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NBA Free Agents 2019: Latest Rumors, Predictions on Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Butler speaks with members of the media during a news conference at the NBA basketball team's practice facility in Camden, N.J., Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Some of the massive dominoes in the NBA free-agency process have already started to fall.

Kemba Walker, for example, is expected to sign with the Boston Celtics, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Nikola Vucevic will re-up with the Orlando Magic as well, per Charania.

Call those the appetizer. Those are just opening dominoes helping to set other things in motion. Walker means Kyrie Irving's situation is in flux, and the Magic retaining a budding star means team's frontcourt options are significantly lighter as the process continues. 

And none of this even touches on some of the biggest names, with heavyweights like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant still going through the paces of potentially reshaping the league as fans know it. Here's the latest from the rumor mill. 

      

D'Angelo Russell

Not so long ago, the idea of a reunion between D'Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers seemed impossible. 

Now it almost seems like an eventuality. 

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Lakers want to set up a meet with their former point guard: "The Los Angeles Lakers reached out to D'Angelo Russell's agents at CAA—Austin Brown and Aaron Mintz—to set up a meeting with the All-Star guard, league sources tell ESPN. The Lakers and Russell share a mutual interest in a reunion. Lakers have the cap space to sign him."

This idea has started to gain serious steam lately, with B/R's Eric Pincus reporting the following on June 22:  "With [Magic] Johnson gone, some close to Russell have indicated he may be open to the idea if Brooklyn isn't in the picture."

Since this started working its way into the public mindshare, it has become apparent the Lakers have enough space for another max player and Russell himself has become a restricted free agent after being tendered by the Nets. 

But the "mutual" part of this makes it hard to believe anything else happens here. Russell and the Lakers had a bad split when Magic Johnson was running things and quite a bit has changed then. In particular, LeBron James and Anthony Davis now run the show. 

The Lakers' interest isn't hard to understand: Russell went to Brooklyn and had a breakout year, averaging 21.1 points and 7.0 assists with 43.4 percent shooting from the floor—all career highs. He's only 23 years old and seems like the perfect facilitator for the current offense, as well as far into the future once LeBron decides to retire. 

Prediction: Russell signs with the Lakers

       

Jimmy Butler

Given the massive names available on the open market this year, Butler's name has somehow managed to fall on the backburner a bit. 

But teams like the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets haven't let him go unnoticed. 

According to Wojnarowski, Butler will meet with the Heat but also has a potential encounter with the Rockets later: "Sources: Jimmy Butler expected to meet the Miami Heat in South Fla. Sunday. Butler/Rockets meeting likely early week in LA. Sixers haven’t ruled out working with Butler on sign-and-trades, which Miami and Houston need to acquire the All-Star guard."

Even if he somehow isn't the biggest name on the market, it isn't too hard to see why would-be contenders would have an interest in Butler at this stage. He's still only 29 years old coming off a one-year stint in Philadelphia where he averaged 18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and shot 46.1 percent from the floor over 55 games. 

This might be the most perplexing situation in free agency. Philadelphia can naturally offer Butler more in the money department. And both Houston and Miami probably can't do a deal for Butler unless it's of the sign-and-trade variety thanks to the numbers on their books already. 

But rest assured the 76ers will settle for a trade if they can't convince Butler to stay as opposed to letting him go for free. The decision comes down to Butler, who could go to Houston and try to form a superteam of sorts and contend, or go to Miami and be the superstar centerpiece he used to be in Chicago. 

Given the Rockets always seem to come up in these sorts of conversations but don't always pan out, Butler going to the Heat seems to make more sense. He'll be the focal centerpiece of a franchise again, pair well with Hassan Whiteside, and likely morph one of his publicly known favorite franchises into a contender. 

Prediction: Butler gets a sign-and-trade to the Heat

     

Kawhi Leonard-Kevin Durant

Is a Kawhi Leonard-Kevin Durant partnership on the way? 

The idea would have been laughed off even halfway through this past season. Durant leaving the Golden State Warriors dynasty seemed impossible, and Leonard seemed like he could go anywhere, if not stick with the Toronto Raptors. 

But things change incredibly fast in NBA land, where Durant suffered a season-ending injury and watched his team lose in the Finals to Leonard's Raptors. 

According to Charania, some in front offices around the NBA believe Durant has weighed a "possible partnership" with Leonard. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne followed up with similar details: "Free-agent stars Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard have been discussing scenarios that could include a future with them playing together, league sources told ESPN."

The only locales that could make sense for a new superteam would be the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. This comes from an early report by Wojnarowski, which said Durant plans to have conversations with the Warriors, Clippers, Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Leonard's camp has apparently been more secretive outside of a meeting with the Lakers, according to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

At this stage, it seems like Leonard is more likely to team with LeBron in Los Angeles than he is with Durant anywhere—and that's even if he chooses to leave Toronto, which already has an established core and just won a title. 

Looming over all of this is Durant's torn Achilles, too, which could cost him the entirety of the 2019-20 season and doesn't guarantee he gets back to his usual self once he returns to the floor. This might make Leonard shy away from a rumored partnership, though with Leonard, it's easy to think he'll merely stick with the Raptors after the successes of this season. Durant rehabbing with the Warriors for the time being makes the most sense, too. 

Prediction: Durant re-signs with the Warriors, Leonard re-signs with the Raptors

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