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Looking ahead: Top free 10 free agents in the wild summer of 2019

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There was one big theme NBA’s summer of 2018: The one-year contract.

Nearly half of the contracts signed by free agents took either a one-year contract or a two-year deal that gives them the ability to opt out after one year. Why? Because 2018 was a very tight financial market with only a few teams having cap space to spend and a lot of teams up against the luxury tax (thanks to the cap-spike spending binge of 2016). However, look ahead to 2019 at least half the teams in the NBA are expected to have $20 million or more to spend. Agents and players see the potential another 2016-like summer of paydays, with teams spending big, and everyone wants to cash in.

I mean everyone — there are 450 players in the NBA and nearly 200 will be free agents next summer. As one team executive told me at Summer League, it’s going to be a saturated market. Not just the elite players but a couple of teirs down will get paid as well, however, many others will be disappointed with what is left on the table when it’s their turn.

The summer of 2019 is going to be wild, and we’re looking at the best players on the market next summer.

One non-free agent thing to watch in July 2019: The Pelicans will be able to offer Anthony Davis a super-max five year contract extension in the $235 million ballpark (depending on the cap in a couple of years). Does he sign it and stay committed to New Orleans? If not the jockeying for trades will come fast and furiously.

Here are the top free agents of 2019 broken out into three categories, only the last — the guys with the most potential to change teams — have been put into the official top 10.

Free agents who are not not going anywhere:

Kevin Durant (player option): He may not choose to opt out after just singing a two-year contract with the Warriors, but KD has the right to. Either way, nobody around the league thinks he will be on the move.

Klay Thompson: He is the target of fan bases around the league, and on paper he is the one of the Warriors’ big four they could come closest to replicating the production of with other players. Thing is, Thompson doesn’t want to leave and the Warriors don’t want him to go. Thompson is a different cat, not driven by the “me-first” ego of some who would want their own team or a larger role (or more marketing focus on a less crowded team). Thompson’s priprity is winning and the Warriors are doing that. Thompson has talked about taking a discount for the Warriors and likely will, and they will re-sign him.

The Restricted free agent big names:

Kristaps Porzingis: The Knicks and KP will work out the terms of a max extension before the season starts. Even if something went wrong and he went to restricted free agency, New York would still match any offer. He is not going anywhere.

Karl-Anthony Towns: The Timberwolves and Towns are already talking max extension (that offer is on the table but Towns wants to talk to management first), that contract will get done. That may signal more about the future direction of the franchise and who will be on their way out, but no way the Timberwolves do not get this done.

Terry Rozier: He is one quality rotation player that could be gone from Boston due to saving financially in the future. If he is not traded this season (a real possibility) he may be someone who can be poached next summer.

Other restricted free agents include D'Angelo Russell and Kelly Oubre.

The 10 biggest name remaining free agents:

1) Kawhi Leonard (player option): He will opt out and the Lakers are considered the frontrunners. However, Toronto has a season to woo him, and next summer the Knicks, Sixers and other teams will come calling (as long as he stays healthy and proves he is still close to the MVP-level player of a couple of years ago). Leonard will have options.

2) Kyrie Irving (player option): Danny Ainge traded the much-desired Brooklyn pick for Irving and sees him as the kind of shot creator and scorer the Celtics need with all their versatile talents at other positions. Ainge will want to pay the man, and winning does matter. But if Irving and the guy next on this list want to team up, as they reportedly have discussed, there will be teams that can absorb both contracts.

3) Jimmy Butler (player option): He is frustrated in Minnesota and is looking to get out — he could get traded during the season, but even if he stays a lot of things will have to change for him to want to stay. With the Timberwolves maxing out Towns, Butler seems the man on the way out the door. He will have options from Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between.

4) Kevin Love (player option): Update: Love has agreed to sign a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavaliers (beyond the one remianing year on his contract. So, it took all of a few hours for this list to become dated, you can scratch him off the free agent list. Love scored 17.6 points and grabbed 9.3 rebounds a game last season, and he shot 41 percent from three. There aren’t many bigs as good or who fit the modern game like Love.

5) Al Horford (player option): The versatile big man may not opt out (he is scheduled to make $30 million), but if he does the Celtics will keep him — he is the glue that binds this roster. His ability to anything well provides the flexibility Brad Stevens needs, and Danny Ainge knows that. The two sides could talk contract extension as well.

