There are plenty of big names in this year’s free agency pool and teams have wiggled there way out of contracts to get their space ready, so who goes where?
Does Kawhi stay or go? What does Kevin Durant do with only one Achilles? Does New York end up with egg on their face after trading Porzingis away for nothing?
I’ve compiled a list of eleven players who are the (in my opinion) most-intriguing unrestricted free agents, with the exception of D’Angelo Russell who is restricted but in a unique situation.
The Christmas for NBA fans is nearly upon us, lets go:
11. Al Horford
2018/19: 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 20.2 Player Efficiency Rating (PER)
Horford is a late inclusion to this list. After declining his $30.1 million player option, he began working on a new, long-term deal with the Celtics. However, the two sides weren’t on the same page money-wise and Horford is now looking elsewhere for a longer deal. He should have no problem finding suitors.
The list of teams he’s rumoured to meet with include Houston, Sacramento, Philadelphia and the both LA teams, but the favourite at the moment is the Dallas Mavericks, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.
It would pair the 33-year-old big man with the Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis who the Mavericks acquired at the trade deadline. Despite their timelines not exactly lining up (Porzingis is 23), the two would be a perfect frontcourt defensively as they can both defend each big position with different strengths and weaknesses.
Horford would also be joining soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic. Horford would feel very comfortable on a long-term deal in Dallas knowing that this generations Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki will be entering their prime as he ages into the end of his career.
Prediction: He signs with Dallas on a four year/ $100 million contract.
10. Jimmy Butler
2018/19: 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4 assists and 20.2 PER
All indications point towards Jimmy Butler returning to Philadelphia this off-season. Nobody has really thought about other options for the 29-year-old wing since he willed Philadelphia to a Game 6 win over Toronto in which the stadium chanted his name.
To cement the decision even more, Brian Windhorst of ESPN said on his Hoop Collective podcast that Elton Brand and the 76ers front office plan to offer Butler the full max contract.
The most that he can receive from Philadelphia is five years, approximately $190 million. The interesting part of Philadelphia’s off-season comes with their other big name free agent: Tobias Harris.
After the Anthony Davis trade, the Lakers look even more tantalising to free agents and maybe even Jimmy Butler. The Lakers had interest in Jimmy even before the trade, does this swing his decision?
If he does want to join LeBron and AD, he’ll have to take quite the pay cut (this will be a theme among potential Laker signings). The Lakers, post-Davis trade only have around $24 million in cap space. They can trade away the smaller contracts on their roster to open up approximately $32.5 million in room, but they could only offer other players a maximum of four years.
Prediction: Re-signs with Philadelphia for his max. He will want the fifth year from Philly, making max money while in his age 34 season.
9. Nikola Vucevic
2018/19: 20.8 points, 12 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 25.5 PER
The last remaining piece from the Dwight Howard trade, Nikola Vucevic is a free agent after quietly improving last season and bringing the Magic back to the playoffs for the first time since Dwight.
Individually he progressed as well. After adding a three-point shot to his arsenal in the previous season, he played 80 games in 2018/19 and became a ‘give me the ball and I’ll find you two points’ guy down low and was awarded his first all-star nod.
However, it’s looking as though that’s as far as the Magic get with the European big man because he is linked with the Sacramento Kings per John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7.
This would open up playing time for recently drafted Mo Bamba and backup big Khem Birch, players whose ages more align with the core of this team in Aaron Gordon and Johnathan Isaac.
Also, it’d be a super-Sacramento thing to do: sign a 29-year-old big man in their already crowded frontcourt and limit the playing time of Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley III.
Prediction: Signs with the Sacramento Kings after declining an offer from Orlando, “thanks but not thanks”.
8. Khris Middleton
2018/19: 18.3 points, 6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 16.5 PER
In his last few seasons at Milwaukee, the Texas A&M product developed his game alongside the rising star of Giannis Antetokounmpo and became a bone fide second option on a 60-win team.
At 27, this may be his last opportunity to cash in with a large contract.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Dallas Mavericks are targeting Khris Middleton in this upcoming free agency. There might not be much weight in this report however, most teams wouldn’t mind a wing defender that can shoot as well as he can.
Conversely, Paul Henning of brewcitybucks.com reported that Khris Middleton just bought a new house in the Milwaukee area. I guess the only question left is, is this the kind of house a player on $30 million a year makes or $20 million?
If (when) the Bucks pay him his next contract it’ll pretty much lock them into this team, something they should be happy doing as they were up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals and they can run the team back for another shot at a title.
Again, the Lakers have interest. But if they want to free up another max salary spot, they’d be better off spending it on a more ball-dominant player.
Prediction: Re-signs with Milwaukee, Dallas invite him over for a quick hello before being rejected.
