NBA free agency 2019: Beyond Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, Raptors and Warriors face big questions after Finals
A look at what lies ahead for Golden State and Toronto as the offseason approaches
The NBA Finals ended less than a week ago, and both teams involved could look radically different soon. Nobody knows if Kawhi Leonard, the man who won Finals MVP, will return to the Toronto Raptors as a free agent. Golden State Warriors stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both suffered serious leg injuries in the Finals, just ahead of free agency. Beyond those big names, there are serious questions looming for both teams this offseason.
We'll start with the big ones, though:
1. What is going on in Leonard's head?
At the Raptors' championship parade on Monday, Leonard cracked jokes and raved about the city of Toronto, his coach and his teammates. He and his uncle, Dennis Robertson, had smiles on their faces when Kyle Lowry started a "FIVE MORE YEARS!" chant. It would be difficult to script this season any better from the Raptors' perspective, and it's hard to imagine that becoming a national hero wouldn't affect his outlook at all.
Leonard, however, did not take the opportunity to announce he would stay. He told a group of reporters, including the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat, that "it's not time to stress" and "I'm here to have fun," shedding no light on his decision-making process other than saying that "me and my group is going to sit down with each other" when it is time to figure it out. Unlike the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto cannot offer Leonard warm weather and the chance to play at home. He is the most inscrutable superstar in sports, so no one knows how he'll weigh that against what he has experienced with the Raptors.
(There is an interesting sub-question here: How long will Leonard's next contract be? One might assume that he would sign the longest deal possible to protect against injury, but he could also consider becoming a free agent in 2021 -- that summer, he will have 10 years of experience, making him eligible for a maximum salary starting at 35 percent of the salary cap.)
2. Does Durant want to rehab on Golden State's time?
Durant will all but certainly miss the entire 2019-20 season rehabilitating his ruptured right Achilles tendon. A lot can change in a year, so it might make sense for him to pick up his $31.5 million player option and explore free agency a year later than he planned to.
If Durant has his heart set on starting another new chapter, though, it would be a bit weird to stick around. He is the rare player who can command a maximum contract weeks after this injury. If he leaves, the Warriors will not be in a position to replace him with another max player. Even if he stays, though, they will need to reshape their roster.
One way in which Durant can help Golden State simply by picking up that player option: As long as he is deemed likely to miss the entire season, the team would get a disabled player exception, which is worth about $9 million and can be used to sign a free agent or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.
3. Klay is staying, right?
Thompson has indicated all along that he wants to remain a Warrior. I would be shocked if anything changed, even after tearing his ACL, as Golden State is expected to offer him a five-year max deal. End of answer.
4. Will Gasol go the Horford route?
Al Horford, a brainy, 33-year-old big man, will reportedly with the intention of signing a multi-year deal with the Boston Celtics. Marc Gasol, a brainy, 34-year-old big man, has a $25.6 million player option, and his intentions are unclear.
If Gasol picks up the option, then he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, as will Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka. Pascal Siakam will be a restricted free agent at the same time if he has not already signed an extension. This would be neat for Toronto's roster-building purposes, but that doesn't mean it is Gasol's ideal scenario. He could go the Horford route, prioritizing medium-to-long-term security over a higher 2019-20 salary.
The tricky thing here is that Gasol, like the rest of us, doesn't know what Leonard will do. "I don't think there's any other player of his caliber right now in the NBA," Gasol told reporters Sunday, per the Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur, adding that he is sure that Leonard's decision will have something to do with his own free agency. He can only wait Leonard out, though, if he decides to turn down that $25.6 million option.
5. What will Cousins' market look like?
The DeMarcus Cousins experiment was only supposed to last a year. Golden State used the mini-MLE (mid-level exception) to sign up to a one-year, $5.3 million deal last summer, and it does not have his Bird rights. The plan was simple: Get healthy without the pressure of coming back to carry a team, then win a title and sign a max contract somewhere else. That plan was derailed, as Cousins tore his left quadriceps in his second playoff game and had to play through pain in the Finals.
Last Friday, Steve Kerr told reporters he hoped Cousins would be able to make more money than the Warriors could offer him, but "could absolutely foresee a place for DeMarcus if he wanted to come back," via The Athletic's Anthony Slater. The center will have suitors, but those suitors might not offer him the sort of contract he wants. He could once again take a one-year deal to prove to the league that he can get back to his old, dominant self and not be such a massive defensive liability. There are worse places than Golden State to do that, especially considering the touches that will be available with Durant and Thompson sidelined.
6. Can Toronto keep its glue guy?
"I know I've been a pain in the ass all year, trying to be a player-coach and teach you guys some habits and things and how to be a champion," Danny Green told his Raptors teammates at their championship parade. That comment shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed the team closely this season, as the wing earned all sorts of praise for his leadership. He also probably should have been named to an All-Defensive team, and he finished second in 3-point percentage and fourth in raw plus-minus in the regular season. He will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
It is possible that Green's inconsistent postseason will drag down his market value, but I doubt it. He ties lineups together with his shooting and defense, and there are plenty of teams in need of someone like him. In 2015, Green gave the Spurs a massive discount by signing a four-year, $40 million deal. The Raptors must hope that he once again values the comfort and familiarity that comes with staying put.
7. Did Looney play himself out of Golden State?
Last July, center Kevon Looney signed a one-year minimum contract with the Warriors. In early May, it looked like he was in line for a $3M to $5M salary on his next deal, per front-office people polled by The Athletic's Ethan Sherwood Strauss. That number will likely be significantly larger now, thanks to his playoff performance.
Looney rebounds, sets screens and finishes around the rim. Occasionally, he can hit a midrange jumper. He understands Golden State's offensive system, rarely makes defensive mistakes and doesn't try to do too much. The Warriors do not want to lose him, but they will have competition for his services, especially because he is still just 23 years old. There could be a team out there who sees him as more than a rock-solid role player if given room to grow.
8. Can the Warriors find more depth?
Quinn Cook and Jonas Jerebko are unrestricted free agents. Jordan Bell and Damion Lee are restricted. Andrew Bogut will return to the NBL's Sydney Kings, and doesn't know if he'll come back to the NBA next spring. Golden State is in desperate need of depth, and, after Durant and Thompson's injuries, in particular need of shooting.
It's easy to go through the list of 2019 free agents and find players who would fit. (Here's a start: Garrett Temple, Jared Dudley, Trevor Ariza, George Hill, Justin Holiday, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, DeMarre Carroll.) It's harder to figure out which targets will be realistic, given the Warriors' constraints. They will likely have the mini-MLE, which is projected to be $5.7 million, at their disposal, and a Durant return would likely mean they have the aforementioned disabled player exception, too. (A Thompson return would not, unless a doctor determines he is likely to be out of action until mid-June.) Other than that, all they're left with is the veteran's minimum, and there might not be any David West types out there, willing to accept it.
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