6) Kemba Walker: The All-Star point guard has said he wants to stay a Hornet, and right now new GM Mitch Kupchak (on orders from owner Michael Jordan) say they want to keep him and compete, not rebuild. However, a lot can change in a year and a lot of teams with money looking for better play at the point guard spot will come calling — Walker will have options. Will he take any of them, or stay in Charlotte?

7) DeAndre Jordan: He is poised for a bounce-back season in Dallas (not that 12 points per game on 64.5 percent shooting plus 15.2 rebounds per game and a 20.2 PER is bad) — he missed Chis Paul feeding him the rock, and now he will have Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic throwing lobs. Jordan is one of the few old-school style centers who can still be a major contributor in the NBA, and after this season he will be looking for a payday and security. He will want multiple years. Dallas may give it to him (depending on how this season goes) but there are other teams with quality point guards who could use him.

8) Goran Dragic (player option): He will be 33 when the next free agency period roles around, and his player option is for $19.2 million, but he may seek the security of multiple years (in Miami or elsewhere). He is still a dangerous pick-and-roll man with the ball in his hands (it accounted for 55 percent of his possessions last season) and he scored 17.3 points per game, dished out 4.8 assists, and shot 37 percent from there. There will be demand for his services if he wants to test the market, or he could stay in Miami.

9) Marc Gasol (player option): He will b e 34 next July, his skills have been in decline for a couple of seasons now, players at his position are finding it hard to get paid, and he has a $25.6 million player option. He may well pick that up. If not, he still is a big man who can play in the modern NBA — he averaged 17.2 points per game last season, shot 34.1 percent from three, is strong on the boards and is a big body in the paint. He will have suitors, just not as many as he might expect. He has said before he does not plan to leave Memphis.

10) DeMarcus Cousins: This could be too low for him on this list. If he bounces back from his ruptured Achilese and is 90 percent of who he was before — and if he fits in as a good teammate in Golden State, maybe helps them win a ring — he will have a number of teams clamoring for his services (and he will make a lot more than the $5.3 million he is getting this season). That said, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury is not good, so there is a wait and see attitude about his free agency next summer.

Western Conference, NBA Finals predictions: Is another title coming to Los Angeles?

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The NBA season tips-off tonight night, which leaves us time for one last thing:

Our Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and yesterday we laid out who we thought would win the East. Today we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Western Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Denver
2. Utah
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Houston
5. L.A.Lakers
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. San Antonio
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Philadelphia

I’ve never gone into a season less confident in my predictions. For example, I think Dallas has a very good shot at the eight seed (maybe Sacramento, too), but I simply cannot pick against the Spurs. The order of these teams could easily shift, the West will be so close that just losing a star for a few weeks to a sprained ankle could dramatically change a team’s seeding. I’m comfortable that systems and continuity will keep Denver and Utah at the top of the regular season standings, but the playoffs will feel completely different. The Los Angeles teams are better built for the postseason than anyone else (although I think Utah has a chance to crash the party). I trust the depth and the wing defense of the Clippers more than the Lakers, so Doc Rivers will get back to playing in June. For the Finals, I’ll take the Clippers over the Sixers, but I don’t say that with a lot of confidence.

Dan Feldman:

1. Houston
2. Denver
3. L.A. Clippers
4. L.A. Lakers
5. Utah
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Milwaukee

There’s a rare divergence between teams prepared for the regular season and teams prepared for the playoffs, which makes this prediction difficult enough. Adding to the complications: The West is so deep, leaving few postseason locks. For some teams, a few moderate breaks in either direction could make the difference between making the Western Conference finals and missing the playoffs entirely.

The last playoff spot was an extremely tough call between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Kings weren’t that far behind, either. Kawhi Leonard just showed an ability to get through the regular season and bring elite production to a deep postseason run. LeBron James has done it the previous several years. That’s why the Clippers and Lakers get so much benefit of the doubt. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis is a better second star than the Clippers’ Paul George, but I have more trust in the Clippers’ depth — from the front office to the coaching staff to other players.

Dane Delgado:
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.

