It’s a new world and NBA championships matter less to basketball journalists than free agency destinations. So I thought I’d create a primer of sorts to contextualize the barrage of NBA free agency speculation currently being rammed down your throat.
When does NBA free agency actually start?
NBA free agency officially begins June 30th, but teams cannot officially announce signings until July 6th. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Yet another archaic rule that has its roots in history, but makes absolutely no sense today. It’s like forcing traded NBA draft picks to wear the wrong caps on their draft night. It’s time to modernize.
Why can some teams offer more money than other teams?
Well, there is a rule here that actually does make sense. A few years ago, in an effort to assist small-market teams in retaining their stars (who historically would inevitably leave for big-market teams during FA), teams can offer their indigenous star players an extra year & higher annual salaries relative to any other team in the league. The math to calculate the specific amounts for the respective players is actually somewhat complex – contingent on the player’s experience level and career accomplishments. As a general rule, the older and more productive the player, the more money they are eligible to make…
In the end, the average salary isn’t that much higher between a “home” team and the competition. But five years can be offered instead of four years. This disparity can be a pretty solid incentive for a player looking to maximize their guaranteed money. It will be interesting to see how injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson affect the free agency marketplace. Will star players max out their money due to fear of injury?
Who is a free agent?
Well, that’s a joke.
Due to the escalating emphasis NBA players have placed on player movement, this might be considered the most significant free agency period in NBA history. The sheer volume of players available – and the number of legitimate stars available – is basically unprecedented. This free agency period is going to determine the short-term direction of the league for the immediate future.
While there are literally hundreds of free agents available (which is pretty amazing for a league that only has 450 active roster spots), I have highlighted the free agents I view as the most significant. I’ll give some brief analysis, recap the dominant rumors and tip off some lazy GMs.
So put down the popcorn, put Stephen A Smith on pause and jump into the buzziest names of the 2019-20 NBA free agency class.
The Stars Headlining NBA Free Agency
I have already analyzed Kawhi Leonard’s possible free agency destinations here (link). But I view Leonard as the most influential free agent available. Durant is going to miss all of the 2019-20 season, so Leonard’s pending decision could dictate who wins the championship next year.
Durant’s incredibly stupid decision to play through a severe ankle injury for a handful of minutes in the Finals changed the entire league. This current free agency period was basically thought of as The “Kevin Durant” Sweepstakes. But that changed when he suffered a gruesome Achilles injury. He will likely never be thought of as the best player in the world ever again.
For a 30-year old player about to miss a full year of NBA basketball, he’ll be lucky to maintain 85-90% of his athleticism upon his eventual/hopeful return. With that said, he still does have free agency options. The voracious appetite for Durant has subsided quite a bit, but he will likely still field max contract offers from Golden State and the New York Knicks, with some other teams poking around.
Technically still retaining a player option, Durant could delay his free agency by a year. But all reports indicate that Golden State and the Knicks are the main competitors for his services, with the guilt-ridden Warriors the presumed favorite. I would personally be surprised if Durant bounces, in light of the surrounding uncertainty regarding his injury. But Durant has always marched to the beat of his own drum.
Speaking of unpredictable players, here is one who believes the earth is flat. Honestly, I think this guy is a complete dullard. Having played basketball most of my life, there is this strange phenomenon I’ve observed where the most talented player on any basketball team also believes he is the smartest. I’ve done pick-up runs with US prep school stars that engage me in political debates when I am 20 years older than them and retain a degree from an esteemed university.
Some of the dumbest views I have ever heard articulated have come from the mouths of entitled athletes. Kyrie Irving is no exception. Look: I think Irving is one of the most talented players in the league. I have followed his career since his injury-riddled Duke days, but this guy is out to lunch. He almost single-handedly destroyed the chemistry in the Boston Celtics’ locker room. And as a result, Irving is certainly considered a pariah in the city of Boston.
Al Horford and Terry Rozier have no desire to play for the storied Celtics franchise anymore. And I’m pretty sure it’s because Irving made that team hate each other. During the most recent playoff run, against a pivotal game against the Bucks which Boston lost, Irving shot 7-22 from the field.
Asked about it afterwards, Irving humbly said: “I should have shot 30.” He is exactly the kind of player that self-entitled athlete articles are written about. This assassination blurb basically means that all reports indicate Boston and Irving are planning a divorce this summer. And the word is out that he has leadership issues.
He seems to be continually linked to the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Personally, I don’t see the Lakers gig happening, when in reality, Irving would be the #3 option on that team. And the Lakers’ cap situation is bordering on crisis mode. Somebody will pay Kyrie Irving the max because he is a legitimately talented player.
But if his locker room personality is as toxic as reported, an Irving-led squad will never amount to much in the playoffs. That sets him up perfectly to play for a middling NBA franchise like the Nets. Some team that needs an image facelift without expecting to contend will take a flier on Irving, so look forward to watching him execute isolation play after isolation play on a team that’s just happy to sell tickets.
While I don’t see any team legitimately prying Klay Thompson away from the Warriors, I had to mention his name here. He’s one of the best shooters of all time, and a first ballot Hall of Famer. Signing with anyone outside of Golden State would be a shock to the entire NBA. And considering his ACL injury will keep him hobbled until late in the 2019-20 season, Thompson is a lock to be signing Splash Brothers t-shirts for the next half-decade.
