Updated Predictions for NBA's Top Free Agents Based on Latest Rumors

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJune 25, 2019

Updated Predictions for NBA's Top Free Agents Based on Latest Rumors

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    With NBA free agency less than a week away, we're getting a clearer picture of where the top stars will land.

    Sifting through rumors and trying to pull back the curtain on where Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will sign is a difficult task, especially when the players themselves may not have even decided yet.

    This isn't just a three-horse race, either. Others such as Nikola Vucevic, D'Angelo Russell and Al Horford will affect the market. Jimmy Butler appears to be a wild card, and Kemba Walker's looming supermax decision will keep the Charlotte Hornets afloat or possibly complete another team's Big Three.

    Based on the latest rumors, here's where some of the top free agents of 2019 will sign.

Celtics, Lakers 'Potential Landing Spots' for Nikola Vucevic

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    Vucevic is perhaps the best center on the market and should draw interest from any team in need of a do-it-all big man.

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported during the NBA draft that both the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers could pursue the All-Star (h/t Corey Hansford of Lakers Nation): "There's a lot of motivation for [Orlando and Vucevic] to get a deal done. Vucevic has wanted to stay there. Both the Celtics and Lakers are potential landing spots for Vucevic if he doesn't get a deal done with the Magic."

    The Magic reached the playoffs for the first time in seven years in large part because of Vucevic, who averaged 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 three-pointers per game.

    Orlando can come in with a five-year offer and the most money, though it has Mo Bamba, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft, waiting to take over.

    If the Magic lowball Vucevic, the Celtics could make a competitive offer if neither Horford nor Irving re-signs.

    It would be odd for the Lakers to use what's left of their cap space on any center given that's where Anthony Davis will spend most of his time if L.A. plays him with small forward LeBron James and power forward Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers should use their remaining cash on guards, not another post player.

    Updated Prediction: Stays with Magic on five-year deal.

Clippers, Mavericks 'Likely Landing Spots' for Al Horford

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Some teams may prefer Horford at center to Vucevic given his sparkling defense and 11 trips to the playoffs in 12 pro seasons.

    With the Celtics-Horford divorce all but complete, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks are likely destinations for the 33-year-old center.

    The Clippers have the cap space for a max salary player and one more significant deal. If they offer Leonard the max, Horford won't be able to collect the $30.1 million he left on the table in Boston but could still get a contract starting at $20 million per year or more that stretches for four years.

    Los Angeles has a good mix of youth and vets and is expected to win now after pushing the Golden State Warriors to six games as an eighth seed.

    Dallas could use a veteran center to line up next to Kristaps Porzingis and help take playmaking pressure off Luka Doncic. While signing Horford seems like a splashy Mavericks-esque move, the ages of Dallas' core players don't match up. By the time Doncic comes off his rookie contract, Horford will be 36. Signing Horford to a max or near-max deal would severely limit any other help the Mavericks could put around their trio, as Porzingis could also draw a max deal this summer.

    Teams like the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks should have interest in Horford as well.

    Updated Prediction: Signs four-year deal with Clippers.

Wolves 'Up to Something' with D'Angelo Russell

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    Though the Minnesota Timberwolves are capped out, they're reportedly "up to something" with Brooklyn Nets restricted free agent Russell.

    "There's been a lot of Minnesota-D'Angelo Russell noise," Zach Lowe said on The Lowe Post. "And it's not all Karl[-Anthony] Towns commenting on Instagram cuz they're friends. Minnesota has communicated to the league—not the NBA league, just the league at large—that they believe they have a pathway to get D'Angelo Russell. I can't see what it is cuz they're capped out and they have all these contracts nobody wants, but they've communicated that."

    This seems strange since the Timberwolves are already at the $109 million salary-cap limit before factoring in contracts for their newly drafted rookies.

    If the Wolves really want Russell, they'll likely have to offer him a max or near-max deal up to $27.3 million in the first year. That means Minnesota would have to move the contract of Andrew Wiggins ($27.5 million in 2019-20) into another team's cap space (good luck!) or find homes for a combination of Jeff Teague ($19 million), Gorgui Dieng ($16.2 million) and/or Robert Covington ($11.3 million). All (except maybe Covington) would have to come with a draft pick or picks attached, and even that may not be enough for teams to bite.

    The Nets can also execute a sign-and-trade for Russell if they end up getting Irving in free agency and want something back for Russell before he walks. Doing so would hard-cap the Timberwolves and cut into Brooklyn's cap space, something it's worked hard to clear.

    While it's fun to picture the first two picks of the 2015 draft playing together, it doesn't seem likely.

    If Russell is pushed out of Brooklyn, he could land with the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics or Indiana Pacers, all of whom have significant cap space and are in need of a point guard.

    With Magic Johnson and Nick Young no longer in L.A., the Lakers suddenly make a lot of sense as a landing spot for Russell.

    Updated Prediction: Signs four-year deal with Lakers.

