B/R NBA Staff Predicts Every Top Free Agent's 2019 Landing Spot

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2019

B/R NBA Staff Predicts Every Top Free Agent's 2019 Landing Spot

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    It's the most wonderful time of the year!

    The NBA and NBPA pushed Christmas in July six hours earlier this season in an agreement that will give fans plenty to celebrate without the disadvantage of sleeping in front of the yuletide log, waiting to see if their favorite free agent snags the milk and cookies. 

    But the start of free agency promises more presents under the tree than normal this offseason as the NBA shares $474 million in available cap space between the 30 franchises—more than the previous two summers combined, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. This class (including Anthony Davis) almost promises the best collection of available talent since the 2010 group, according to FiveThirtyEight

    Teams' shopping lists will be stacked with more than 200 free agents to choose from. With the start of the negotiating period nearly upon us (6 p.m. Sunday), the B/R Staff gives its best guess at where each of your favorite stars will land.

    Be sure to join the conversation on the B/R app and give your free-agency takes.

Kevin Durant to the Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Kevin Durant will head back to the Warriors.


    "Unfinished business."

    That's what Klay Thompson's father, Mychal, said his son and Durant spoke about on the phone after Klay's Game 6 ACL injury in the NBA Finals.

    Unfinished business.

    A third straight title wasn't just the goal, it was a foregone conclusion. But the dueling setbacks—two career-threatening injuries in back-to-back Finals games—have shaken the ground underneath the Warriors and given them new perspectives. The narrative surrounding Durant's decision has taken yet another form.

    The Warriors, the league and fans around the world have a different appreciation for Durant, and that feels like what he has been looking for his entire tenure with Golden State. Ahead of a yearlong road to recovery from his Achilles rupture, a five-year max deal makes sense for both him and the Warriors. KD can rehab alongside Thompson (who'll also re-sign), with financial security only the Warriors can offer. If and when he returns healthy, they will be back in the driver's seat toward completing their mission.

    Will Gottlieb

Kawhi Leonard Runs It Back in Toronto

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Half-sincere apologies to Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers fans, but Kawhi Leonard isn't going anywhere.

    This comes with the caveat that he is the most unreadable superstar in recent memory. No one should pretend to know what he's thinking. But he connected with his Toronto Raptors teammates, and his personality seeped through to the media—either deliberately or by circumstance—more so than it ever did in San Antonio.

    Oh, and the Raptors also won the gosh-darn NBA championship. In. Year. One. Together. Good luck finding a better basketball fit for Leonard. It doesn't exist—not even on the Clippers, should they land a second star.

    That has to matter. And the timing works out for Leonard to stay in Toronto. Pascal Siakam is a star, and the Raptors will have oodles of cap space next summer. He can sign a long-term deal with confidence.

    Or, just as likely, he can stay on a short-term pact. He will be eligible for the 35 percent max in two years' time. A two-plus-one deal makes too much sense. He gets to run it back with the current core next season as likely title favorites, see how team president Masai Ujiri builds out the roster entering the 2020-21 campaign and then reassess his options that following summer.

    Sticking with Toronto makes even more sense if Leonard is serious about teaming up with Kevin Durant, as reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski. Linking up now is tough to justify. Durant probably won't play next season. Holding off for two summers not only allows Leonard to wait out KD's return, but also see what he looks like post-Achilles injury. He can also bet on KD to be KD and join forces with him next summer, on the heels of a one-plus-one agreement with the Raptors.

    Either way, Leonard will most likely be in Toronto next season. Book it.

    Dan Favale

Kyrie Irving to the Nets

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Kyrie Irving is going to the Brooklyn Nets.

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has already confirmed it, but my prediction makes it so! Marc Stein and Shams Charania quickly piggy-bagged onto the latest story in free agency, making it all but a slam dunk, but hey, all three could be wrong, right?

    Kyrie is heading to Brooklyn, and he's already bought a house in South Orange, New Jersey, according to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. He's a superstar in need of a team that is need of a superstar.

    While D'Angelo Russell managed a reboot of his career, and Spencer Dinwiddie has carved out a niche there, neither has Irving's talent. 

    Now, if he can bring Kevin Durant with him, the Nets would be a title contender in short order.

