NBA Free Agents 2019: Rumors, Predictions for Potential Offseason Targets

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2019

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 5: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game on March 5, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Cue up Grover Washington Jr.'s "Just The Two of Us" because for the 2019 NBA free-agent class, the two biggest names on the board are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Normally, the news cycle would be overwrought with rumors and scuttlebutt on where Irving and Durant would sign—separately—but all signs suggest they will join forces this summer as the new superstar duo for the New York Knicks.

The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors superstars are big fish, but the rest of the class members aren't exactly guppies.

DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard are also up for grabs this July, making this coming offseason epic.

Last year, the league's biggest superstar was on the market, and Magic Johnson made a huge splash by getting him to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The affable Hall of Famer must follow that up with another big signing if he wants to be the one who puts the Purple and Gold back in contention.

All of these elements make for great fodder as the arduous regular season comes to a close and the futures of teams that may not make the playoffs hang in the balance.

With that in mind, here's a quick look at the biggest rumors about where the big names will sign on the dotted line.

                  

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving the Dynamic Duo?

It goes without saying that the media will ask a player like Durant about his impending free agency because he's arguably the second-best player in the league.

But Durant has added fuel to the fire by not shutting down all of the free-agent questions.

That strategy proved to be ill-advised, at best, as it led to a clash between Durant and teammate Draymond Green earlier this season.

Green's insistence that the Warriors "didn't need" Durant only exacerbated the situation and put the latter in the uncomfortable place of having to justify business as usual for the team's goal of three-peating as NBA champions leading up to what may or may not happen this summer as a result of their dustup.

Not only that, but Durant's frustration with the whole process came to a head in the viral "I don't trust y'all" rant against the media about the speculation surrounding his free agency.

To that end, rumors have been flying for a while that Durant will sign with the Knicks.

The fact that Durant's company and business partner, Rich Kleiman (big Knicks fan), is based in New York adds intrigue to that line of thinking.

Another string to pull might be the latest coming from Heavy.com's Brandon Robinson, who reports that his sources believe that Durant had a secret meeting with the Knicks in January, when Golden State was in town.

If that's true, that could lead to serious tampering charges.

Additionally, Robinson pointed out that another factor in Durant's decision-making might be Knicks assistant coach Royal Ivey.

Ivey was Durant's teammate on the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, Ivey is coaching under head coach David Fizdale. It should also be noted that Durant is the godfather of Ivey's daughter, Lyric Ella.

That's the kind of close relationship that might make New York a desired destination for Durant, who after winning back-to-back Finals MVP awards, might be looking to change the narrative that he can't win "with his own team."

Durant suiting up to bring his unstoppable offense to the Mecca of basketball is huge on its own, but when the prospect of Irving joining him to play in Madison Square Garden is added to the mix, it becomes the kind of news no one can stop talking about.

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 5:  Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics speaks with Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors after the game on March 5, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Unfortunately, like Durant, Irving has let the rumors get out of hand.

Instead of nipping all free-agency talk in the bud, Irving has entertained all the questions, made smiley faces at Durant every chance he gets and carried himself as if he's already out the door in Boston.

Irving's disengagement reportedly caused a rift in the Celtics locker room, and they have yet to live up to preseason expectations as a result.

Boston is fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, a drastic turn from the start of the season, when they were seen as favorites to be the No.1 or No. 2 team in the East.

According to Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely's sources, Irving has been the Knicks' No. 1 target since last summer, but Irving's interest in them has been overstated.

He's been keeping his options open, largely because of what happened on his way out of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he's not making any commitments to a team before he has to because the last time he did that, he felt betrayed.

He made that abundantly clear in February.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what's best for me and my career," Irving told reporters. "I don't owe anyone s--t."

Like Durant, Irving wears his annoyance with the media on his sleeve, making it seem like they may have a tough time should they choose to join the Knicks because the spotlight will be extremely bright, and the New York media is notoriously unforgiving.

That's likely why TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley warned Durant and Irving against landing with the Knicks.

"[They] ain't tough enough to play in New York," Barkley told Sports Illustrated's Jimmy Traina. "I don't think him or Kyrie are tough enough to play in New York."

He continued:

"Kyrie's a very good player. Kevin's a great, great player. But I'm not sure they have the mental makeup to play in New York. There's a lot that comes with playing in New York. And those guys are complaining about media asking questions and things like that. Maybe New York isn't for them. New York is a different animal. There are certain places everybody can't play."

NBA fans will have to wait to see if Durant and Irving choose to be part of the Knicks' renaissance this summer, but until then, they will have to develop thicker skins.

Prediction: Durant and Irving sign with the Knicks.

                  

Will Kawhi Leonard Stay or Go?

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 14:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball as LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends during the first half of an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena on March 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User exp
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Quiet and aloof, Leonard is the bona fide antithesis of Durant and Irving.

No one has any clue as to what he's going to do this summer, and he doesn't plan on changing that.

Still, rumors are floating around about what he might do or, rather, what he won't do as July 1 gets closer.

According to ESPN's Michael C. Wright sources, Leonard has no interest in signing with the Lakers.

"I do not [think he's interested in the Lakers]," Wright said on Brian Windhorst's podcast. "That's just what I've been told. It's what I've been told going back to last summer. I don't see that as something that's happening. I think he goes to the [Los Angeles] Clippers."

Before injuries kept him off the floor for most of last season, Leonard was widely regarded as the best two-way player in the NBA.

Everyone has cooled a bit on Leonard, and that has seemed to help him avoid all the hype surrounding his upcoming decision.

The three-time All Star is a Los Angeles native, so naturally, there's a lot of speculation that he will not only choose to go home but join up with King James on the Lakers.

Leonard and James would be a stellar team-up in the new era of NBA superteams, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is built differently.

He seemingly has no desire to join James; he wants to beat him.

That's why the Clippers are favored to land him with the cap space that they have.

Of course, the Toronto Raptors would like to retain Leonard this offseason and are hoping his trial run on the roster this year is enough to convince him to stay.

At least, that's what Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is hoping for.

"I believe just from getting to know Kawhi very, very well and more, that he will make the right decision," Ujiri said on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.

Toronto isn't playing as well as they would have liked, but they do have the second-best record in the league and are primed to make some noise in the playoffs.

But now, more than ever, the stakes are higher for the Raptors because everything, including Leonard, will be determined by their ability to win.

Prediction: Leonard signs with the Clippers.

                      

Follow Maurice Bobb on Twitter, @ReeseReport 

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