NBA Free Agency 2019: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Top Names on the Market

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Butler reacts during the second half of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Toronto Raptors, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Philadelphia. 76ers won 112-101. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

What's next for the NBA's top talent on the market? We may have some answers Sunday when free agency kicks off at 6 p.m. ET.

While most of the chatter surrounds Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, teams have tentative plans to land other premier players capable of improving a franchise's outlook. 

The Houston Rockets signed James Harden and Chris Paul to supermax and max deals over the last two years, but that's not going to prevent them chasing another star to form a trio. General manager Daryl Morey may have to part ways with key assets, but he's willing to sacrifice for an upgrade. 

Although the Charlotte Hornets can offer Kemba Walker a five-year, $221 million supermax deal, two clubs have emerged as front-runners intending to lure him away. Who wants to talk to the three-time All-Star? How can they entice the 29-year-old to sign with a new squad? 

The New York Knicks selected RJ Barrett with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Team brass has interest in a high-end power forward; the appeal goes both ways. Who's ready to take on the pressure of playing at Madison Square Garden? 

We'll break down the latest free-agency rumors with predictions for three talents set to ink new deals in the coming weeks.


Houston Rockets Planning a Sign-and-Trade Scenario for Jimmy Butler 

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 8 :  Jimmy Butler #23 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Houston Rockets on March 8, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Harden and Paul will account for significant cap space for the 2019-20 campaign, $38.2 million and $38.5 million cap hits, per Spotrac. The Rockets need help in the form of a sign-and-trade plan to land Jimmy Butler.

The Philadelphia 76ers can propose a maximum five-year, $190 million deal to Butler, but he can turn down the money for a better situation. Perhaps the four-time All-Star views the Rockets as a team in position to lead the Western Conference with Golden State Warriors' stars Durant (torn Achilles) and Klay Thompson (torn ACL) suffering significant injuries and headed to the open market.

Instead of losing Butler to a team of his desire for nothing, Philadelphia can agree to trade him to Houston for veteran assets. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets would like to swap players for the talented two-way swingman. 

"Once free agency starts on Sunday, the Rockets are planning to recruit Butler to push the 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal that would allow the All-Star forward to join Harden and Paul in Houston, league sources tell ESPN," he wrote. 

Wojnarowski also added two of the three following players would likely go to the Sixers in a potential trade: Clint Capela, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon.

Right now, the strategy seems like a one-way street. The Sixers may not want what the Rockets have to offer in a sign-and-trade scenario.

Houston needs a playmaker in his prime with Paul on the decline. He's played 58 games in back-to-back seasons. Last year, the 34-year-old averaged 15.6 points per contest and shot 42 percent from the field—two career lows through a single campaign. That's not an attractive destination for Butler. 

At the peak of his career, Butler can continue to play in Philadelphia alongside two budding stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who haven't reached their ceilings. If he re-signs with the Sixers, the team's three stars can continue to grow into a contender in the Eastern Conference.

Prediction: Jimmy Butler re-signs with the Sixers


Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks in Pursuit of Kemba Walker 

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 6:  Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets handles the ball against the Dallas Mavericks on February 6, 2019 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
Glenn James/Getty Images

Walker has spent eight seasons in Charlotte since entering the league as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but the club has only made two playoff appearances during his tenure—a pair of first-round exits—losing to the Miami Heat in both trips. 

The 29-year-old earned All-Star honors in each of the last three terms. Now at the top of his game, he could seek out a winning situation or a team on the rise. 

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks will make notable pushes for Walker: 

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

We can scratch "stealth." Boston and Dallas are at the front of the line that will be trying to lure Kemba Walker away from Charlotte, league sources say

The Celtics seem prepared to move on from Kyrie Irving, who's cut off communication with the team, per the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach.

"The strangest part of the Irving situation right now is that it appears he has essentially ghosted on the Celtics," he wrote. "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."

Boston has a solid nucleus with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown still developing and Gordon Hayward—assuming he reverts back to pre-injury form. 

The Mavericks dealt Dennis Smith Jr. to the Knicks in a deal involving Tim Hardaway Jr., clearing a spot at point guard. Walker could move into the 1 spot to form an intriguing trio with Kristaps Porzingis and Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic. 

Because of Porzingis' recovery from a torn ACL, he didn't play for the Mavericks last season, which suggests the starting lineup would need to go through a jelling period.

The Celtics performed better without Irving in the postseason during the 2017-18 campaign. Walker could try his hand at meshing with the young talent for a run at the NBA Finals in the wide-open East.

Prediction: Kemba Walker signs with the Celtics


New York Knicks Eyeing Julius Randle 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The buzz about Durant's interest in the Knicks has subsided over the last few weeks, following his injury. The two sides could come to an agreement, but the odds favor the Brooklyn Nets and Warriors more than New York, per Caesars Sportsbook (via Bleacher Report): 

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

New favorite in the race for KD: 🗣BROOOOOKLYN (via @br_betting) https://t.co/CcHLfa2EXo

The Knicks can turn their attention to Julius Randle, who has improved his scoring each year in the league; the 6'9", 250-pound forward isn't afraid of New York's bright lights. According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, the two sides have a mutual interest.

"Other free agents on the Knicks' radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris," he wrote. "New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources." 

Based on Spears' report of the names on the Knicks' free-agent radar, they'll pursue a frontcourt asset. Among the players listed, Randle possesses the most upside at 24 years old. He's never averaged more than 31 minutes per game and may see more growth in his production filling a full-time starting role, going into his sixth season.

Assuming Mitchell Robinson moves into the starting center role and Smith opens the season at point guard, Randle would play the 4 with Kevin Knox at the 3 and Barrett in the 2 spot. That combination gives the Knicks a lineup featuring athleticism, length and size to improve their competitiveness in the East.

Prediction: Julius Randle signs with the Knicks