    Kelly Scaletta

D'Angelo Russell Moves on from the Nets

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Kevin Durant's free-agent future is uncertain, but Kyrie Irving's seems pretty settled. Everything indicates he'll sign with the Brooklyn Nets. And while there were some early rumblings that Brooklyn would consider pairing Irving and restricted free-agent point guard D'Angelo Russell, those never passed the smell test. Two shoot-first, defense-averse point guards with histories that cast their quality as teammates into question?

    What could go wrong?

    That's why, with Irving looking like a lock for the Nets, Russell has to be ticketed for another destination. The Los Angeles Lakers, who drafted and dealt him within the span of two years, are reportedly interested in do-over, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. With averages of 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game in his age-22 season, Russell will draw interest from plenty of other teams as well.

    There's a healthy debate to be had about whether the Nets would be better off with Russell or Irving, factoring in the latter's likely higher price. But Brooklyn seems to have made its decision, which means Russell will be playing someplace else in 2019-20.

    Grant Hughes

Jimmy Butler Stays in Philadelphia

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    When the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, part of their motivation was to create a fallback plan in case Jimmy Butler became too expensive to keep.

    The playoffs changed everything—Harris underperformed while Butler carried them. He was arguably Philly's best player during its playoff run, which came a Kawhi Leonard Game 7 buzzer-beater from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.

    The prospect of paying Butler a five-year max deal worth upward of $190 million is a daunting one, given that it will take him through his age-34 season. But if they want to maximize their title-contention window with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, they have no choice.

    There's been some noise this week that the Houston Rockets are preparing to make a run at Butler via a sign-and-trade, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, but the mechanics of that move are too complicated to be realistic, and there's no reason to believe Philadelphia would be willing to play ball on those negotiations.

    Now that the Lakers have carved out max cap space, they could be a threat to steal Butler. But if Philly puts the five-year max on the table for him, which seems likely, it would be hard to imagine that he'd walk away from it.

    Sean Highkin    

Al Horford to New Orleans

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Social media sleuthing has become a critical component of free-agency predictions over the last few years. As wild as this may seem, Al Horford followed both Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday on Instagram (h/t Rob Perez) the day before free agency, which has to at least raise some eyebrows.

    What's really intriguing, though, is Horford's potential fit with the New Orleans Pelicans. Defensively, lineups with Horford, Holiday, Williamson and Lonzo Ball could be among the best in the league as early as this season. Holiday and Ball are both stellar on the perimeter. Horford is one of the league's best middle linebackers. The last five defenses he led ranked sixth, second, 14th, second and fifth, respectively.

    And then there's Zion. Sports Reference's college basketball database tracks things like rebounding percentage back to the 2010-11 season. There are only five players who logged at least 500 minutes and matched Zion's freshman defensive rebounding percentage, block percentage and steal percentage. Two of those five are Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington—both of whom have had success as NBA defenders.

    On offense, Horford's playmaking from the top of the key, high post and low post will open things up for the Pelicans. Just imagine 4-5 or 5-4 pick-and-rolls between him and Zion. And his shooting will draw bigs away from the rim, opening the paint up for Zion and Jrue's drives.

    On paper, this is a pretty seamless fit. If executive vice president David Griffin pulls this off, he may have a team competing for a playoff spot in its first season post-Anthony Davis.

    Andy Bailey   

Klay Thompson Stays with the Warriors

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Contract negotiations between the Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson should be brief.

    "You want to be here?" "Yep."

    "Max contract OK?" "Yep."

    End negotiations.

    If all goes to plan, Thompson will be offered and sign a five-year, $190 million max deal that will keep him in Golden State until age 34. After the Warriors made him the No. 11 overall pick 2011, Thompson has been named to the last five All-Star teams and averaged 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.9 three-pointers per game on 41.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc for his career.

    Five straight Finals appearances, including three titles, have helped secure his place as one of the greatest shooting guards in the NBA. Outside James Harden, Thompson may be the best 2-guard in the league.

    Even if Kevin Durant leaves, the Warriors can still sport a championship-level roster if Thompson stays and makes a full recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the Finals.

    While his mind may have wandered briefly to the thought of becoming the face of Clippers or joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers, Thompson and the Warriors should come to a quick agreement.

    Greg Swartz

D'Angelo Russell Returns to the Lakers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Not everyone in the Los Angeles Lakers' front office was on board when Magic Johnson dumped potential star D'Angelo Russell in a 2017 deal with the Brooklyn Nets, even if it did shed Timofey Mozgov's contract.

