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.

LeBron cements place in NBA, Lakers pantheon with all-time scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans were slow to warm to LeBron James when he came West in 2018.

Lakers nation was excited about the possibilities but held him at arm’s length. Part of that was the shadow of Kobe Bryant — L.A. was his town, these were his fans, and LeBron felt like a mercenary by comparison. Was LeBron coming to town to carry on the Lakers’ legacy, or to make movies and television shows? It didn’t help that his first team didn’t even make the playoffs, and a year later when LeBron did win a title in purple and gold, Lakers fans had to watch it on television while isolated in their homes. There could be no championship parade, there wasn’t the same sense of community around the city.

Tuesday night, Lakers fans fully embraced LeBron, and he cemented his place in NBA history and the Lakers’ pantheon.

With a free throw line turnaround jumper in the third quarter, LeBron became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, passing the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 35,388 points.

“I write that ‘Man in the Arena’ on my shoe every single night, from Theodore Roosevelt. Tonight I actually felt like I was like sitting on top of the arena,” LeBron said. “When that shot went in and the roar from the crowd, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to feel that feeling again, unless it’s like a game-winning Finals shot…

“Everything just stopped and it gave me an opportunity just to kind of embrace it and look around. And seeing my family, seeing the fans, seeing my friends, it was, it was, it was pretty cool.”

As the shot fell through the net, LeBron raised his arms and Lakers fans roared as loud as this building has ever heard — it sounded with the echoes of the Shaq/Kobe era and Kobe’s wild 60-point final game. It was history made in purple and gold, it cemented with fans LeBron’s Lakers legacy.

Play was stopped and LeBron soon doubled over with the emotion of the moment. He was wiping away tears, while his sons sitting courtside were filming him on their phones (the way teenagers must in this era).

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sitting courtside and was gracious, despite what had been a frosty relationship between the pair in the past. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Abdul-Jabbar took part in a brief ceremony to mark the historic occasion. Then LeBron made an emotional address to the crowd — and dropped an F-bomb at the end, a sign of the emotions and lack of a filter in that moment.

By the middle of the first quarter, it started to feel as if this could be the night, as if LeBron could get to the 36 points he needed. The energy was high, but LeBron started the game 0-of-2 shooting and focusing more on what he has always done — making the right basketball play and dishing off when the defense overloads on him — much to the frustration of the crypto.com arena crowd urging on history. He eventually broke that streak four minutes in with a corner 3.

Soon after LeBron went into attack mode. He was able to get downhill, getting into the paint seemingly at will, and when the Thunder point-of-attack defenders started to play back to take the drive, he knocked down 3s. LeBron had 20 at the half, was scoring whenever he wanted, and told his sons he was getting the record this night.

“I felt pretty good, I got into a good rhythm, and once I get in a good rhythm, then I can make any shot on the floor,” LeBron said describing the moment he set the record. “You know, to break the record, I was able to get to a really good spot where I’m very comfortable with and get to one of my patented fadeaway shots.”

It fell. Saying he is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer is another pillar holding up his GOAT argument. It’s another chapter in a career that has been in the spotlight since high school but never felt off track. And it was a shot that forever cemented his legacy with West, Wilt, Shaq, Kobe, Magic and the pantheon of Lakers greats in the hearts of Lakers fans.

Watch LeBron James set NBA all-time scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looking on from courtside, LeBron James hit a free-throw line turnaround jumper to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,388 points.

After the bucket, LeBron raised his hands to the air and exhorted the crowd, but soon the moment hit him and he doubled over with the emotion of the moment, his hands on his knees. The game was stopped for a few minutes to celebrate the moment, with Abdul-Jabbar and NBA Comissioner Adam Silver came out on the floor for a short ceremony. LeBron addressed the crowd before play resumed.

On a night it felt like the Lakers forgot to bring their defense home from the Grammys road trip, LeBron had to take on more of a scoring load to keep his team in the game. The Thunder were not playing great defense either, allowing LeBron to get downhill and score in the paint early. Once he got a few buckets to fall, the floodgates opened — and the Lakers crowd roared as loudly as this building has ever heard to urge him towards the record. A fanbase that has seen more than its share of greatness and history embraced the moment.

And they embraced the player, which was not always the case in Los Angeles. It was LeBron’s night and a very special moment of history.

