be traded from the Spurs. From a basketball perspective, there aren’t too many other teams that are built to win right now quite like the Raptors, and they’re in the East. Boston looks like it will be going through a rebuild, the 76ers are still young and can’t get over the hump in the playoffs, and no other team in the Conference can challenge Toronto right now outside of Milwaukee. If Kawhi goes West, he’ll be competing against Steph Curry, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and others. Don’t forget the pull Leonard has as a Toronto Raptor – he has the love and adoration of an entire country, and the Canadian people seem to be enthralled by him (the freakin’ prime minister came to the championship parade, for crying out loud). Staying in Toronto is best for Leonard from both a basketball and a personal perspective.
2. Kevin Durant: New York Knicks
Reports are that Durant isn’t too pleased with the Warriors organization and medical staff for clearing him to play in Game 5 where he tore his Achilles. Durant will miss an entire season, but that doesn’t mean the Knicks won’t offer him a max deal right now. Durant has long been the prize that New York seeks to fill seats in the Garden and bring the team back to relevance. He has never gotten the respect he deserves in Golden State, even with two Finals MVPs to his name, and the fact that he joined a 73-win team with a championship always made him an outsider – the Warriors are Steph Curry’s team, not Durant’s. He’ll be the man in New York, and his legacy as an all-timer could surely be cemented with a championship won in the Mecca of Basketball. Although the Warriors can offer KD a 5-year, $221M contract, any other team can only offer a 4-year, $164M deal. With all of his endorsements outside of the NBA and a booming New York market awaiting him, Durant probably isn’t too concerned with the extra year and a few million dollars extra per year. He’ll be in New York next season.
3. Klay Thompson: Golden State Warriors
His torn ACL suffered in Game 6 of the Finals actually bolsters the case for him to stay in Golden State. He’ll miss most of next season while recovering, but the Warriors will likely take care of Thompson, who has delivered some huge performances in big games for them over the team’s five straight Finals appearances. He’s clutch, he plays through injuries, and he’s become such an iconic part of the Warriors that losing him would be disastrous for the franchise. If there were any doubts about Klay receiving a max deal this offseason, they should be extinguished now. Watching him jog out of the tunnel after getting hurt to drain both of his free throws should have been all Bob Myers needed to make the decision to max Klay. Thompson will reportedly meet with the Warriors this week to hammer out a 5-year, $190M max offer. The Splash brothers will stay intact.
4. Kyrie Irving: Brooklyn Nets
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Irving has been linked to the Nets for months, and with the strong possibility D’Angelo Russell is out the door this offseason, the team will need some guard help. Irving averaged 23.8 points and career highs in assists (6.9) and rebounds (5.0) for Boston last season, though his tenure with the Celtics was not a resounding success. Boston made the Conference Finals without him in 2017 but got bounced by the Bucks in the second round with him healthy.
5. Kemba Walker: Boston Celtics
Walker has said that he’ll take a hometown discount to stay with the only team he’s ever known, but with the Irving and Al Horford contracts likely off the books, Boston will have enough money to lure Walker away. Walker has had a lot of success in Charlotte over the last three seasons, averaging 23.7 points and 5.7 assists with three All-Star selections, but the team around him was never enough to make the Hornets true contenders. In Boston, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward give him a much better shot at winning than he has with his current teammates. Don’t forget, Walker went to UConn, so playing in New England likely wouldn’t be unappealing.
6. Jimmy Butler: Los Angeles Clippers
Butler to the Lakers would be great for Rob Pelinka, but the move doesn’t make a lot of sense for Butler. He wanted out of Chicago and Minnesota so he could be the man and have his own team, but he played third banana in Philly. He’d be the third option for the Lakers but top dog for the Clippers. The Clippers’ top scorer last season was their sixth man, so there is an opportunity for Butler to take over the team as the primary option on offense. The Clippers are a playoff team with some solid players, and adding Butler could round this roster into a contender. I don’t buy for a second that Butler agrees to a sign-and-trade with Houston, where he would be overshadowed by James Harden and barked at by Chris Paul.
7. Tobias Harris: Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers gave up a pretty sizable haul to land Harris before last February’s trade deadline, and they likely want to get a deal done to keep him. Jimmy Butler probably won’t stay and J.J. Redick is getting older, so Harris should be the priority here. I expect him to re-sign with Philly this offseason. He’s not going anywhere.
8. D’Angelo Russell: Los Angeles Lakers
He’s baaaaack. Russell will make his return to Staples this summer after a couple years of soul searching and maturation in Brooklyn. Russell was let go after being selected No. 2 by the Lakers in 2015 after he failed to live up to expectations and displayed some clear maturity issues. After an All-Star season in Brooklyn and a bid for Most Improved Player, Russell will be ready to star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers would be smart to spend their money on cheaper pieces who can fill out the roster, but the plan seems to be maximizing star power and bringing in one more big free agent to form a West Coast Big 3. Here we go again. Russell averaged career-highs with 21.1 points, 7.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 36.9 percent shooting from three last season.