    Russell has gone on to lead the Nets to the playoffs and make his first All-Star squad. Johnson, who kicked Russell on the way out with negative comments about his leadership, resigned at the end of the season.

    I think that cap room the team worked so hard to open up will be used to pay Russell a hefty contract north of $20 million a year. With the right offer, any hurt feelings will be long forgotten and forgiven. The Lakers are looking at LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma with no established guard on the squad.

    Kyrie Irving, 27, may be the bigger name with experience winning alongside James, but the 23-year-old Russell is younger and will give the Lakers a well-balanced offensive foursome with his outside shooting and playmaking. Now the team faces the difficult task of fleshing out the rest of the roster with whatever cap space is left after Russell, a room exception worth less than $5 million and minimum contracts.

    Eric Pincus

DeMarcus Cousins to the Knicks

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    DeMarcus Cousins' bid to gain a 'chip and reestablish himself as a dominant interior force after his torn Achilles did not go as planned in Golden State. He worked himself into shape, only to see much of his postseason derailed by a quad injury. Other players performed at another speed for the Finals.

    It's time for him to run back the premise in proving himself over a season on the other coast. If the Knicks strike out on their premier choices, it makes sense for Cousins to join them on a lucrative one-year deal. He can again try to establish himself without the pressure of simultaneously competing for a championship and can look for that elusive long-term payday again next summer.

    Jonathan Abrams      

Tobias Harris Stays in Philadelphia

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Both Tobias Harris and the Philadelphia 76ers enter free agency with a ton of options, but in the end, this makes too much sense for both sides. For one, there's the package the Sixers gave up to get Harris—which featured Landry Shamet and that unprotected 2021 Miami Heat pick.

    Yeah, it's a sunk cost and all that, but that's not how NBA front offices typically view things. If Harris were to sign elsewhere, that trade could end up going down as one of the decade's worst. You think Elton Brand wants that on his resume?

    But there are other reasons for the Sixers to lock up Harris early. Perhaps he's not the top free agent available, but he's a knockdown shooter, a strong one-on-one scorer, a solid locker room presence, only 26 years old and almost never misses a game. He's a constant, which is something these Sixers could really use.

    The fit might have been clunky at times last year, but a full offseason and training camp could fix that. He'd also be insurance in case Butler bolts, something which, based on all the noise, seems increasingly likely by the day. Butler's departure might actually make the Sixers more appealing to Harris. It'd move him up the food chain.

    Harris will not settle for anything below a full max, according to a source. The bet here is that the Sixers feel compelled to offer him that during their initial meeting June 30. If they do, I expect Harris—despite whatever concerns he might have about the Sixers' internal culture or his role—to accept.

    Yaron Weitzman

Nikola Vucevic Stays in Orlando

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Had we peeked into our crystal ball a bit earlier, a split between Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic may have made sense.

    Sure, the pair broke through together this past season to snap a six-year playoff drought, but their future was uncertain. Orlando had already spent at least one No. 6 pick on Vooch's heir apparent (Mohamed Bamba) and maybe two, depending on where you see the future going for Jonathan Isaac. If the Magic wanted to reset around its young core, committing major coin to the 28-year-old Vucevic would've been senseless.

    But market forces now make a recommitment more likely than not. Vucevic's list of suitors wasn't large to begin with, and the Boston Celtics seemingly abandoned it by reaching a max agreement with Kemba Walker, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Two other possibilities, the Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks, have their own young bigs to develop.

    So, Vooch and Orlando seem destined to continue what's already been a seven-year relationship. The Magic said he was a priority, per Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel, and they appear ready to put their money where their mouth is.

    Orlando just had its best season in nearly a decade, and Vucevic's All-Star emergence was at the center of it. If he returns and this club can upgrade at point guard, it should take another climb up the Eastern Conference ladder in 2019-20.

    Zach Buckley

Patrick Beverley to the Mavericks

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    With a pair of potential 2020 All-Stars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the Dallas Mavericks have quickly transitioned from the rebuilding phase. Signing Patrick Beverley would reflect a new win-now mentality. He'd also be a strong fit next to Doncic, since Beverley brings a defensive toughness that Doncic doesn't. Meanwhile, the offense can still run through the 20-year-old, even with Beverley, who isn't ball-dominant.

