10 Bold Predictions for 2019 NBA Free Agency
With the start of free agency less than two weeks away (June 30), it remains unclear where any of the top free agents (perhaps outside of Klay Thompson) will sign.
Kevin Durant is definitely going to the New York Knicks—unless he re-signs with the Golden State Warriors. Of course, the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have max cap space and shouldn't be ruled out yet, either.
Similar statements can be made about Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, D'Angelo Russell and others among the top of the free-agent list.
With multiple teams carrying max cap space, we could see a tremendous amount of star movement. For some veterans, perhaps a return to a previous stomping ground.
The following are 10 bold (but realistic) scenarios we could see play out in free agency.
Julius Randle Signs Four-Year, $60 Million Deal with Jazz
Trading for Mike Conley was a great start for the Utah Jazz, but it still doesn't put them into serious title contention.
They need one more piece, someone established in the league but still young enough to grow beside Donovan Mitchell.
They need Julius Randle.
Randle, 24, put up 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the New Orleans Pelicans last season while shooting a career-best 34.4 percent from three. He's more than just a stretch-4; he's able to play both sides of a pick-and-roll and has become both a talented scorer and passer.
To create the cap space necessary to sign Randle, the Jazz would have to decline the $16.9 million team option on Derrick Favors, letting him enter free agency. While losing Favors hurts, Randle is a better fit with this Jazz roster and would help space the floor for Conley and Mitchell.
Utah's starting five of Conley-Mitchell-Joe Ingles-Randle-Rudy Gobert would be one of the best in the now-open Western Conference and remain so for years to come.
Carmelo Anthony Joins Lakers on Minimum
With just six players under contract after the trade for Anthony Davis is completed, the Lakers are going to be forced to fill the following nine spots with at least a few minimum contracts.
If any team can get some good minutes out of Carmelo Anthony, it's one run by LeBron James.
Anthony hasn't played an NBA game since Nov. 8 of last year, where his Houston Rockets career ended after just 10 contests. He averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 29.4 minutes, primarily as a reserve.
Los Angeles considered bringing in Anthony for the stretch run last year but ultimately decided against it. As ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported at the time:
The Lakers had been leaning toward signing Anthony for the rest of the season -- until losses in four of the past five games left the organization and Anthony's camp wondering if it made sense to bring the veteran into an unsettled environment with suddenly so little chance of making the playoffs, league sources said.
With James and Anthony Davis, this Lakers version should be a playoff team no matter who they fill in around them.
Anthony's role would be that of a scorer off the bench, one who would have to play the stretch-4 role when sharing the floor with James and Davis. In his last full season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017-18, Anthony was a 37.3 percent three-point shooter off the catch, a number that could actually increase by catching pinpoint passes by James.
With James and the Lakers desperate for affordable help off the bench and Anthony looking for a better end to his NBA career, look for the 2003 draft classmates to finally unite.
Brooklyn Passes on Kyrie and Durant Plan, Opts for Russell and Butler
While it seemed Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets had mutual interest, it may be time to pump the brakes on that relationship.
As Brian Lewis of the New York Post reports, the Nets may only want Irving if he brings another star with him and could be turning back to D'Angelo Russell instead.
The Post has confirmed Brooklyn might have qualms about signing the enigmatic Irving if he isn't bringing the injured Durant with him.
Other teams had already backed off of pursuing Irving with similar concerns over the way things went awry in Boston. If the Nets do the same, it would mean keeping Russell, who is a younger and cheaper option as a restricted free agent.
Given Irving's messy departure from Cleveland and his rocky two years in Boston, the Nets would be better off just keeping Russell. A max contract for their 23-year-old All-Star would be five years and $158.1 million, starting at $27.3 million, or about $5 million less than what Irving would cost on a max next season.
The Nets haven't been on a cap-clearing mission just to re-sign Russell, however.
With Durant out for all of next season with a ruptured Achilles, Brooklyn should go all-in on Jimmy Butler instead.
Butler signs a four-year, $140.1 million deal to give the Nets a core of him, Russell, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris while fighting for a top-four seed in the East next season.
Derrick Rose Comes Home
Rose rejuvenated his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, averaging 18.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting .482/.370/.856 in 51 games.
From strictly a basketball standpoint, a return to Chicago makes sense.
The Bulls need point guard help and someone to challenge starter Kris Dunn, who's yet to prove himself worthy of the full-time job.
Of course, Rose and the city have history.
"This is home for me. I'll never leave Chicago," Rose said last December, per Marc Strotman of NBC Sports. "I still have a place here, I'm always going to have a place here. My son is being raised here. This is home. You never know in the future, you never know."
The time for a reunion has come.
It's tough to predict what kind of contract Rose would command or if he would give the Bulls a discount. After playing on a $2.1 million minimum deal last year, he'll certainly want more. Chicago has some cap space and could opt for a short-term, high-money deal. One year at $10 million would represent a nice raise for Rose and keep Chicago's long-term books clean.
DeMarcus Cousins Signs Another "Prove It" Contract in Dallas
The Dallas Mavericks have never been shy about chasing stars, as evidenced most recently by their trade for Kristaps Porzingis last season.
While they'll need to re-sign Porzingis this summer, Dallas should still have some extra cap room for a high-upside star to pair him with.
Why not DeMarcus Cousins?
The 28-year-old center played in 30 games for the Golden State Warriors last season while recovering from an Achilles injury, and he later tore a quad muscle during the postseason. While he came back to play in the NBA Finals, teams should still be wary about signing him to a long-term deal.
As Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman writes:
And yet a handful of NBA executives and front-office people recently polled on the topic all responded with the same prediction: that Cousins is once again forced to sign a one-year deal, with the only difference being this time he's able to negotiate more cash and maybe—maybe!—have some sort of one-year player option attached.
The Mavericks seem like just the team to gamble on Cousins, and they have a need at center with only Dwight Powell under contract at the 5.
After playing on a $5.3 million deal last season, Dallas should offer Cousins a one-year deal at two-to-three times that amount and hope he returns to his pre-injury form.
Kawhi Leonard Re-Signs with Raptors...for One More Year
While the Los Angeles Clippers have long been thought of as Kawhi Leonard's next home, he should give the Raptors at least one more year.
Following in the footsteps of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Leonard signs a one-and-one deal that pays him $32.7 million next season with a player option for 2020-21.
By doing this, Leonard re-joins a Raptors team returning most of its core (Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet) and goes for a second-straight championship. When all six of them become free agents next summer, Leonard can then see which players the Raptors will retain before making a decision to re-sign or not.
Leonard is one of the few players who, like Durant, could still get a max contract even if he suffers a serious injury playing on a short-term deal. He can afford to keep his options open, and Toronto should give Leonard his best supporting cast again next season.
Sorry, Clippers, you'll have to wait at least one more year.
Isaiah Thomas Returns to Boston
Thomas could soon be facing extinction from the league following a pair of injury-plagued, underperforming years.
If there's one place that can revitalize his career, it's Boston.
Since leaving the Celtics in 2017, Thomas has played in just 44 total games, averaging 13.3 points and 4.0 assists while shooting 36.7 percent overall and 29.0 percent from three. He fell out of the Denver Nuggets rotation this season and should just be looking to score a minimum deal on a team that needs a point guard.
With Kyrie Irving (unrestricted) and Terry Rozier (restricted) both hitting free agency, the Celtics could actually use Thomas to come in and play a role off the bench. While he shouldn't be counted on as a starter any longer, playing 15-20 minutes in a reserve role for Brad Stevens could work.
"These were the most fun times in my career. I turned into a superstar here," Thomas said in March, via Nick Goss of NBC Sports. "The world knew my name when I played for the Boston Celtics. Not saying they don't now, but playing for Celtics changed my whole career on and off the floor. This city and this organization treated my family with 100 percent respect. Decisions happen, I never hold any grudges against anybody, even if I'm not for that decision.
"You never know what can happen. My options are always open no matter what it is. If I end up back here at some point, that would make the story that much better."
As long as the Celtics don't expect the same version of Thomas that carried them in 2017, a reunion would be beneficial for all involved.
Durant Spurns Knicks, Signs Five-Year, $220 Million Max with Warriors
The NBA Finals proved that the Golden State Warriors no longer view Durant as a luxury; they actually need him to win titles.
While it won't happen next year as Durant rehabs from an Achilles injury, signing a five-year max deal ensures that the Warriors should get at least four healthy years from their superstar.
Sure, Durant could sign a one-and-one and keep his options open for next year. It's what he's done each of the past two summers.
This contract was always going to be different.
"I never got the (massive) deal. I've just seen a bunch of dudes around the league making so much money—and I'm happy for them. But I know I deserve that, too. That's the only thing I'm probably thinking about, to be honest," Durant told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson II back in October.
Durant has left money on the table each of his past two contracts so that Golden State could pay players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. He's watched guys like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden sign max four- and five-year deals.
It's his turn.
Durant stays in Golden State, signs his $220 million deal, and the Warriors dynasty gets back on track in 2020-21.
Lakers Fail to Land a Max, Settle for Beverley, Redick and Lopez
While Los Angeles scrambles to open up a max salary slot, there's no guarantee any of the top stars will even come to the Lakers.
Instead, L.A. is forced to settle for second- and third-level free agents. With Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Rajon Rondo all gone, guards are at the top of the list.
J.J. Redick would be a fine consolation prize, given that he averaged 18.1 points on 39.7 percent shooting from deep for the Philadelphia 76ers last season. The Lakers will need floor spacers around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so Redick is a natural fit.
If L.A. strikes out on Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and D'Angelo Russell, Beverley already calls Staples Center home and would come at a much lower price. The 30-year-old point guard is an excellent defender and gave the Clippers 7.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists last season while splitting time between starter and reserve.
Finally, getting a true center so Davis can get some time at power forward would be necessary.
While Brook Lopez may be out of the Lakers' price range, his brother Robin should be far less expensive. Playing for the Chicago Bulls last season, Lopez averaged 9.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 21.7 minutes.
The Lakers should absolutely still try for a third star but will fall short and have to split their money up.
Kyrie Irving, Knicks Are Each Other's Last Call
If the Brooklyn Nets no longer want Irving, the Knicks should be jumping at the chance to sign the 27-year-old All-Star.
True, Irving's first choice may not be the Knicks. New York's preference seemed to have been Kevin Durant.
That doesn't mean this can't work out.
The Knicks were on Irving's preferred list of teams to be traded to when he originally asked out of Cleveland in 2017.
"It's pretty easy man. They were on my list for a reason, I think you guys know that," Irving said after a game against the Knicks in Oct. 2017, per SNY.com. "Close to home, that's about it. I'm not going to go into detail about all that extra stuff because I know where this is going to lead."
Being from New Jersey, going to New York would be a homecoming of sorts. He gets the stage to perform he's always craved and would be the unquestioned first option, even with RJ Barrett coming to town. If another star comes via free agency, great. If not, Irving doesn't seem like the type who cares.
The Knicks will sign anyone remotely close to a star at this point, and Irving may be their best option.