The NBA offseason calendar moves quickly. Immediately after Thursday's draft, free agency came into focus with star players contemplating their next move.
Front-office executives will shift all their attention to game-changers who could adjust a franchise's short-term future. A strong summer haul may elevate a fringe playoff team to title contention.
Kawhi Leonard goes into free agency as the top talent (who's healthy) in this year's crop. Kevin Durant tore his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but he will still be coveted around the league. Among the latest rumors, a short list of suitors has emerged for both players.
Al Horford declined the option year on his contract to become an unrestricted free agent, but the Boston Celtics have their sights on another big man set to test the market.
Kawhi Leonard Will Choose Between Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers?
Fresh off a second NBA title, Leonard will decide where to take the next step in his career. At 27 years old, he's arguably the best two-way player in the game. The three-time All-Star can propel another club into the discussion among contenders or stay in Canada to build on a championship foundation.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who appeared on Get Up with Mike Greenberg on Tuesday, Leonard will choose between the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors:
Leonard may find it difficult to leave a champion. Nonetheless, assuming he signs a long-term deal, the eight-year veteran would likely view Canada as home for the next four to five years if he stays.
At this point in his career, Leonard should rank among the top five players in the league on most lists. He's already an established figure in the Raptors' history for his contribution to the franchise's first championship. The superstar forward will head to Los Angeles and help build a strong contender in the Western Conference.
Prediction: Kawhi Leonard signs with the Clippers
Brooklyn Nets Fine with Acquiring Kyrie Irving Alone, Still Eyeing Kevin Durant
The Brooklyn Nets finished 42-40 and secured the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference—shocking basketball experts and analysts as a surprise team on the rise. The club has young building blocks in place.
Jarrett Allen contributes on both ends of the court; he averaged 10.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks during the 2018-19 term. Spencer Dinwiddie continued to show significant improvement, averaging a career-high 16.8 points. Despite dislocating his right foot in November, Caris LeVert flashed his dynamic skill set as a passer, versatile scorer and solid perimeter defender.
Brooklyn can match offers for D'Angelo Russell, who's a restricted free agent following his first All-Star selection.
According to Brian Lewis of The New York Post on Friday, the Nets would feel good about signing Kyrie Irving without another star player to pair with him, which shows faith in the team's direction: "Two highly placed sources told The Post the Nets will have no qualms about taking Irving whether or not they get another star."
The Nets also still have high hopes to sign Durant, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst on The Jump:
On the same panel, Kendrick Perkins went as far as to call Brooklyn the front-runners for Durant.
Perhaps the Nets think this summer will change their franchise with at least one star taking a max slot with the team. Irving has been connected to Brooklyn for weeks; Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald drew a direct line. Regardless of the moving parts in free agency, the match seems inevitable.
Prediction: Kyrie Irving signs with the Nets
Boston Celtics Will Target Nikola Vucevic as a Priority?
Two years ago, the Celtics had a roster that pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving and Gordon Hayward. With the two in the fold, Boston took an exit in the semifinals.
To make matters worse, Irving has cut off communication with the team, per the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach on Monday: "The strangest part of the Irving situation right now is that it appears he has essentially ghosted on the Celtics. The people within the organization I have spoken with have made it clear that they have had little, if any, communication with Irving in recent weeks."
Horford didn't exercise his $30.1 million option with the club, which subtracts another key component from the roster.
The Celtics could upgrade at the 5, though. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, team brass has center Nikola Vucevic on its free-agent radar:
Vucevic appeared in his first All-Star game this year, and he averaged 20.8 points, 12 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest while converting 52 percent from the floor. He would compensate for losing Horford's scoring and ability to pass out of the post.
This year, the Orlando Magic reached the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 term, with Vucevic as their best player in terms of win shares (10.1). However, the front office selected center Mohamed Bamba with the sixth overall pick in last year's draft. He's the future at the 5, which puts the writing on the wall for the eight-year veteran's exit.
Assuming Vucevic wants to sign with a playoff-caliber team that has enough money to pay him a big contract, the Celtics seem like a good landing spot. In the East, he can continue to rack up All-Star appearances and take on a big role within Boston's frontcourt.
Prediction: Nikola Vucevic signs with the Celtics