The 2019 NBA Free Agent pool is one of the most loaded we’ve seen in quite some time. With big-market teams like the Nets, Knicks, Lakers and Clippers, and other teams like the Mavericks, Hawks, Pacers, and 76ers all having over $40 million in cap space, and a free agent class in 2020 that currently only has Anthony Davis, this creates the perfect storm for many players to be on the move. Here are my predictions for the top free agents heading into the 2019 off-season.
Players receiving the Max contract:
Kevin Durant (Player Option)- New York Knicks
Kevin Durant is looking likely to win a third straight NBA Finals, and NBA Finals MVP, surely that would be enough for him to leave the Warriors, right? I think so, and I believe the Big Apple is where he’ll end up. As much as it would be mouth-watering to have Kevin Durant stay in the West with one of the L.A. teams, I think that he has more dignity than that then to snake the Warriors as he did with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Knicks fans would be so excited to have a real star there for the first time in quite a while. They have space for two max deals, but I really don’t see Kyrie Irving passing up the opportunity of not joining LeBron (see later). KD’s good friend DeAndre Jordan would resign, then an army of ring chasing veterans would fill out the rest of the cap space hopefully, players like Brook Lopez, J.J. Reddick, Marcus Morris, Danny Green, Patrick Beverly, Rajon Rondo, Trevor Ariza, could have the Knicks going from worst to first in the East next season.
Kawhi Leonard (Player Option)- Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are going all in this season, as shown by the Marc Gasol trade, not only for the NBA Playoffs, but keeping the best two-way star in the league, Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors have been called “unloyal” by a lot of players in the league, but I think they are just loyal to winning. Having the guts to trade away fan-favorite, all-star and Raptor for life DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio because they were beat again by LeBron last year, shows that the Raptors will do what it takes to bring a championship to Canada. Not only that but the Raptors really are good at developing talent like OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam coming out of seemingly nowhere to become really good players. Maybe Kawhi will see all of this and the Raptors will pull off what the Thunder were able to do with Paul George and get this dream of Los Angeles out of Kawhi’s mind and keep him in the six.
Kyrie Irving (Player Option)- Los Angeles Lakers
Kyrie’s massive troll-job, if it even is one, has turned the city of Boston against him. This act of “ask me July 1” about his future isn’t flying in a city that’s had two championships in five months. Even more fuel to the fire is the two major events that makes people think that Kyrie’s out of Boston. The first event was when Kyrie called LeBron to apologize for being a bad young teammate and how hard it is to lead, firing major shots at the majority of the Celtics’ roster. The next event was the “talk” that happened in the tunnel at the all-Star game where Kyrie and KD joke that they are going to team up in New York. I think it’s truly a coin flip whether he will go to the Knicks or to the Lakers. I know that the inner LeBron fan in me would love to see the Warrior-killing duo of Kyrie and LeBron back together, but I think Magic Johnson and the Lakers organization will cave to LeBron and he will become the player-coach-GM he was in Cleveland, causing the Lakers to sign KD or Kyrie and blow the young core sky-high.
Kemba Walker (Unrestricted)- Charlotte Hornets
Kemba doesn’t deserve to stay in the horrible spot he’s currently in at Charlotte. Walker is unrestricted and is the second best at his position, so the market is there. I don’t see many people pulling the trigger on offering the max to Kemba right away unless it’s a panic move from one the teams with max space like New York or one of the LA teams if they strikeout on the bigger free agents. However, a sleeper team would be a team like Dallas or Indiana who can offer a max, might see Kemba as a nice player to pair with Victor Oladipo, or form a big three with Luka and Kristaps in Dallas. Charlotte is already so far into cap-hell that it really might not matter to them. Michael Jordan being so stubborn to trade away Kemba could really screw over Charlotte for the foreseeable future.
Klay Thompson (Unrestricted)- Golden State Warriors
Earlier in the season people thought that Klay would go to the Lakers or move to greener pastures, but he has the perfect situation at Golden State, so why leave. I think Klay will sign the super-max extension and stay a Warrior for life.
DeMarcus Cousins (Unrestricted)- Los Angeles Clippers
Is Boogie Cousins a max-deserving player? I guess we will find out this summer, and I predict that yes, he will be, but not right now. Cousins’ minutes and stats will increase as the season rolls on and I think he will get a team to offer him a max or at least $25 million a year. Cousins is looking to find the form he had before rupturing his Achilles in New Orleans last season. The Clippers already have a good big man in Montrezl Harrell but adding a player like Boogie is always a plus. He would make a really good front court pair with Harrell and maybe a good super star duo with Jimmy Butler.
