2019 NBA Free Agents: Updated Predictions Following the Draft

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJune 22, 2019

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) brings the ball up court during the second half of Game 4 of a second round NBA basketball playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks in Boston, Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Now that the NBA draft has passed, the sole focus of the league will be free agency. 

The balance of power in the league has already shifted once in the offseason through the Anthony Davis trade from New Orleans to the Los Angeles Lakers, and it will continue to be altered by the decisions of high-profile free agents. 

With Kevin Durant expected to be out for most of the 2019-20 season with his Achilles injury, the majority of the free-agent focus at the moment is centered on Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving

Ever since Boston was eliminated from the postseason, Irving's name has popped up in rumors on what feels like a daily basis. 

The opposite can be said about Leonard after the NBA Finals, as few, if any, people know where he will be headed in the offseason. 


Updated Free Agent Predictions

Kyrie Irving 

Based off the reports that continue to come out, there is no chance Irving returns to the Boston Celtics. 

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The latest report about the damaged relationship between Irving and the Celtics came from ESPN's Jackie MacMullan on the Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective podcast (h/t NBC Sports Boston's Justin Leger).

"Kyrie Irving didn't like Boston," MacMullan said. "I've been told this by many people. He didn't like living in Boston. He just didn't. By the end, he had issues with Brad [Stevens]. By the end, he had issues with Danny [Ainge]. By the end, he had issues with pretty much all of us."

With Irving set to opt out of his deal in Boston, the focus of his free agency has shifted to the Brooklyn Nets. 

According to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, the Nets hope free agency is a transformational period for the franchise. 

ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that Irving is intensely interested in joining the Nets. 

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald also reported before the draft that Irving is expected to sign with the Nets when he officially becomes of a free agent. 

The move to Brooklyn makes sense from a few angles for Irving, who will get to play close to where he grew up in New Jersey.

The Nets are one of the up-and-coming franchises in the Eastern Conference, and even though Toronto is the current NBA champion, the path to the NBA Finals is much easier through the East than it is in the Western Conference. 

In Brooklyn, Irving can be the center of attention and drive the Nets further up the standings from their sixth-place finish last season.

Unless a significant change occurs before he puts pen to paper, Irving appears to be headed to Brooklyn.

Prediction: Irving signs with Brooklyn.


Kawhi Leonard

Leonard's free agency is shaping up to be much more of a mystery. 

Ben Margot/Associated Press

However, there is some speculation swirling around where the two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player will land, just not as much as Irving or others. 

Wojnarowski said on an appearance on ESPN's Get Up that Leonard's focus in Los Angeles is on the Los Angeles Clippers. 

"The reality is Kawhi Leonard's focused on Los Angeles, but it's the Clippers, not the Lakers. No. 1, they don't have the money to sign him. And two, the idea of him being a third wheel on a team trying to create a superteam, that has not been Kawhi's M.O. The Clippers are poised to be able to lure him from Toronto. This will be a Raptors-Clippers fight down to the end. He may take meetings with more teams; it's not even certain he'd even take a meeting with the Lakers right now."

During Toronto's NBA Finals celebrations, Leonard told Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun that he is focused on enjoying the championship first before sitting down to decide his future. 

"I'm enjoying this. It's not time to stress. It's still time to have some fun. I've just been enjoying my experience," Leonard said. "When it's that time and it's time to sit down, me and my group is going to sit down with each other. And lay it all out."

The Clippers appear to be front-runners for Leonard based off the scant reports regarding his level of interest, but the Raptors could always come in and make an offer he can't refuse. 

You would have to think the Raptors have more leverage than anyone thought they would when they first acquired Leonard because of the championship.

If Leonard wants to continue building around the first championship in franchise history, he could be inclined to stay in Canada. 

But if he is set on a move to Los Angeles, the Clippers appear to be in line to sign Leonard, and that would immediately send the Clippers up the Western Conference standings. 

But unlike Irving or other free agents, the writing isn't on the wall yet regarding Leonard. 

That is expected to be hashed out before free agency officially begins, but if we have learned anything about Leonard over the last year or two, it is that his decisions are harder to figure out than other stars in the game. 

Prediction: Leonard opts to sign with Clippers.