While the Raptors closed out the NBA Finals with an impressive victory in Oakland, this doesn’t mean the end of the NBA until the next regular season. In fact, this merely means that one door of the NBA closes and another one opens. NBA free agency is huge. The Cleveland Cavaliers went from being an Eastern Conference powerhouse to a laughing stock following the loss of LeBron James. The NBA is a superstar-driven league. With plenty of big-name players available, this NBA offseason may be one of the biggest in history. The right addition can make you a dangerous threat, while the wrong one will damage your salary cap and throw the entire season into chaos. Here are my predictions for some of the biggest names this offseason in the NBA:
Kevin Durant- GSW, stays with GSW: Kevin Durant was one of the biggest storylines during the entire NBA Finals, yet he only played for 12 minutes. Durant played phenomenal during the playoffs averaging 32.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He is arguably the best player in the league- guaranteed top three- and he possesses a unique offensive and defensive skillset. He creates offense with his long-range shooting, his terrific pullup jump shot and his tenacity when he drives to the basket. His length makes him a great defensive player both in deterring shots and stealing loose balls. I believe that he truly wants to be on the Warriors, and he showed that by risking injury just to play with his teammates. The Warriors can offer him the most money, which he should take before another more serious injury may pop up, and they give him the best chance of immediately winning again. When given the choice between basically starting over or sticking with an established winning culture, Durant, in my opinion, will choose the latter.
Kawhi Leonard- TOR, stays with TOR: Kawhi Leonard has been a silent star, but he is also a polarizing one. Many NBA fans were divided on the situation he created with the San Antonio Spurs, and many Raptors fans were not initially huge fans of the acquisition. The price to acquire Leonard was high, but it proved to be worth it after the Raptors dethroned the Warriors in six games to win the NBA Finals. Leonard has a whole country adoring him, and I don’t understand the logic in leaving. The Raptors have a good supporting cast, and they seem to have good chemistry. Competing in the West is brutal, and Leonard may have a very easy path back to the NBA Finals if the East deteriorates. After just one season, Leonard lifted the Raptors, who suffered many playoff series struggles, to their first NBA Finals and NBA Championship. Leonard is the biggest wildcard due to his personality, but I can’t see another team being a better fit. He just beat one of the best NBA teams ever on the biggest stage; why leave and start over?
Kyrie Irving- BOS, leaves for BKN: The Celtics won the Isiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade, but they didn’t win tremendously in the fact it yielded almost nothing. The Celtics have so much going for them. The Celtics boast young talent, veteran leadership, a terrific head coach and possibly the best front office in the league. Despite all those positives, the Celtics are a flop because they can’t make all four connect and gel together. In just two seasons with Irving, the Celtics have not reached the NBA Finals once, despite the fact that they were arguably the most complete team in the Eastern Conference both seasons. Irving wants to win, and the Celtics can’t seem to string wins together consistently. After averaging 23.8 points, 6.9 assists, and 5 rebounds per game this past season, Irving still wasn’t able to make things work. The Nets are a young exciting team. Even with much less star power, the Nets finished with just seven less wins than the Celtics. A tandem of Irving and D’Angelo Russell would be an interesting pairing, and I believe signing with ROC Sports shows Irving wants to be with the Nets. Irving went to high school in New Jersey, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the star point guard come home.
Kemba Walker- CHA , stays with CHA: Kemba Walker is intriguing for many reasons. He finished with his best statistical season ever averaging 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, but it wasn’t enough to launch the Charlotte Hornets into the playoffs. Walker almost carried a limping Hornets team to the promised land, but he came up just short. The Hornets are not an elite team, and Walker is in his prime. By all normal standards, most would assume that Walker would be gone. Despite the struggles of the team, the Hornets may be able to keep him from leaving as Walker made it known that the Hornets are his “first priority”. Walker is definitely a top free agent and has been linked to many other teams including the Lakers and Knicks. I think if the Hornets get him the right contract that Walker will stay with the team. It would be a refreshing pace from the frequent movement of stars that we see this summer.
Klay Thompson- GSW, stays with GSW: Klay Thompson sacrificed everything in Game 6 of the NBA Finals; however, that injury may sideline him for most or all of the 2019 NBA season. Will he still attract major suitors? Obviously, yes, but what will his contract and the dollar breakdown of it look like now? Thompson’s father stated there is “no question” that Thompson returns to the Warriors. I believe him. Thompson and Curry together are like peanut butter and jelly- terrific, and they leave you wanting more Thompson averaged 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game with the Warriors this season. While Thompson made the “Splash Brothers” a dynamic shooting duo, does he want to lead his own team? The only reason I could see Thompson signing elsewhere is for the ability to forge his own destiny. Ultimatley, I feel he resigns and the Warriors keep their shooters inked long term.
Jimmy Butler- PHI, leaves for LAL/ stays with PHI: Jimmy Butler will end up next season in one of two places- Philadelphia or Los Angeles. I am still not 100% sure. After two different teams, both of which had chemistry that clashed with Butler, he seemed to have his best fit ever with the 76ers. Butler averaged 18.7 points per game, 5.3 rebounds and 4 assists per game last season. The 76ers came up just a few bounces short of making the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly become NBA Champions. I believe Butler will either go to the Lakers or 76ers. The winner of the Butler sweepstakes will be the one who builds the better lineup that he finds more desirable. I think if both build equally flashy lineups that Butler will choose to stay in Philadelphia and take the more stable option.
Those players listed above are the six biggest free agents. I will list my other predictions below, but there is one key factor to embrace: time. For example, I believe the Lakers will get a big name free agent. If Butler goes to the Lakers as the first free agent to choose, then other players, for example Demarcus Cousins, may become impossible simply due to dollars and cents. Not only is it difficult to predict free agent movement because of personality but also because of timing. The superstars are like oligopolies in economics terms- they all will play off of each other. Here are some of my other predictions:
- Karl Anthony Towns will sign a max with the Timberwolves
- Kristaps Porzingis will sign a long term deal with the Mavericks
- DeMarcus Cousins joins either the Lakers or the Knicks (depending on Butler)
- Al Horford remains with the Celtics
- Khris Middleton stays with the Bucks
- Tobias Harris joins either the Nets, 76ers or Knicks (depending on Butler)
- Nikola Vucevic becomes a member of the Atlanta Hawks
- D’Angelo Russell either stays with the Nets (depending on Irving) or goes to the Knicks