9. Al Horford: New Orleans Pelicans
The Mavericks and Clippers are in the mix here too, but the Pelicans make a ton of sense. The team is completely different than it was just two weeks ago, and it features one of the youngest starting lineups in the NBA. Horford can still play, but his professionalism and years of experience will make him an excellent mentor and locker room presence for New Orleans. At 36 years old, Horford likely won’t live up to the 4-year, $112M contract he’s expecting, but the intangibles he brings make the deal seem worth it. New Orleans is reportedly “willing to give Horford a lucrative deal.” Stay tuned.
10. DeMarcus Cousins: Dallas Mavericks
Cousins could stay with the Warriors, but he’s likely to get more money from another team. Dallas has the cap space available, and teaming Cousins with Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic makes for an interesting lineup. Cousins will be more affordable than Al Horford after the former’s disappointing overall Finals performance, but Cousins dealt with recurring injuries last season and flashed his huge talent in spurts throughout 2018. His past behavioral issues with the Kings could give some NBA GMs reason to be leery, but it seems Boogie was a team player with no locker room issues in his only season with the Warriors.
11. Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic averaged career-highs in 2018 with 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists while leading the Magic to a playoff berth. He’s one of the best bigs in the game who should be highly coveted this summer.
12. Kristaps Porzingis
Porzingis is likely to receive a max offer from Dallas as early as this week, so he’s likely to stay put after being traded to the Mavericks from the Knicks last season.
13. Khris Middleton
He’s shockingly looking at a max deal this offseason. Middleton is a quality piece on a contender, but he’ll never be a team’s primary star. He’s not worth the money, but Milwaukee is probably going to shell it out for him and re-sign Malcolm Brogdon too so the Bucks can run it back for another chance at a title in 2019.
14. Marc Gasol
He played a huge role for the Raptors after the trade deadline, replacing Serge Ibaka as the starting center and helping Toronto capture its first ring. Gasol is a disruptor on defense, can shoot a three, and is a great passing big. I’m banking on him resigning with the Raptors, but his services will draw plenty of attention elsewhere.
15. Brook Lopez
16. J.J. Redick
17. Julius Randle
18. Bojan Bogdanovic
19. Malcolm Brogdon
*See Kris Middleton*
20. Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas opted out of his deal with the Grizzlies, but it’s likely he restructures his deal to stay in Memphis.
21. Ricky Rubio
The addition of Mike Conley will push him out the door in Utah, but Rubio should have no problem finding a home. After a down couple of seasons with the Jazz, he’ll look to get back to his Minnesota form. Rubio averaged 8.5 assists and 2.1 steals in six years with the Timberwolves from 2011-2017.
23. Derrick Rose
24. Enes Kanter
25. DeAndre Jordan
He’s best buds with another notable free agent you may have heard of – Kevin Durant. Jordan could still play a key role for New York on the court, and his recruiting efforts make him even more valuable. He averaged 10.9 points and 11.4 rebounds in 19 games with the Knicks last season and is still one of the best rebounders in the game.
26. Nikola Mirotic
27. Darren Collison
28. Paul Millsap
29. Harrison Barnes
Barnes curiously opted out of his deal that would have paid $25.1 M next season. After disappearing in the Finals during Golden State’s first two Finals appearances, Barnes got a huge deal from Dallas, failed to live up to his contract, and got dealt to Sacramento for half a bologna sandwich last season. There’s a good chance he works out a deal with the Kings, as they’re the team who will presumably offer the most money.
30. Kevon Looney
31. Jabari Parker
32. Thaddeus Young
33. Patrick Beverley
34. Marcus and Markieff Morris
35. Danny Green
You can never have enough “3-and-D” wings on the roster, especially if one of those guys has two championship rings. Green will be a quality pickup for any team in need of his particular skillset and veteran leadership.
37. Rudy Gay
38. Al-Farouq Aminu
39. Seth Curry
Hard to imagine a team passing on a three-point specialist who won’t get a big contract. Curry played well last season when given minutes, but he was mostly relegated to a bench role. He shot 45.0 percent from three last season and has shot a collective 43.9 percent from downtown in his career.
40. Terrence Ross
41. Rajon Rondo
42. Rodney Hood
43. Trevor Ariza
Ariza averaged 14.1 points in 43 games with Washington last season, playing a key role for the Wizards.
44. Rodney Hood
45. Ed Davis
46. Dewayne Dedmon
47. Tomas Satoransky
48. JaVale McGee
McGee averaged 12.0 points (career-high), 7.5 boards, and 2.0 blocks in 23.4 minutes per game with the Lakers last season. He shouldn’t have a problem getting signed in the offseason.
49. DeMarre Carroll
Will they join their old friend LeBron James in Los Angeles?