Mavs: 'Kemba's Their Target'

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    While the Mavericks have been mentioned as a potential home for Horford, he's not the only big name Mark Cuban and Co. are chasing.

    As Jackie MacMullan said on Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective: "Kemba's who they want. Kemba's their target."

    Walker makes more sense for Dallas than Horford. He's four years younger, and the Mavericks have only 2018 second-round pick Jalen Brunson at point guard.

    Dallas can offer Walker a four-year, $140.1 million contract, a far cry from the five years and $221 million the Charlotte Hornets can extend. While he'd be giving up over $80 million in guaranteed money, Walker with the Mavs could be surrounded by far greater talent in Doncic and Porzingis.

    As tempting as ditching a ragged roster would be, that's a lot of money for Walker to leave on the table, especially since he's coming off a modest four-year, $48 million deal. Walker can also get all the shots he wants while running the show in Charlotte. Doncic is now the face of the Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki retired, meaning Walker would, at best, be the No. 2 option.

    The Celtics, Lakers and Pacers could also make appealing cases to Walker, but that extra money and the opportunity to stay with the only franchise he's ever known should win out.

    Updated Prediction: Stays with Hornets on five-year deal.

Rockets 'Think They Have a Chance' at Jimmy Butler

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    Like the Timberwolves and their long-shot affection for Russell, the capped-out Houston Rockets "think they have a chance" at Butler, per Tim MacMahon.

    Speaking on the Hoop Collective, MacMahon said there are "real rumblings" about a Butler-Rockets pairing, and Windhorst said, "I'm hearing these rumblings about Jimmy trying to get back there."

    Butler, a Houston native, can sign a four-year, $140.1 million max deal with any team besides the Philadelphia 76ers, who can max him out for five years and $190 million.

    The Rockets already have $117.0 million in total salaries and are about $8 million over the projected $109 million cap. They'd need to clear roughly $40 million off their books to have a real shot at Butler, with the contracts of Chris Paul ($38.5 million), Clint Capela ($16.4 million) and Eric Gordon ($14.1 million) the biggest hurdles.

    Houston could try attaching first-round picks to players in an attempt to move money to create room for Butler. That'd be a big gamble for the Rockets, though, especially if they don't have a verbal agreement from the 29-year-old four-time All-Star.

    While it would be appealing for Butler to play next to James Harden in his hometown, there would be many hoops to jump through.

    As MacMahon said: "I'll put it at 99 percent Philly is coming with a five-year max."

    If the Sixers offer the extra $50 million guaranteed while presenting Butler with the chance to complete one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, expect him to stick with Philly.

    Updated Prediction: Signs five-year max deal with 76ers.

Nets 'Front-Runners' for Kevin Durant; Kyrie Irving Recruiting Him to Brooklyn

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    While it was expected that the Warriors and Knicks would be the top two teams fighting for Durant, "the Nets are the front-runners," Kendrick Perkins said on The Jump.

    That aligns with a recent report from Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher:

    "Durant and Irving, league sources say, have met twice in recent weeks to discuss their desire to continue their careers on the same team, an idea forged while playing together on the U.S. national team. ...

    "Irving, meanwhile, also recently purchased a new home in South Orange, New Jersey, but league sources say he is pressing Durant to join him with the Nets and is trying to recruit [DeAndre] Jordan as well."

    Money could be tight, especially if the Nets want to bring in Jordan as well.

    Such a move would also require patience, as Irving would have control of the Brooklyn offense next season while Durant rehabs from his ruptured Achilles tendon. We likely wouldn't see the Irving-Durant combo on the court together until the 2020-21 season.

    While the thought of signing Durant to a four-year max deal knowing he won't play for at least a full season doesn't scare the Nets or Knicks, per Bucher, the Clippers and 76ers have "backed off their pursuit because they are focused on building off their playoff success this past season."

    Updated Prediction: Durant and Irving sign four-year max deals with Nets.

Kawhi Leonard 'Seriously Considering' Staying with Raptors

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    The battle for Leonard's services may come down to the Clippers and Toronto Raptors.

    When Leonard declined his $21.3 million player option for 2019-20, he became the NBA's best free agent this summer.

    Fresh off a championship, Leonard "is believed to be seriously considering re-signing with the Raptors," per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

    Haynes noted "there are a handful of teams" that could get a meeting with Leonard but that rival executives believe Toronto is the favorite to sign him.

    While the Clippers have set themselves up nicely with cap space and a collection of young talent to develop or use as trade assets, it's tough to argue against the Raptors.

    They can offer the most money (five years and $190 million compared to four years and $140.1 million), have nearly their entire core under contract for next season (Danny Green will be a free agent) and will have a massive amount of cap space in 2020.

    While Leonard may entertain pitches from teams like the Lakers, Knicks, Nets and Clippers, he'll end up back in Toronto. Don't be surprised, however, if Leonard passes on a five-year max deal and instead signs for just one more year so he can hit free agency again next summer.

    Updated Prediction: Re-signs with Raptors on a one-plus-one deal.


    Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. All stats via Basketball Reference or NBA.com unless otherwise noted.