7. Tobias Harris
2018/19: 20 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 17.2 PER
The 76ers are likely re-signing Jimmy Butler and they’ll have a decision to make on their second traded-for-star in Tobias Harris. After being traded from the Clippers to Philadelphia, his number of shot attempts dropped but still remained at relatively the same level of production.
If the Sixers re-sign Tobias to his max they’ll be in a similar situation to Milwaukee with Middleton, locked into this core for the foreseeable future. It’s not a bad bet for this young team which will likely grow together while they (hopefully) revamp the bench.
But what if Tobias looks elsewhere and sees that the grass is greener?
After trading away Allen Crabbe to the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn now has the space to sign Kyrie Irving and one other max free agent… it’s all coming together.
How bad would it look for the Sixers if they traded some of their valuable assets to the Clippers for Harris but couldn’t retain him in free agency? Because that’s the situation they might be looking at pretty soon.
Prediction: Philadelphia desperately try to re-sign Harris and save their investment but Tobias Harris instead signs with the Brooklyn Nets.
6. D’Angelo Russell
2018/19: 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7 assists and 19.4 PER
D’Angelo Russell found his way in the league last season shouldering a load on the offensive end for a young Brooklyn team and delivering. The first-time All-Star hit almost three threes a game and grew as a passer with an assist percentage of just over 41 percent, good for second in the league.
But there’s a reason Russell is on this free agency list despite being a restricted free agent: Kyrie Irving is coming to town (spoilers for later, my bad).
The Nets cleared enough cap space for two max free agents and it’s unlikely they’ll try re-sign Russell if they pick up Kyrie on top of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert to handle the ball.
But really, Russell is getting kinda screwed.
If Kyrie doesn’t actually come to Brooklyn, they still have the ability to match any contract Russell signs elsewhere. If Kyrie does come to Brooklyn (however late in the process it may be), they can rescind their qualifying offer and ability to match another offer on Russell, making him unrestricted. A rock and a hard place.
Good luck Mr. Russell.
The 23-year-old All-Star has been linked to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz, but they both require a sign-and-trade, something the Nets might want to avoid to keep their cap space free. Does he want to go to a rebuilding team in Phoenix or Chicago?
The options are looking rather grim if the Nets sign Kyrie Irving and essentially replace him but I have to do a prediction, so let me try my best.
He will not be signing with the Lakers after all that happened after he left. Magic kicked him on his way out the door over the Swaggy P Snapchat scandal and even knocked his play. Yes, Magic isn’t there anymore, but why return? He has had much more success elsewhere and doesn’t need the noise.
Prediction: Signs with the New York Knicks for the max after the dust settles and Kyrie is in Brooklyn and the Knicks have no big names (again).
5. Klay Thompson
2018/19: 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 16.6 PER
The best thing to happen to the Warriors was Klay Thompson missing out on an All-NBA position while it was the worst thing that could’ve happened to Klay himself.
Since he missed an All-NBA selection, he becomes ineligible for the designated veteran exception (or supermax) which would’ve started at about $38 million in the first season and risen by eight percent the following four. His max contract is now around five years/ $190 million a difference of about $31 million in the end.
I’m writing this because Adrian Wojnarowski reported that if Klay wasn’t offered the max, he would consider his options in free agency. But now that his max is much less than it could’ve been, there is little chance the Warriors would low ball him or not want him back on a cheaper contract.
His father is a former Laker and maybe Klay would want to return to where his dad played? In January, ESPN reported that Klay would be interested in Los Angeles if they were able to trade for Anthony Davis… well?
Prediction: Klay Thompson re-signs with the Warriors
4. Kemba Walker
2018/19: 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 21.7 PER
Unlike Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker IS eligible for the supermax extension of around five years/ $221 million. That’s a lot of money and Kemba would be worth almost every dollar.
The 28-year-old All-Star had his greatest season yet and was at the peak of his powers. He exploded into the season with two 40-point showings and a 60-point decimation of Philadelphia.
But with little playoff action and the roster not exactly great around Kemba in recent seasons, people have suggested he take his talents elsewhere… like New York; the place he grew up in and played college just nearby. The place he has been mocked to in trades for most of his career.
After trading for Anthony Davis, the Lakers instantly entered their name in the Kemba Walker race. But with currently about $24 million in cap space, they’d be asking him to take a pay cut on top of a pay cut, as well as seeing less of ball in a three-star team.
If Kemba has wanted to play with stars all along and bolt for a Los Angeles team, he has been very quiet about it in his time at Charlotte.
Without Kemba, his Hornets team wouldn’t be nearly as good as they have been these past few years. Walker is almost their entire offence and sometimes he is. Last season he was third in minutes played, third in field goals made and ninth in usage. All the more reason they should reward him with the supermax.
