NBA Free Agency 2019: Bold Predictions for Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and More

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2019

Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard looks on prior to the first half of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Philadelphia. 76ers won 112-101. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

The first major domino of the 2019 NBA offseason has fallen. The New Orleans Pelicans have agreed to trade star forward Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Along with pending free agents Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, Davis was considered among the biggest prizes of the summer.

Durant's status has been clouded, of course, by the torn Achilles he suffered in the NBA Finals, which makes him less of a desired commodity in the short term—though you can bet plenty of teams will be willing to gamble on his future.

Even with Davis headed to L.A. and Durant in the early stages of rehabilitation, there are still some strong options available this offseason, particularly in free agency. Let's take a look at some of the latest buzz surrounding Leonard and others, along with some early predictions.


Kawhi Leonard

The Toronto Raptors would obviously love to retain the reigning Finals MVP. They gambled on Leonard when they traded for him last offseason, and that bet paid off with the franchise's first championship. However, the Raptors have known all along that Leonard wouldn't be a lock to re-sign.

Winning that title in Toronto hasn't caused Leonard to hasten his free-agency decision.

"I'm going to take the right time," Leonard said, per Ian Harrison of NBA.com. "You don't need too many days to figure it out. We'll see what happens. Once that time comes, then we'll all lay the pros and cons out."

Leonard will likely know his next destination ahead of free agency—which is set to kick off on June 30—but he isn't dropping any hints. According to Wojnarowski, however, Leonard is considering the same city that Davis is set to join—though not the same franchise.

"Kawhi Leonard's focus [is] on Los Angeles, but it's the Clippers, not the Lakers," Wojnarowski said on ESPN's Get Up.

Could the Lakers convince Leonard to join Davis and LeBron James by the time free agency rolls around? It's possible, and the Lakers are going to pursue him (more on that in a bit). However, Leonard really seemed to enjoy being the driving force of the Raptors, something he wouldn't be with James and Davis as teammates.

Prediction: Leonard Signs with the Clippers


Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Kyrie Irving is a former teammate of James, and a reunion would make some sense. According to Wojnarowski, L.A. is also looking to rework the terms of the Davis deal in order to help create the $32 million in cap space needed to sign a max-contract player like Irving.

However, Wojnarowski does not believe that Irving is in play.

"They're not getting Kawhi Leonard," Wojnarowski said on Get Up. "They're not getting Kyrie Irving. Klay Thompson's injured, KD's out the next year. They weren't getting any of those players to begin with."

While the Lakers are a long shot to sign Irving, the Boston Celtics appear to be an even bigger long shot to re-sign him. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, Irving plans to leave Boston in free agency and is likely headed to the Brooklyn Nets:

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Irving has been communicative and forthright with top Celtics officials since the season ended, with private and public signals that he will leave the organization in free agency — likely for the Brooklyn Nets, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. https://t.co/EupfcYxhsg

Marc Stein of the New York Times points out that Irving has been heavily recruited by Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and that the recruitment could be paying off.

"Word is that the Nets' guard Spencer Dinwiddie, after a breakout season on the floor, has had a significant role in recruiting Irving to Brooklyn," Stein wrote. "Irving's recent decision to change his representation to Roc Nation, with its well-chronicled ties to the Nets through Jay-Z, has only amplified the notion that the Nets are the overwhelming favorites to land Irving."

A two-team race for Irving between the Nets and the Lakers could be brewing—and that would add some spice to the offseason. The deciding factor could be that Irving didn't seem to like being viewed as James' sidekick when the two were with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Prediction: Irving Signs with the Nets


Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Though not widely viewed as a big prize in free agency, Celtics center Al Horford is a quality player and  appears headed to the open market. 

As with Irving, there appears to be little chance of the Celtics re-signing Horford.

"Talks on a new deal with the Celtics have perished, with too great of a gulf between what the team is willing to offer and what Horford wants on a long-term deal," Wojnarowski wrote.

According to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, both the Clippers and the Lakers are expected to pursue Horford in free agency, though both are making Leonard their top target.

"The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard," O'Connor wrote.

As O'Connor pointed out, though, it's the Dallas Mavericks—not the Lakers or the Clippers—who are viewed as the early favorites in the Horford sweepstakes.

From a salary standpoint, Dallas probably does have the best chance of landing Horford. They're projected to have roughly $10 million in cap space less than the Clippers—according to Spotrac—but if Leonard lands in L.A., a large chunk of the Clippers' cap space will disappear.

If the Lakers don't clear the cap space needed to get a guy like Irving or Kemba Walker, though, they could make a strong push. They have the projected space now to offer a deal similar to the one Horford is seeking:

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

The belief making the front-office rounds tonight is that Al Horford already knows there’s a four-year contract worth in excess of $100 million waiting out there for him June 30 .. knowledge that led to Horford’s talks with the Celtics dissolving

The Lakers could also offer Horford a role as a big man with perimeter potential—he shot 36 percent from three-point range last season—on a championship-caliber team.

Prediction: Horford Signs with the Lakers