2019 Free Agency
Four big questions heading into 2019 NBA free agency
Point guard roulette, creating cap space, Kawhi and KD, and big market dreams
Matt Petersen, NBA.com
The doors don’t open for NBA free agency until Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, but that hasn’t stopped teams/players from lining up overnight. Meetings are reportedly scheduled, interest conveyed and options examined in advance of the league’s version of Black Friday.
With much of the groundwork already laid for many of the higher profile names, here’s a look at the ripple effects of what we’ve heard so far:
1. Who wins at point guard musical chairs?
Kemba Walker is reportedly set to come to terms with the Boston Celtics. Ditto for Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. Both moves require both teams to rescind qualifying offers to their respective incumbent point guards. Translation: D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn) and Terry Rozier (Boston) will likely be free to sign wherever they wish.
Russell is the next biggest point guard domino to fall, assuming Walker and Irving are truly spoken for. The Minnesota Timberwolves have reportedly already set up a meeting with him, while the Los Angeles Lakers have contacted his representatives in an effort to do so.
Minnesota and L.A. may not be the last teams to want an audience with the 23-year-old All-Star. The question is whether other teams needing a point guard — including Indiana and Phoenix — want their own shot with Russell or decide to move on to less buzzworthy candidates.
An unrestricted Rozier likely ranks high on that next list, with Ricky Rubio and Patrick Beverley also expected to command significant interest. Whoever misses out on all three will be left to choose among the likes of Elfrid Payton, T.J. McConnell, Cory Joseph and Ish Smith among others.
2. What do Minnesota, Miami and Houston have up their sleeves?
None of the above three teams have cap space readily available, yet all three have reportedly secured meetings with high-profile free agents (Minnesota with Russell, the Heat and Rockets with Jimmy Butler). Odds are good their agents would not green light such meetings without assurances the necessary money could be made available. If such avenues exist, what are they, and what other team is ready to provide them?
The Timberwolves’ interest in Russell would seemingly point to a desired departure from veteran point guard Jeff Teague. The 31-year-old playmaker is entering the last season of his contract. Off the court, Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell share a deep friendship. Has Minnesota found someone interested in Teague’s talent and/or expiring contract? Or do the Timberwolves have a plan involving former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who is set to begin the first year of a five-year max deal?
Miami Heat president Pat Riley has never let flimsy excuses like cap space impede him from getting a meeting with superstars. Yet Miami has eight players slated to earn more than $10 million next season, and will need to shift two or three of them in order to land Butler.
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been, if anything, even more ambitious than Riley in recent seasons. His unexpected maneuvering to land Chris Paul in 2017 took the league by complete surprise. He should not be underestimated when it comes to cap gymnastics.
Morey may be limbering up. Reported meetings with Butler and Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney — combined with recent reports of Houston gauging trade interest in Eric Gordon and Clint Capela — suggest the Rockets may be ready to alter the supporting cast around James Harden. Actually pulling it off with Butler may require the Philadelphia 76ers’ help. Whether they feel compelled to give it likely depends on their fears of Butler leaving them without any compensation.
3. The great unknowns
Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant sit atop the free agent food chain, yet there is less solid information about them than anyone.
Does Leonard want to form the next super team in Los Angeles with LeBron James and Anthony Davis? Does he wish to remain with the newly crowned Toronto Raptors? Or does he yearn for the next alpha challenge in a market like New York?
What of Durant, who likely will not play at all in 2019-20? Has his time in the Bay run its course? Do reports of his interest in playing with Leonard hold water? Does his torn Achilles affect his approach at all?
4. How desperate do the big markets get?
The Lakers, Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks entered the offseason with a shared goal: add star power. The Lakers already have James and Davis, but that’s about all they have on their entire roster. The Nets supposedly have Irving all but ready to sign, but they opened up two max cap slots for a reason. The Clippers and Knicks both have high hopes, much cap space and zero assurances to this point (that we know of).
If any of these teams whiff on the rest of the available big names, how will they pivot? Do they scramble to spend on the likes of Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton or Malcolm Brogdon? Do shorter deals with DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan strike their fancy? Or will the teams that miss out simply spend the minimum and keep their cap space to use in trades or next summer?
Less than 24 hours until we start getting all the answers.
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