Predicting the Landing Spots for Star NBA Players in Free Agency
Written By Nick Nagel, ESPN 99.1
It’s almost here, NBA fans! Starting on June 30th, the NBA could look very different than what it has in the recent past. The potential balance between talent in the league could be at an all-time high, making it more competitive and even more exhilarating to watch. There is no off-season as thrilling as the NBA’s. Year after year, teams make moves that switch up the entire basis of the league. From superstars to role players, building your roster in the off-season is the most important job for a team’s front office. This summer could be one of the greatest free agent classes of all- time. There may be a general idea of where some of the players will go, but in the end, we truly never know until it happens. I broke down possible destinations for some of the top free agents to get you fully educated on the upcoming free agent fiasco.
Kevin Durant: SF - Golden State Warriors
Possible Destinations: Knicks, Warriors, Nets, Clippers
Kevin Durant has been the most talked about free agent as we approach free agency. With rumors swirling around his head the entire season, the chances of KD leaving were looking better and better. Although, with his recent Achilles injury that will likely keep him out for the entire 2019-20 season, Durant may not want to carry as big of a load as he would with New York or Brooklyn, and possibly just stay with Golden State. Durant recently declined his $31.5 million player option with the Warriors and became an unrestricted free agent, but that doesn’t mean that he will not return to Golden State on a max-deal. The Warriors can offer Durant a five-year, $240 million deal while any other team can only offer him a four-year, $164 million deal. Since he joined Golden State in 2016, I have always viewed Kevin Durant as a luxury for the Warriors, not a necessity. The Warriors never exactly needed Durant to be successful with the exception of this year’s Finals, but he made them unbeatable. With this narrative taking a hit on his legacy, I cannot see Durant staying. From the start of these free agency rumors, the basis was that Durant wanted to prove that he can win without three other all-stars and eventually end up with the New York Knicks. Now, I’m not so sure the Knicks will get him. It has been reported that KD has been meeting with Kyrie Irving about the possibility of teaming up, which is believed to be with the Brooklyn Nets. There is mutual interest between the Nets and these two players. Durant and Irving are good friends and have talked about joining forces for a long while. Despite the injury, teams should still want to sign Durant to a max-deal and look forward to getting a healthy KD in 2020. Don’t completely shut the door on Durant becoming a Knick or even a Clipper for that matter, as they will still aggressively look to pursue him. I believe Durant and Kyrie join forces in Brooklyn and make the Nets instant contenders when KD returns from injury.
Prediction: Brooklyn Nets
Kawhi Leonard: SF - Toronto Raptors
Possible Destinations: Clippers, Raptors, Lakers, Knicks
Coming into the season, everyone including the Raptors viewed Kawhi Leonard as a one-and-done in Toronto. After helping win the franchise’s first championship, getting offered a multi-million dollar penthouse by a local billionaire, and free food offers from restaurants called “Kawhine-n-Dine,” in Toronto, staying put seems very appealing. The Raptors can offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million deal while other teams can only offer him a four-year, $140 million deal. Despite all of that, Kawhi is a unique individual that tends to shy away from the norm. Last off-season, Kawhi made it well-known that he wanted to play in LA. Leonard is a Southern California kid that grew up in the Los Angeles area. The first team that came to mind was the Lakers, but despite their internal issues throughout the season, the Clippers may be the safest, most stable choice for Kawhi. If the Clippers move Danillo Gallinari, they will have cap room for two max contract slots and can keep their young core in the process. Although, with the recent acquisition of Anthony Davis, the appeal of the Lakers seems much more exciting. Leonard plans on taking meetings with both the Los Angeles teams next week. Ultimately, Toronto will get the final meeting and chance of persuading Kawhi to stay. Kawhi has cemented himself a legend in the country of Canada and the love and support will ultimately be too hard to walk away from. Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report recently reported that Leonard just signed an endorsement deal with a Canadian private jet company. This could mean nothing, but it’s hard to believe a Canadian company would sign Kawhi to a big endorsement deal if he wasn’t going to be in Canada. I believe he signs back with Toronto, but it won’t be a long deal. Look for Kawhi to sign a short, one or two year deal with a player option. Canada will get their superhero back in Toronto to defend the title.
Prediction: Toronto Raptors
Kyrie Irving: PG - Boston Celtics
Possible Destinations: Nets, Lakers, Knicks, Celtics
Perhaps the most mysterious star in the league is Kyrie Irving. Back on October 4th, Irving addressed a crowd in Boston saying he intended to sign back with the Celtics after the season. Now here we are with just days until free agency, and Boston is probably the last place Kyrie plans to play next season. Irving recently opted out of his contract in Boston and is officially an unrestricted free agent. Over the last month, three teams are reportedly in the mix to land him: the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, and New York Knicks. Irving is from the New York area and has given hints that he prefers the Nets over the Knicks. There are reports that Kyrie to Brooklyn is a done deal. The Nets recently traded away Allen Crabbe to the Hawks to open up cap space for two max contracts. Kyrie has made it known that he would like to play with Kevin Durant as well. Look for the Nets to aggressively pursue Durant if Irving agrees to sign. Although, with the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis, rumors of Irving possibly uniting with LeBron and Davis in Los Angeles have been looming as well. If the Nets can’t secure a second star with Irving, it really doesn’t make sense for Kyrie to go to a worse situation than he was in with Boston. As of recent, the Nets seem to be the most desired destination for Kyrie and he is reportedly recruiting other star free agents to come to join him in Brooklyn next season.
