2019 NBA Free Agency: Predicting where Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard sign; picking which free agents offer best, worst value
Also in the latest 3-Man Weave, our NBA experts offer up one free agent ready to turn heads next season
The upcoming NBA free agency period has the potential to reshape the NBA power structure like no free agency since 2016. Among the available free agents are some of the best players in the game: Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, an injured Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, and more.
As free agency is set to begin next week, we asked a few of our NBA experts to make a few offseason predictions, for a titanic NBA summer ahead.
1. Predict where Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving all end up.
Reid Forgrave: Durant will stay in Golden State. Whether it's through taking his player option and rehabbing his Achilles injury or through signing a five-year max deal, the guess here is that the experience of going through the ups and downs of this season, combined with the bonding emotions of his teammates supporting him through his injury-ravaged playoffs, will solidify Durant as a Warrior for at least this season, possibly beyond. Kyrie will end up with the Brooklyn Nets. And Kawhi will stay in Toronto for at least one more year. If he ends up going to Los Angeles, as has long been expected, the Raptors can be confident that they couldn't have possibly made a better pitch to lock down Kawhi than they did this season.
Brad Botkin: I think Durant is going back to the Warriors. The injury threw a wrinkle in this whole deal and the playoffs made it clear the Warriors need him. I also thing Kawhi stays puts in Toronto. The only one to leave will be Kyrie Irving, who ends up with the Nets, who I think are making a mistake.
In the case of Durant, he doesn't want his career to end in Golden State with an Achilles injury. Furthermore, because he won't be the same player after his injury, his weaknesses can easily be covered up by the Warriors' stacked core. Leonard re-signs with the Raptors because it's the perfect city to complement his low-key personality while Irving wants to make a major splash by signing with a major-market team. Although the Nets are considered the favorites to sign Irving, all it takes is Irving and another max free-agent signing to make a big difference for the Knicks.
2. Name an under-the-radar free agent that is ready to turn heads next season.
Forgrave: Kevon Looney. You could see plenty of flashes this past season of the 23-year-old Looney coming into his own. He's extended his range and improved his efficiency around the basket while playing the most minutes of his career.
Botkin: It's D'Angelo Russell. He's getting thrown around in every rumor because he'll be the odd man out if Brooklyn is able to sign two max free agents, but Russell is getting ready to pop. He's already an All-Star and he'll have something to prove for whoever bets on him this summer.
Siddiqi: Julius Randle. Because the New Orleans Pelicans had a down season plagued by the Anthony Davis trade saga, Randle's strong play was overshadowed. The 24-year-old forward averaged career-bests, averaging 21.4 points on 52.4 percent from the field in just over 30 minutes per game. More importantly, he finally developed a 3-point shot in converting on 34.4 percent of his 3-pointers with 67 total treys.
Randle is just entering his prime and is not even considered a top-10 free agent. For teams that are up-and-coming or on the fringe of winning a championship, Randle could make a major difference as a scoring big man and a playmaking forward. In other words, you can give him a long-term deal worth a decent chunk of change -- he's not commanding big money on the market -- and not regret it four years from now.
3. Who will offer the best value in free agency?
Forgrave: Patrick Beverley. He's a straight-up winner who competes on defense like no one else in the NBA. He's also been hovering around a 40 percent 3-point shooter for four straight seasons now. Beverley won't command anything close to a big deal, but he'll set a tenacious culture wherever he lands.
Botkin: Potentially, DeMarcus Cousins. He didn't show enough in his time with Golden State -- both for the time it took to get his feet under him in the system and the fact that he re-injured himself in the playoffs -- to draw anything close to max offers. In fact, he might not get more than another one- or perhaps two-year deal. That said, he averaged 16 and 8 for the Warriors and is still easily a 20-10 player that could, potentially, pop for even more than that. At a price, he could end up being a steal.
Siddiqi: JJ Redick. Although he's 35 years old, he's coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high in points per game (18.1) while converting on 39.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. Considering he could possibly be had for the veteran's minimum -- think Los Angeles Lakers -- the addition of the veteran sharpshooter could be the difference between a team winning a title and not winning one.
4. In contrast, which free agent will offer the worst value?
Forgrave: The obvious answer is Kevin Durant, who will offer zero value this coming season as he rehabs his injury. The less obvious answer is D'Angelo Russell. Will his breakout season cause a team to offer Russell a monster contract in restricted free agency? If so, buyer beware -- if only because Russell's impressive offensive attributes are counterbalanced on the defensive end, where he's, er, not great.
Botkin: Unless a second star comes with him, Kyrie is not a guy I would commit four years of a max contract to. If he's the best player and the "leader" of your team, you're not a title contender. Even the Celtics, as stacked as that team was, swam upstream all year long with the weight of Kyrie's mood swings and solitary playing style dragging behind them.
Outside of Kyrie, I'd be very careful giving Jimmy Butler a max deal. With his mileage, you could be looking at a Chris Paul falloff in the second half of that deal, and even at his best, Butler hasn't proven to be a franchise player. If you're winning a title, he's got to be your second- or even third-best player. Is that worth a max salary? Depending on your tax situation, it could be, but be careful.
Siddiqi: Al Horford. He's reportedly ready to move on from Boston as he looking for a four-year contract. Keep in mind, this is a guy that's 33 years old and just declined a $30.1 million player option because he's likely to command even more money on the free agent market. As respected and experienced as Horford is, he's not going to catapult any team that's on the cusp of a championship into suddenly becoming the favorite to win the title next season. Any contending team that signs the 33-year-old Horford to a four-year max deal is going to immediately regret it now and down the road.
5. Which team is your pick to come out of free agency as the biggest winner?
Forgrave: The Los Angeles Clippers. In order for that to happen, that'll mean my prior prediction -- Kawhi staying in Toronto -- will prove wrong. But the Clippers have been doing too much in positioning themselves for a successful offseason for them to swing and miss this summer. They have among the most available cap space of any team, the single-most attractive city for NBA players, a great coach, a solid foundation to build on and one of the best cultures in the NBA.
Botkin: The Warriors. I believe they're going to get Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson back.
Siddiqi: Knicks. As crazy as it sounds as of this writing, I expect New York to make a major splash by signing two max-level free agents. Outside of the Nets, they'll enter free agency with the most money to spend -- nearly $60 million -- and the allure of playing in the Big Apple along with Irving will create a domino effect that will encourage other free agents to sign with New York.
Ignore the fact that the Knicks have been an extremely dysfunctional organization since the turn of the century. Steve Mills and Scott Perry have this franchise trending in the right direction. With the Celtics likely to be major losers this offseason, the Knicks will have the opportunity to lift themselves into being a tier below the Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks by signing Irving and a second max-level free agent along with several role players heading into the 2019-20 season.
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