Jimmy Butler (Player Option)- Los Angeles Clippers
Jimmy Butler will have want to get a max contract, but he will also want to not be on a god-awful team yet again. Philadelphia has a good thing going there but it’ll be quite hard to hold onto their free agents, Tobias Harris, J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler. I think the smartest move for Jimmy would be to opt into his option and give a full season to Philly and “trust the process.” This would make him a free agent in 2020 where other than Anthony Davis, he would be the only player who could get a max deal. All that being said I still think he’ll chase the money and get a max from the Clippers or the Knicks/Lakers if they get desperate.
Nikola Vucevic (Unrestricted)- Boston Celtics
Al Horford is getting old at 32 years old and he will be accepting his $30 million player option this off-season. Vucevic is a like for like replacement for Big Al and is four years younger. The Orlando big man is almost a copy of his namesake out in Denver, Nikola Jokic. Both of the Serbian big men can spread the floor with their perimeter shooting, can rack up the rebounds inside and can pass the ball like a guard. With multiple triple doubles to his name, this would be a great acquisition for the Celtics. This would most likely be a sign and trade as the Celtics probably won’t have the cap space to sign him, but Orlando will be looking to trade Vucevic as they spent a lottery pick last season on Mohammed Bamba. Mo Bamba will be in need of more minutes as the Orlando Magic look to grow their new youth movement. Maybe a package would include Robert Williams III, Marcus Morris, and one of their rookies they will draft with their three picks this first round.
D’Angelo Russell (Restricted)- Phoenix Suns
You might think I’m crazy thinking that the Brooklyn Nets, who actually have a very competent front office, would let all-Star guard D’Angelo Russell leave the team, but I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. The main source of his exit rumors came when the Nets offered a three-year $34 million-dollar extension to their back-up point guard. If that doesn’t show he might be out the door, Russell and Suns guard Devin Booker have recently struck up a bromance that could lead to the two playing together in the near future. D-Lo would get the max he could get as a RFA, and then a package of Tyler Johnson (for salary) one of the Suns young wings, and a future pick should get it done. However, an even spicier trade could be one where the Suns draft guard Ja Morant, and flip Tyler Johnson and Ja to Brooklyn for D-Lo and other pieces, whether that be young players or draft capital.
Expected to Resign:
Khris Middleton (unrestricted)- Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s best friend seems to be Khris as we all saw over the all-Star break. Middleton is similar to Harris where he’s finally getting the respect he deserves. The Bucks have a really good team forming this year and after extending Eric Bledsoe until 2023, the Bucks will re-sign Middleton and Brogdon.
Malcom Brogdon (restricted)- Milwaukee Bucks
Brogdon is having another great season and will have any offer he signs matched, if the Bucks don’t just offer him a deal immediately which I believe they will do.
Tobias Harris (unrestricted)- Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have a good thing going here and as a Piston fan, I’m glad to see that Tobias is finally on a winning team and people are taking notice of the ability he possesses. The Sixers own Tobias’ bird rights so they should re-sign Tobias for a contract in the region of $20 million a season.
Kristaps Porzingis (restricted)- Dallas Mavericks
After trading for him in February, there is absolutely no way the Mavericks are letting Kristaps walk. Even if Porzingis wanted out, too bad, whatever deal he’d sign the Mavericks would match and he will be forming an exciting duo with rookie sensation, Luka Doncic.
Accepting player options:
Marc Gasol (Player Option)- Toronto Raptors
Marc Gasol is getting up there in age and would he get offered a deal where he makes $25.5 million next year? Most likely not, so I would predict Marc will be accepting this option in July.
Al Horford (Player Option)-Boston Celtics
There’s almost no way that Big Al will decline his $30 million player option as I talked about earlier with Nikola Vucevic.
Goran Dragic (Player Option)- Miami Heat
The Heat guard has had an injury-riddled season and has shown signs of his age (32), and the $19 million-dollar option he has is much more than he’d get on the open market.
Julius Randle (unrestricted)- Brooklyn Nets
A front court of Randle and Allen would be an excellent pair to continue the incredible turnaround that the Nets are having right now going from a team with no first rounders and no good players, to a solid young team with plenty of cap space and draft capital. A Nets-Randle pairing is a match made in heaven.
Nikola Mirotic (unrestricted)- Utah Jazz
After the reports came out that Bobby Portis broke his face during a fight the three teams interested in Nikola were the Pistons, Jazz, and Pelicans. The Jazz love their shooters and no team can have enough players that can stretch the floor. Surrounding Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Golbert with as many shooters as possible is a recipe for success.
Derrick Rose (unrestricted)- Indiana Pacers
Indiana really is in need of a temporary point guard fix as Aaron Holiday isn’t ready to be a starter yet, and Darren Collison shouldn’t be starting on the third best team in the East. A two-year $20 million-dollar deal should do the trick.