Prediction: Brooklyn Nets
Jimmy Butler: SG - Philadelphia 76ers
Possible Destinations: 76ers, Rockets, Knicks, Nets, Clippers
This was a very interesting season for Jimmy Butler. After forcing his way out of Minnesota, Butler found himself on a 76ers team that believed he was the missing piece for a championship run. Then Kawhi Leonard hit the miraculous Game 7 dagger in the Eastern Conference Semifinals that sent the Sixers packing. Despite the reputation of him not being a great teammate or locker room guy, Butler still has a lot of good basketball left in him. The Sixers plan on offering him a max-contract, but the question is if Butler wants to stay there. It is well known around the league that Butler loves Los Angeles and visits the city often. If the Clippers fail to land any other top-tier free agents, look for them to start aggressively pursuing Butler. The Lakers will also have room for one more max contract and Jimmy Butler could be at the top of their list as well. Recent reports have been looming about the Houston Rockets being heavily interested in acquiring Butler through a sign-and-trade. The Rockets are trying to shop Clint Capela, PJ Tucker, and Eric Gordon in order to make room for him. Although, adding Butler to the strong personalities of Chris Paul and James Harden could be a recipe for disaster. For now, let’s say Butler does what makes the most sense for him and continues to compete for championships with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia.
Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers
Kemba Walker: PG - Charlotte Hornets
Possible Destinations: Hornets, Celtics, Mavericks, Lakers, Knicks
After earning an All-NBA Third Team honor, the Charlotte Hornets can offer Kemba Walker a five-year, $221 million super-max contract. The odds Charlotte offers that big of a contract to Walker is slim, but there is no reason he should take a huge pay cut in order to stay with the Hornets. The up and coming favorites to land Kemba is surprisingly the Boston Celtics. With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford likely going elsewhere, the Celtics should have enough cap space to sign Walker. Walker would take Irving’s role in Boston as the primary scorer and ball handler. With mutual interest between the two parties, it is reported that Walker is locked in on joining Boston barring an unforeseen change of events. I believe Kemba would be a great fit with their young, talented core. Charlotte seemed to be Kemba’s first choice earlier in the summer but if the right situation came along, such as Boston, he definitely would not hesitate to depart from that mess. Kemba has been the star in Charlotte for eight seasons and has made only two playoff appearances. Boston will get their Kyrie Irving replacement that should mesh better with their young core.
Prediction: Boston Celtics
Klay Thompson: SG - Golden State Warriors
Possible Destinations: Warriors, Lakers, Mavericks, Clippers
This is perhaps the easiest prediction that can be made this off-season. Klay Thompson is not going anywhere. After tearing his ACL in Game 6 of the Finals, Thompson will likely be out for most of the 2019-20 season. The Warriors are still expected to offer Klay a max-deal if he opts out of his contract, which is likely. Klay Thompson will be a Warrior as long as they pay him, and there is no reason why they wouldn’t. If the Warriors surprisingly do not offer him this contract, then look for teams to aggressively go after the three-time champ with the Clippers being the front-runners. Bob Myers will likely pay him and make Thompson a Warrior for the next five-plus years.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors
D’Angelo Russell: PG - Brooklyn Nets
Possible Destinations: Nets, Lakers, Suns, Timberwolves
The future of D’Angelo Russell’s time in Brooklyn is coming to an end. With the recent trade of Allen Crabbe, the Nets have cap space for two max-players. It has recently been reported that Kyrie Irving intends to come to Brooklyn, which in that case, Russell will look elsewhere. The former Ohio State standout is coming off a breakout all-star season and has definitely earned a solid contract. The Lakers have room for another max-player after dealing with young players for cap space. The addition of Russell with LeBron and Anthony Davis could be dangerous, but it could also be problematic. Russell is a ball-dominant guard who doesn’t play very well off the ball, but playing with high IQ players like James could change those habits. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers seem to really like him and could be bold enough to sign him to that max deal. The Minnesota Timberwolves are also very interested in acquiring Russell. It is reported that the Wolves offered a sign-and-trade deal to the Nets that involved Andrew Wiggins, but the Nets declined. The Wolves still believe that they have a potential pathway to make cap space and sign Russell. Since Irving is likely to come to Brooklyn, I see the Lakers taking a chance on their former number two pick and signing Russell with their cap space.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers
Other Possible Free Agent Destinations:
- Al Horford (Celtics) - Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans
- DeMarcus Cousins (Warriors) - New York Knicks
- Kris Middleton (Bucks) - Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers
- Tobias Harris (76ers) - Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks
- Nikola Vucevic (Magic) - Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks
- Patrick Beverley (Clippers) - Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers
- Brook Lopez (Bucks) - Los Angeles Lakers
- Danny Green (Raptors) - Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks
- Terry Rozier (Celtics) - New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns
- Ricky Rubio (Jazz) - Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns
- JJ Redick (76ers) - Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers
Teams can start making moves on Sunday, June 30th at 6:00 pm ET.