 

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

TRADE: It’s official: Nets Kessler Edwards to the Kings

Kings receive: Kessler Edwards
Nets receive: Cash, the draft rights to David Michineau (who plays forNapoli Basket in Italy)

Analysis: As noted below when we first mentioned this trade could happen, this is a salary dump by the Nets, who free up a roster spot and $8 million in salary and tax. Edwards had fallen out of the Brooklyn rotation this season, but Sacramento gets a look at a young wing defender, reportedly sending him to their G-League team to get a little run and show what he can do. Edwards, a second-round pick (number 44 overall in 2021 out of Pepperdine), has a $1.9 million player option for next season.

Feb. 7, 8:05 P.M.: Warriors softening stance on trading James Wiseman

• It’s incredibly difficult to throw in the towel on a No.2 pick, and the Golden State Warriors rarely make in-season trades. However, with the defending champs hovering around .500 — and now without Stephen Curry for maybe a month — Golden State is softening its position on a possible James Wiseman trade, reports Anthony Slater at The Athletic. Same with Moses Moody, a developing young guard who can’t help the Warriors much this season. What are the Warriors looking for? Veterans who can help this season, at just about any position across the board.

• It’s not trade related but passing it along anyway: Kevin Durant will miss the All-Star Game due to his knee injury, the Nets announced. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will appoint his replacement.

• Also being reported about All-Star weekend: the Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe has pulled out of the Dunk Contest.

Feb. 7, 4:10 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• We are very close to another trade, but it’s another cap space move primarily: The Nets will send second-year forward Kessler Edwards to the Kings in exchange for cash, reports both Shams Charnia at The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. The Kings, looking for defense, get a young wing defender they can roll the dice on, while the Nets open up a roster spot for future moves and save $8 million against the tax. Edwards showed some potential as a rookie, but in his second year (on a deeper Brooklyn team) he has been outside the rotation, and not impressed when he has gotten into games. He has a team option for $1.9 million next season. Edwards can veto the trade because of Bird Rights issues but is expected to approve it.

• It’s now official, Mat Ishbia has taken control of the Phoenix Suns organization. We don’t know what kind of owner Ishbia will be, but there is a sense he will spend more willingly and be more aggressive than the Robert Sarver regime – he reportedly is pushing for the team to make a splash at the trade deadline — which is good for Suns fans and the league. Plus, he will clean up the troubles in the organization that pushed Sarver out.

Feb. 7, 3:05 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• Kevin Durant and the Nets are talking about the long-term (and likely short-term) direction of the franchise, but Brooklyn is not making its other superstar available to teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This provides details and is in line with what sources from other teams have told NBC Sports (and I have reported previously): They are under the impression the Nets are going to try and build a contender around KD this season, maybe including another deal or two, and try to convince him to stay. If Durant ends up on the move, it will be over the summer.

• The backup big man market is one of the most crowded at the trade deadline, but you can add another name to it: JaVale McGee. Dallas is looking to move on, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

• The Nuggets and Pistons are the teams talking to New York most recently about a Cam Reddish trade, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV. Reddish remains one of the players most likely to be on the move by Thursday.

• Kyrie Irving practiced with the Mavericks today — he was the first player to the facilities — and is expected to make his debut with the team Wednesday night.

Feb. 7, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and are expected to waive Dedmon, making him a free agent.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

LeBron James: ‘I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game’

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans
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What did you expect him to say?

LeBron James is on the cusp of breaking the NBA’s all-time scoring record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar since 1984. LeBron is just 36 points shy of the record and could set it Tuesday night against the Thunder in Los Angeles or Thursday against the Bucks. His taking over one of basketball’s most hallowed — and long-considered unbreakable — records only adds to his tally in the GOAT debate… except it’s not a debate for LeBron. He is confident where he stands, something he told Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register (and Southern California News Group).

“What I bring to the table as a basketball player … I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game,” he said. “That’s just my confidence, that’s just what I bring to the table, what I possess. But as far as if the scoring record gets me to another level, I don’t know.”

Again, what did you expect him to say? If LeBron didn’t have the confidence to make that statement, he wouldn’t be in a position to break the record or be in the GOAT conversation at all. Not everybody is going to see things the same way, but it’s at least a conversation.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

The impressive part of LeBron’s run is that he has played at this insanely high level for 20 years — his commitment to conditioning, to investing in his body as far back as high school, is paying off now. For LeBron to have played 20 seasons without missing significant time due to injury is a combination of his intense preparation and a little luck. All that work, all those years are paying off now.

LeBron will have another pillar for his GOAT argument once he breaks the record. Not that he thinks he need it.