The 2019 free-agency frenzy was one of the biggest stories of the NBA season.
Then, everything came crashing down with Kevin Durant's Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Now, it appears everything is up in the air as we barrel toward the beginning of free agency. Durant appeared to be leaving Golden State this summer, likely for one of the two New York franchises. His future now may depend on which team is willing to give him the full max contract as he recovers from a potentially career-altering injury.
Kyrie Irving, once presumed to be headed somewhere with Durant, may now be navigating the free-agent waters alone.
Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker may all wind up staying in their current situations provided a max contract is presented to them. The funnest guy of them all, Mr. Board Man himself, Kawhi Leonard, has given no hints on whether he plans to bolt Toronto after winning a title there.
Here's a look at what you need to know coming into the free-agency period.
Start Date: June 30, 6 p.m. ET (negotiations); July 6, noon ET (moratorium ends, deals become official)
So...What Happens with KD?
That was already the question that would define this summer before KD suffered the most cataclysmic injury in NBA Finals history.
The history of NBA players and Achilles injuries is horrifying, even to the grandest of optimists. The overwhelming odds are that Durant will never be the same player again.
What percentage he returns at will ultimately determine whether his next contract will look good or be an albatross in a few years. The Warriors/Knicks/Nets can live with 90 percent of Previous KD; he was the best basketball player in the world during these playoffs. Once that number starts dipping a little more—let's say he's a borderline All-Star now, rather than a superstar—things get dicier.
Some team is going to offer Durant a maximum contract. That much we can pretty much say for sure. The idea of signing Kevin Durant—even with a redshirt season baked into the contract—is going to be too tantalizing for every team with money to pass.
The Warriors won't be able to replicate his value with their team helplessly capped out for the foreseeable future. We saw the way the team rallied around Durant—the outpouring of emotion following Game 5 underscored the relationship here is probably better than had been reported. But they're also in the repeater tax: Is Joe Lacob willing to pay more than $100 million for a player who is unlikely to suit up next season?
The situation may be more palatable to the Knicks or Nets.
The Knicks could essentially punt the 2019-20 season, see what they have in Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith, Mitchell Robinson and roll their remaining cap space over to next summer.
The Nets are already a playoff team and could run back most of their roster from last season—all with the idea of bringing in Durant a year from now. They've been extremely patient during this rebuild process and have a fanbase that probably isn't going to focus as much on Durant's recovery.
Do The Lakers Get a Third Star?
As we inch closer to the beginning of free agency, the Lakers very much remain in flux. Their cap situation makes it difficult for them to get to a max-level salary slot after the Anthony Davis trade, but they fully plan on pursuing top free agents.
Leonard has been regularly linked to the Clippers, not the Lakers. Walker should probably sprint to sign a supermax in Charlotte if presented. Same goes for Butler and his potential max contract in Philly. Thompson's not leaving the Warriors.
That leaves...exactly who? Irving could follow now that the KD-Kyrie pairing has taken a hit, but he's seemed destined for one of the two New York locales. Are the likes of Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton moving the needle—and are they not arguably more likely to stay in their current spots, where near-max deals could await?
LeBron turns 35 in December. The Lakers are spending their money somewhere this summer. Finding a fit—unless it's via trade for another star eager to leave his current destination—is getting more difficult by the day.
It could be that the Lakers wind up using free agency to build their roster on the margins, targeting non-max guys who can help take the burden off the LeBron-Davis core.