For me, Horford is the most interesting story of the 2019 NBA free agency period. Shockingly, Horford opted out of a $30-million payday for a 33-year old, declining player. Even more shockingly, Horford apparently has no desire to play for Boston ever again. For a player who has missed an average of 13 games per season the last three years, he is a legitimate health risk.
Horford’s team is looking for his last long-term contract, and it’s certainly the right time to make such a bold ask. There will be many teams who will have money to spend (and a decreasing number of quality players to spend on).
Horford could be a load management special for a contending team looking for a playoff-tested vet to put them over the top, but who really fits that bill? The Los Angeles Clippers with their team of children? The Nets with their mediocre track record? The Philadelphia 76ers with their already loaded frontcourt?
The team that seems to fit best with Horford’s skill set is… er, the Celtics. Somebody’s gonna go for it this year, and Horford is going to make a lot of money on the backs of an NBA franchise’s delusion.
Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated players in the league. Walker also is a surprisingly durable player who has averaged just under 20 PPG over the course of his career. Firmly in his prime, he is at the crossroads of his NBA career. Does he max out money as a Charlotte franchise legend, or take a risk as a 2nd or 3rd option on a contender?
The Lakers seem like an ideal landing spot for a player with Walker’s skill set, but he’d surely have to take a steep pay cut in order to fit the Bosh template in the LeBron James-Anthony Davis super franchise. Walker joining James and Davis could give the Lakers a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship this season (and more).
But I’m guessing he would need to leave about $80 – $100 million dollars on the table in order to make this happen. We’re about to find out if Walker is more driven by money or legacy?
The strangest part of the rampant Irving-to-Brooklyn rumors is the fact that All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell is a restricted free agent of this franchise. That means Brooklyn can match any offer thrown Russell’s way, and Russell plays the same position as Irving. If you look at the respective players’ age-22 seasons, they are strikingly similar. Russell is on the path to essentially becoming the next “Kyrie Irving”, so why would the Nets abandon this emerging NBA superstar for a more expensive, more toxic locker room option? Oh, wait, because they’re the Brooklyn Nets. In the last decade, is there a team that has made more colossally stupid moves than this franchise? If the Nets let Russell go, they’ll spend the next decade regretting it.
Sneaky Value In Free Agency
While Julius Randle’s inflated stats are surely the product of an Anthony Davis-less roster needing somebody to score, it’s hard to argue with a PER of 21.0, which Randle accomplished last year. It’s the highest of his career and could be an indicator of greater success to come.
It could also be inflated stats on a terrible team in a contract year. He’s a bit of a risk, but at 24 years of age, Randle is a solid investment for a team looking for free agency upside. He’s somewhere between a max player and a role player, and I’m quite curious to see how many offers will come in for this polarizing talent.
Having a terrible playoff run, the underrated Danny Green could be a steal for an NBA contender. His 45.5 percent from three this year was #2 in the NBA. He’s also one of the best wing defenders in the league. Because of recency bias, he could be a great deal for a savvy NBA general manager.
Is Brook Lopez underrated or overrated? Lopez excelled within Budenholzer’s system this year but failed to impress with the Lakers the year previous. He’s a 30-year old rim protector/3-point shooter that has become the poster boy for the evolving role of the modern, NBA big. He shoots 3s at an average, mid-30s clip, but as a seven-footer with good shot blocking instincts, he is extremely useful in the right coaching paradigm. Like Randle, nobody’s quite sure if Lopez is a vital piece or a useful sidekick? There will be an active market for Lopez’s services, but his price remains a mystery.
One of the best shooters in NBA history, the surprisingly durable shooter is still going at the age of 34. Redick quietly scored the highest scoring average of his career this past season (18.1). He shows no signs of slowing down. Redick also could be in line for a giant payday. Personally, I’d rather have Redick than Horford. He’s played over 70 games each of the last five seasons, never scoring less than 15 PPG. Redick could make a splash, signing a multi-year deal with an unexpected suitor. And probably for less money than more famous names.
I personally think defense is the most underrated part of NBA success, and Patrick Beverley is one of the league’s peskiest defenders. A quiet part of many successful teams’ past performances, Beverley is an elite on-the-ball defender with a treasure chest of intangibles. He’s the anti-Irving so to speak. Beverley a low-scoring, team-first, win-hungry player that will do anything to stop his opponent from scoring.
He’s an asset for any team looking to improve their team defense and provide a mental boost to their locker room. That’s every team in the NBA. Beverley could be an under-the-radar signing that could tip the balance of power in the NBA this year.
So that’s my comprehensive list of NBA free agent standouts. In a league with unprecedented player movement, with G league and international basketball leagues improving every single day, it’s no shock that NBA player job security is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
Teams are less willing to give long-term contracts to, well, anybody. Survival of the fittest is upon us, friends. While it may force you to buy a new team jersey of your new favorite player every season, it may also have the effect of creating more unpredictably competitive basketball every year.
It may also lead to less team cohesion and more articles like this – that are more about contract status than player statistics. Either way, one thing is clear: The NBA will not be boring anytime soon. So press play on your favorite Stephen A rant, head over to Spotrac to check out your team’s available cap space, and steady yourself for an epic NBA offseason. Kings will fall, and kingdoms will be conquered.
And you thought Game of Thrones was gone.
Bobby Del Rio