Everyone is picking the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, and for good reason. This is not just a team that lumped together several superstars trying to make a playoff push. This time around, it’s a bit different. Los Angeles was already a solid team before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived and their most important players from last year — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley — are all back. Doc Rivers, whose reputation as a coach was in question heading into last season, has solidified is legacy simply by what he could squeeze out of this the Clippers team last season. If L.A. can make it to the Western Conference Finals this year, it would not surprise anyone. The real question will be health. Leonard has shown he is willing to battle through various ailments to perform on the highest stage, but George’s shoulders are a real concern. Still, if you were placing bets on the best team in the west, it makes sense to go with the team that’s been able to stay intact while at the same time adding to generational superstars. It may be a bridge too far to pick the Clippers to win the NBA championship in 2020, but it’d be a safe move at this juncture to slot them in as the West champs.

Michael Jordan says Stephen Curry is not a Hall of Famer, yet

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Three-time NBA Champion. Two-time MVP. Six-time All-NBA. Six-time All-Star. Scoring champion. And the best pure shooter the game has ever seen, a player whose style helped revolutionize the way the game is played. A player idolized and imitated by youth on blacktop courts around the globe.

Even if he quit the sport today and walked away, Stephen Curry is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer…

Unless you ask Michael Jordan.

Jordan just did a few interviews around the opening of a medical clinic he paid for in Charlotte to help the underserved, and Hoops & Brews caught this gem in Jordan’s interview on NBC’s The Today Show (h/t Bleacher Report).

Yes, he is.

Technically Curry can’t be let into the club until five years after he retires, and at age 31 he’s got a few more good years in him — including this one, where he could have an MVP-level season. However, in practical terms, he is in. It’s not close. Done deal. Move along, nothing to see here.

It’s good the NBA games are starting because we need things to talk about other than this silliness.

 

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”

 

Doc Rivers says Los Angeles Lakers counting Minnesota titles “actually bugs me a little bit”

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Los Angeles is a Lakers town.

The Dodgers can get close to energizing the city the same way, although Dodger fans are a little cautious after the past few playoffs. The Rams and Chargers are in a league that ignored Los Angeles for a couple of decades, lost a couple of generations of fans, and it’s going to take time to win them back. The Kings’ following is passionate but not massive (same with the two MLS teams in town).

The Lakers are the team that fathers take their sons to see, like their fathers did before them. The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles…

About that, it’s really 11 in Los Angeles. The first five carried over from Minnesota (where the name Lakers makes more sense). That kind of bothers’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, something he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated in a story previewing the Clippers’ season.

“It is a Lakers town. I’m good with that. I have no issues with that,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told The Undefeated from his Staples Center office recently. “They have how many titles that they’ve won here? You know, they claim them all, but they only won a certain amount here. I will say that. That actually bugs me a little bit. … Having said that, that’s generations of loyalty.

“I look at us as, we’re creating our own movement. … We’re not trying to take away shine from the other. We’ve got our own thing going. I never thought we could get our own thing going. That was what I was so frustrated with being here. And now we got our own thing going.”

Carrying titles over is common… and controversial. Should the Dodgers be able to count Brooklyn titles? It feels wrong to think Oklahoma City could count Seattle’s titles. Should Sacramento be able to count the 1951 Rochester title? Personally, the Lakers carrying Minnesota’s doesn’t seem a big issue, but you know Rivers is going to take a shot at the Lakers when he can.

That hallway rivalry at Staples Center is building.

Few things seem to irritate Lakers fans like the Clippers putting posters of players over the Lakers’ title banners at Staples Center for Clippers home games. Lakers fans think of Staples as their building — and it might not exist but for the draw of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. However, Staples is owned by AEG (whose primary owner is Philip Anschutz, who owns the NHL’s Kings), not the Lakers. It’s a hockey building.

Doc is right about one thing: The Clippers have their own thing going.

The Clippers, on paper, are the better Los Angeles team and better built for the playoffs with versatile wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have more trusted depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Tuesday night’s Clippers’ home opener will go how it goes — LeBron James and Anthony Davis will go for the Lakers, Paul George is out for weeks still for the Clippers — but a playoff battle between these teams this season could be epic.

And decide who gets to hang the next banner in Staples Center.