2019 NBA Free Agency Predictions

By: Aaron J. Pellot

We’re still in the midst of the 2019 NBA playoffs, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from entering the 2019 free agency conversation. Some of these conversations started long before the season began, as the NBA has shown its capability to drive conversation 365 days a year. While everyone, including myself, will make predictions, the truth is: no one knows where anyone is going to land. That being said, here are some predictions for some of 2019’s best unrestricted free agents.

Disclaimer: D’Angelo Russell was left off the list due to his restricted free agency, and I really see Brooklyn matching whatever offer sheet they receive.

Kevin Durant

Apparently, it’s “Easier to find parking in New York City than an NBA executive who doesn’t think Durant isn’t going to sign with the Knicks in July”. This easily has been the weirdest NBA story to watch all season. Durant wouldn’t confirm anything prior to the season, which was expected, but this story became a lot more interesting after Durant and Draymond Green had a falling out early in the season against the Clippers. What started out solely a wild rumor, is treated now as fact. It’s really, really……really hard to find someone who doesn’t seem to think Kevin Durant will wind up in New York. NBA executives believe Durant to the Knicks is so real, there’s a theory is it's one of the reasons why the Knicks traded Porzingis, in order to have cap-space for another star. Whether it’s pride, legacy, or any other explanation, Durant leaving Golden State is a reality many seem to be accepting. Leaving a stable organization dynasty for the dumpster fire that is New York is extremely confusing, especially for someone like Durant, and I’m a Knicks fan. One of two things would not surprise me when free agency hits: the Knicks are fined for tampering, or Durant’s disdain for the media, actually lands him on the Nets, as the ultimate troll.

Best Option: Golden State Warriors

Prediction: New York Knicks

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi’s free agency is another storyline which seems to have a “known” ending. The rumors point to Kawhi taking his talents to Los Angeles, just not with the purple and gold. The Clippers have shown themselves to be both a formidable team and organization throughout the 2018–19 season, surprising everyone. The Clippers salary was already setting them up to have two potential max slots, but after trading Tobias Harris, they now avoid the temptation of overpaying for a solid player. With “Clip City” available to have two max salary position available to lure both Kawhi, and another potential superstar (more on that later) along Doc Rivers, who arguably had his best pure coaching season this year, the Clippers are a real destination. Even with this reality, the Clippers can’t say they’re a better situation than Toronto. If the Raptors make the Finals, it could be difficult to turn down a winning situation. Woj is reporting Kawhi might be recognizing that.

Why would Kawhi want to leave a top 3 team in the Eastern Conference? Only Kawhi knows. It can’t be dismissed Kawhi never chose to be on the Raptors. The trade from San Antonio almost seemed spiteful from Gregg Popovich, as he sent his former Finals MVP to Toronto. It’s been said a few times, Kawhi is a homebody, really hoping to get back to Southern California at some point. If you buy into the NBA realtor conspiracies, it should also be noted Kawhi recently bought a home in San Diego, which could be setting him up to return. All that said, Kawhi is the biggest wild card in this deck, really giving no true hints of where he will land.

Best Option: Toronto Raptors

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers

Kyrie Irving

Now that their season is officially over, it’s not hard to recognize this Boston Celtics season really has been an NBA version of “As the World Turns”. New dramas played out every other week in the season. Kyrie went from saying he wanted to re-sign, to blaming teammates, to blaming Brad Stevens, to “Ask me July 1st”.

Things with the Celtics got so weird, Danny Ainge went on radio to do damage control. Stories have wanted to link Kyrie and Kevin Durant together, both heading to New York. Kyrie has been linked to New York for a while, due to his tri-state area roots. Whether it’s for the Knicks or Brooklyn (new Vegas odds favorites), no one seems to know. Again, I find it extremely hard to understand why Kyrie or Durant would leave stable, respective organizations, only to go to the Knicks, the antithesis of such a concept. None of the storylines from this season may matter if Danny Ainge can land THE trade big enough to get Kyrie to stay in Boston (again, more on that later). What I find to be the biggest x-factor is Kyrie’s old teammate Lebron James. Earlier this season, everyone seemingly took Kyrie’s “Apology call to Lebron” surface level, but I think it’s more. Kyrie’s apology felt like someone who understood the frustrations of an old partner, now that he’s experienced the same difficulties first hand. I don’t find it hard to believe LeBron could convince his old teammate to make a move to Los Angeles, team up, and be like Kobe, Kyrie’s childhood hero. A reunion on the horizon sure does feel like it the most realistic possibility.

Best Option: Anywhere but Boston at this point

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers

Kemba Walker

Cardiac Kemba. From a public perception standpoint, it feels as if Kemba is still a bit underappreciated. That may come from the fact he’s been stuck on a miserable team in the Carolinas. Stuck in basketball purgatory, too good to tank, but too bad to make the playoffs and stuck with one of the worst salary cap situations in the league, Kemba and Charlotte are in a unique situation.

Kemba could take $200+ million and be stuck on a team whose next highest paid players are Marvin Williams, Nic Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrest. All players listed are due at least $13+ million, and none of the said players averaged more than 15 ppg last year. The Hornets are in a peculiar situation seeing Kemba is the most important player in Hornets/Bobcats history. He’s been the leader in win-shares for the Hornets more years than any other player in the franchise’s history, but it's not hard to understand Charlotte would be in a better situation letting him go. Free agents aren’t going to Charlotte, and even if they were, Charlotte wouldn’t be able to pay them. Letting Kemba walk would instantly allow the Hornets to properly tank, making them one of the worst teams in the league. As some NBA execs think…..they’re “fucked either way”. What situations look good for Kemba? New York is home, and the Knicks will be interested when they don’t land Kyrie Irving. Interestingly enough, if Kyrie doesn’t wind up going to Los Angeles, Kemba could be the backup plan LeBron would surely take. Dallas is said to be making Kemba a priority, but I don’t see Kemba playing in an offense which already has a player running the offense in the point forward position with Luka Doncic. There will be plenty of options on the table including the temptation to stay home in Charlotte. Winning will probably new priority for the 30-year-old point guard.