    For Beverley, he'd be joining a relevant, exciting team on the rise, and one he'd play a key role for—both on the floor and in the locker room. He'd change and strengthen Dallas' identity and credibility.

    Other potential suitors look out of the running. The Los Angeles Lakers will be going after a third star with their cap space. The Chicago Bulls just drafted Coby White and still have unproven talent. The Los Angeles Clippers will want to give Shai Gilgeous-Alexander a heavier workload.

    With Kemba Walker reportedly heading to Boston, per The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania, the Mavericks will be forced to look at lower-tier point guard options. Assuming they prefer a veteran to start over Jalen Brunson, Beverley makes sense as a target.

    Jonathan Wasserman    

Malcolm Brogdon to the Lakers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    In Lakerland, the only thing better than two superstars is three. So of course, they will chase Kawhi and Jimmy. They'll try to spend their $32 million in cap room all at once. They shouldn't.

    In a post-Warriors NBA, the Lakers don't need a superteam, but rather a superb team of role guys to support LeBron and AD. They should start with Malcolm Brogdon, the unheralded Milwaukee Bucks guard.

    Every LeBron team needs a secondary playmaker who can shoot. Brogdon quietly joined the 50-40-90 club last season, making 42.6 percent of his threes, while averaging 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He's also a top-flight defender with the size (6'5") and smarts to guard three positions.

    At 26, Brogdon is seasoned, battle-tested and unflappable—the perfect midcareer vet for a title contender. His high character and basketball IQ make him the ideal LeBron sidekick.

    There's nothing flashy in Brogdon's game, but he was indispensable to a Bucks team that posted the NBA's best record (60 wins) and made the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Signing Brogdon could be tricky. He's a restricted free agent, so the Bucks can match any offer. But Milwaukee wants to avoid the luxury tax and will already be spending big to keep Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. The right offer might pry Brogdon loose.

    And he'll come far cheaper than the glitzier point guards—Kyrie, Kemba, D'Angelo—leaving the Lakers ample cap room to complete their rotation.

    Howard Beck    

Ricky Rubio to the Pacers

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    With Utah handing the starting point guard job over to newly acquired Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio is looking for a new home. The Indiana Pacers represent the perfect landing spot.

    Darren Collison's retirement opens the door for Rubio to head East and provides the Pacers with an opportunity to upgrade at the position. Plus, putting a ball-handler and floor leader like Rubio in the backcourt takes the play-making pressure off Victor Oladipo and frees him up to score.

    Rubio is only 28 and is durable and reliable, if not spectacular. But the Pacers don't need spectacular. They're not going to attract a major star in free agency. But they could do a lot worse than a plug-and-play starting point guard, and Rubio could do worse than joining an Eastern Conference team capable of winning 50 games.

    The Bulls and Suns also are expected to be in the mix for Rubio, but the Pacers are the best fit. It gives him a chance to be the undisputed starting point guard on a playoff team, and with the ball in his hands more, he should expect to see his assist numbers rise into the 8- to 9-per-game range that he consistently hit in Minnesota.

    Ken Berger

Danny Green to the Raptors

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Danny Green was a throw-in to the swap of Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan one year ago, but he proved to be a critical part of the Toronto Raptors' championship run. 

    Green is the backcourt stopper the Raptors desperately need beside Kyle Lowry. OG Anunoby can become that player, but if the Raptors re-sign Leonard, they can't afford to wait. They need Green's impact on the defensive end now—and it is substantial. 

    His 2.07 defensive real plus-minus puts him third among all guards, behind only Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul, and it would also place him in the top 10 among all perimeter defenders.

    But Green's most notable impact comes on the offensive end. The Raptors attack was plus-14.0 per 100 possessions with him on the offensive side in addition to being minus-4.1 when he was off the floor for a dramatic rating of plus-18.1. By comparison, OG Anunoby's numbers starkly contrast those on the offensive end, where he made the Raptors eight points worse

    Green is a defensive stopper and offensive spacer the Raptors can't afford to lose. The 32-year-old was second to Joe Harris among all qualified players in three-point shooting (45.5 percent). He shot over 47 percent from both corners and even made his above-the-break attempts at a 42.2 percent clip.

    If Kawhi returns, Green will too. 

    Preston Ellis