If I were Kemba, I would walk, go somewhere else that has a better opportunity to win a title. It’ll be hard to take these Hornets to the promise land when you’re surrounded by Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller. But then again, I’ve never been at the receiving end of $221 million, it might make me want to stay too.
Prediction: Re-signs with Charlotte on the supermax.
3. Kyrie Irving
2018/19: 23.8 points, 5 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 24.3 PER
Kyrie Irving has done everything except put on a Nets jersey so far.
He recently parted ways with his long-time agent Jeff Wechsler to sign with ROC Nation sports, founded by Jay-Z, former partial owner of the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets traded Allen Crabbe to Atlanta and freed up enough cap space for two max free agents, the same as New York, another team he was rumoured to sign with.
I don’t want to discount the allure of James Dolan giving out free tickets for his blues gigs, but Brooklyn are already a playoff team, Kyrie will be joining Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, not Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox.
In Boston, Kyrie played like his usual self; an elite ball-handler, scorer and even an improved facilitator. When a team adds Kyrie Irving, they know exactly what they’re getting and how he helps a team.
However, he struggled in the last playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Whether it was because he was mentally checked out or that he legitimately struggled, after a Game 1 win, he finished the five-game series going 25 from 83 from the field and severely under-performed.
He was also a detriment on defence to his team, not fighting over screens or really showing any fight on that end. Bill Simmons, media personality and Celtics fan, even nominated himself to drive Kyrie to the airport after the season.
Prediction: Kyrie Irving signs with the Brooklyn Nets on a short-term, max contract.
2. Kawhi Leonard
2018/19: 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 25.8 PER
The further Toronto went in these playoffs, the more likely he was going to resign. The Raptors eventually won the title and proved that they are a team that can take him to where he wants to be; the top. Even thought he would’ve preferred a Los Angeles team.
But obviously there are 30 teams that would add a player of his calibre if they all could, there will be no shortage of suitors for Kawhi, he can take his pick of destinations.
In these last playoffs he has averaged over 30 points per game and willed his team past various series including an all-time great shot in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers, a dunk against the Bucks and of course, an NBA title.
But you don’t need me to tell you how good Kawhi has been, we’ve all seen it.
The first big decision will be to return to Toronto or go elsewhere? When he requested a trade from the Spurs he outlined Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers, as his destination of choice. Has this playoff run changed his mind? Or does he still have LA in his sights.
Reports came from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Kawhi’s free agency decision is a two-horse race between the Raptors and the Clippers, even after the Davis trade.
If he wants the best situation to win with an LA team, the Clippers are the obvious choice; they’re a random (but good) collection of role players who somehow banded together this season under Coach of the Year candidate Doc Rivers and took the defending champion Warriors to six games.
Kawhi would fit right in as a number one option on that team and might be able to visit the Finals again in a weaker Western conference.
But if all he wants is the best opportunity to win, he should stay in Toronto. They’ve just won their first NBA Finals and have a team around them built to contend for the immediate future. What could stop this Raptors team from returning to the Finals?
Prediction: He signs with the LA Clippers. He said he wanted to play in LA with his initial trade request and there have been no other signs to say otherwise in his short time in Canada. Would not be surprised if he stayed in Toronto again, the guy doesn’t talk.
Also, can Toronto fans even be mad? He came over, won them a title, then bolted. It’s not like he under performed?
1. Kevin Durant
2018/19: 26 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 24.2 PER
This decision becomes a whole hell of a lot more complicated following his torn Achillies in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Previously Golden State didn’t appear to have a chance, a last option at best for Durant. But now, since he’ll be out of action for almost a year, teams might not be as comfortable offering him a long-term contract.
The Warriors can now swoop in and offer him a five year supermax extension and give him the most financial security of all suitors, something he might not have cared about before the injury.
Out of all the major players to sustain an Achillies injury, not one has come back as good as they were before the injury. Dominique Wilkins, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant or Demarcus Cousins to name a few. Each of these players has showed some form of drop off from their pre-injury selves.
Previous teams that were ready to offer him their max (four years/ $141 million) at the drop of a hat might think twice now before doing so. Does he become more injury prone now that he’s had an Achillies injury? Will he be the same Kevin Durant? Should we pay him a max salary in the first season when he might not even play until after the All-Star game?
Despite all these questions, the Knicks immediately came out and said that they still intend to offer him the max, as I’m sure plenty of other teams would, the ceiling with Durant is still very high.
Also, credit to Kevin Durant for playing in Game 5 despite not being 100 percent ready. He went out and played for his team in one of the hardest games of the Warriors lives. He obviously didn’t finish the game but he helped them get the win.
Prediction: If you’d asked me before the Finals, the answer would’ve been different, but now he re-signs with the Golden State Warriors for the five-year super max deal.