Best Option: Los Angeles Lakers

Prediction: New York Knicks

Jimmy Butler

In the last three years, Jimmy Butler has found himself on three different teams. Between Chicago, Minnesota, and Philadelphia, Butler has found himself wearing out two of those stints in terrible fashion. While Chicago probably wasn’t too bad of an exit, Butler practically pulled off a one-man mutiny in Minnesota. This year Butler has been a hero in the playoffs for Philadelphia, showing he can still be elite for a contender. The difficulty comes after the season ends when three of the five 76ers starters are due for assumedly massive contract extensions. If you’re listening to Bill Simmons, he and others are under the impression it’s Butler’s negative actions over the last season, are in the mind of NBA executives. Simmons’ assumption is no one is going to offer Butler the full 4-year max contract, but more of a contract with a 2-year max or 3+1 year max. Those assumptions are fine, but the market dictates contracts, and all it takes is one buyer to make Butler a very rich(er) man. Butler will be 30 in September, and there is some hesitancy over if the years under Tom Thibodeau will finally catch up with him. Butler has only played 70+ games twice in his entire career, and some worry a max contract winds up looking like the Carmelo Anthony situation. There are some young teams that could use the talent and have the money, but may not be in the position to win immediately, even with Butler’s talents. A team like Brooklyn could use the grit of a guy like Butler, but Sacramento may play dark horse in his free agency. Alongside a young core, Butler may be leading the Kings back to the playoffs. In reality, Philly will probably choose Butler instead of overpaying Tobias Harris (who they gave TWO first rounders up for). Money talks and Philadelphia has a significant advantage of being able to offer $50 million more than anyone else.

Best Option: Philadelphia 76ers

Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers

Klay Thompson: Bonus Demarcus Cousins

I don’t buy what Stephen A. Smith sells, ever. I especially don’t buy the new statements from Smith saying Klay Thompson is upset with his role having the “breadcrumbs” of the Golden State Warriors. When Kevin Durant arrived in Golden State, Thompson said he “wasn’t giving up shit”. Thompson stayed true to his word, averaging 17.3 field-goal attempts a game, the year before Durant arrived, and 17.6 FGA in Durant’s first year. Even this year, Thompson is putting up more points and shot attempts than his career average. If/When Durant leaves, they’ll be more than enough money to pay Thompson, rightfully so. Along with Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins (in a surprise) will return to the Warriors. Although the likes of the Lakers, Clippers, and Celtics pursuing Cousins will be tempting, Cousins will return and Draymond could be traded, before the dilemma of overpaying comes up. This one is easy.

Best Option: Golden State Warriors

Prediction: Golden State Warriors

Bonus: Anthony Davis

Ahhh yes, Anthony Davis. The best PF in the game, who threw away half a season because of a failed coup. While Anthony Davis isn’t a free agent, it surely seems he has played his last game for New Orleans. The Pelicans are under the same ownership as the Saints, which seems to be a forgotten variable. It’s been easy to see how the Pelicans handled the trade talks of 2018 more like a football organization rather than how a typical basketball organization normally would. That may have changed with new GM David Griffin at the helm with the Pelicans, as both general manager and executive vice president of basketball operations. Ready to take offers, it’s hard to see how Davis starts next year in the same uniform he finished in. The Davis trade conversation can really only begin once the draft lottery results are revealed. The number one pick is already a valuable asset, but pick on the right team may have a bigger impact than another team.

The conversation will ultimately come down to Zion Williamson on the right team, for Anthony Davis. If New York lands the number one pick, and manage to land Kyrie and KD, there will be heavy discussion to move Williamson for Davis. Besides the team that wins the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, there are really only two teams that have the assets enough to make a move for Davis: Boston and Los Angeles [Clippers]. Boston has the usual suspects, Tatum, Brown, and three potential first round picks this year. I would not be surprised to see Danny Ainge try to convince Kyrie to stay with the pursuit of Anthony Davis as a sticking point. Disregard Davis Sr’s comments of “not wanting his son in Boston”, Davis has shown to be impressionable, and being in a position to win a title is convincing. It will be interesting to see whether Ainge tries to make a trade for Davis, even if Kyrie leaves. The Clippers, have rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilio Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, and two tradable first rounders including the coveted Miami 2021 unprotected first round pick. Sure, it’s not the same tier of talent as the Celtics, but if the Celtics don’t make a push, the Clippers trade situation is an arguably better trade package than an unhealthy Lonzo Ball, an unhealthy Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. If the Clippers manage to pair Anthony Davis with Kawhi Leonard, and there’s a new big brother in Los Angeles. Davis will be moved, and it’ll be to the dark horse in the race.

Rich Paul’s most wanted option: LeBron James

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers with Kawhi Leonard

So where do you think each player winds up? What storyline should be getting more spotlight? Tell me where I’m wrong in the comments below. As always…

#KnicksTape

Credit: Deadspin, Showtime’s Desus and Mero, Hoops Hype, Bleacher Report, USA Today, Complex, RealGM, ESPN, SB Nation

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New York to California. I used to work in television. I write about sports, politics, and culture.

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Aaron J. Pellot

Aaron J. Pellot

New York to California. I used to work in television. I write about sports, politics, and culture.

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