With the NBA Draft in the rear view mirror and the free agency period set to start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, DraftNasty's Troy Jefferson breaks down some of the compelling storylines and offers his best fits for the scenarios.
Where do the star players of the NBA Finals go next?
Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all free agents. Durant was the marquee name of the free agency period before he tore his achilles in the NBA Finals. However, the two-time Finals MVP is still a highly sought-after name and will receive a max contract from whoever signs him. Kawhi Leonard was able to shift the balance of power away from the Western Conference to the East when he joined the Raptors and won a championship this past season. Klay Thompson is a five-time NBA All-Star and just barely missed out on the NBA supermax deal because he was not named to an All-NBA Roster. To make matters worse, he tore his ACL in the NBA Finals and it remains to be seen how much time he will miss next season. Each of these players are probably future Hall of Famers and will make whoever they sign with considerably better. Leonard and Thompson are both LA natives but I expect Thompson to stay in northern California. Thompson plays his best when running off screens and setting picks for backcourt mate, Steph Curry, and their synergy is hard to replicate. Thompson was drafted by the Warriors and his skill-set is perfect for the Warriors free- flowing offensive attack. Leonard could either return to the Raptors, which would put Toronto back in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference, or he could return home to play in Los Angeles. Both the Lakers and Clippers could offer him a max deal, so it will come down to a matter of preference for Leonard. Doc Rivers has shown before that he can maximize star talent and the Raptors proved they could put a team together around Leonard. I think the Raptors or the Clippers are the likely landing spots for Leonard. Durant could miss all of next year but he, too, has plenty of suitors. He could return to the Warriors or leave the Western Conference like Leonard did last year and join a weaker Eastern Conference. The Knicks and Nets have been linked to Durant. The Knicks would probably be a playoff team with a fully healthy Durant but does a guy who spent the last three seasons competing in the NBA Finals want to play the waiting game with a young core? The Nets made drastic strides last season as a playoff team, but they still need a star. If they are able to sign Kyrie Irving and pair him with Durant, this would probably make them the team to beat in the East.
Kawhi Leonard- L.A. Clippers
Kevin Durant- Brooklyn Nets
Klay Thompson- Golden State Warriors
Does Brooklyn re-sign Russell or sign Kyrie?
As mentioned above, Kyrie Irving -a New Jersey native- has been linked to the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics enjoyed some success with Irving but could not make it to the NBA Finals and it seems their time together is over. Brooklyn has the cap space for two max deals and have a need at point guard. They have a point guard in D'Angelo Russell, who made the All Star team this past season and could re-sign him. Irving has had the better career to date though. I think Brooklyn would be better served signing Irving and trying to use that second max slot to sign another star player like Durant. However, Brooklyn could be in the same position as the Celtics if they strike out and can only bring in Irving, who would be the lead star. In his past stints, Irving's teams have not flourished when he played the role as the "lead dog", see his early career in Cleveland and the last two years in Boston.
Kyrie Irving- Brooklyn Nets
How do the Lakers fill out their roster?
The Lakers traded away three players including last year's first round draft pick, Mo Wagner, to the Wizards in order to free up enough space to sign another player to a max deal. Right now, the Lakers are comprised of LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis as well as a few unproven youngsters. General manager Rob Pelinka and the Los Angles Lakers could sign a player like Kawhi Leonard to a max contract and then fill out the roster with players on the veteran minimum or sign a second tier star like Tobias Harris and then spread out the money to others that would make more than the veterans minimum. I actually think the best case scenario is for the Lakers to look to their past, they have a need at point guard and could bring back Russell. Russell saw his game rise to the next level last season and showed his ability to break down defenses and get to the rim. Signing Russell would allow James to play less at point guard and give the Lakers someone who could push the pace in transition. The Lakers ranked fourth in transition points per game last season and with what figures to be a roster of newcomers in 2019, Los Angeles needs as many easy buckets as they can muster. With the money they save by not using their max contract slot, the Lakers could also target free agents like J.J. Redick or Trevor Ariza, both sharpshooters and the type of players that have enjoyed success with James in the past.
D'Angelo Russell as well as a few second tier free agents- Los Angeles Lakers
What does Dallas do with their cap space?
Dallas acquired former New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis in the middle of this past season and saw Luka Doncic take home the rookie of the year award. The duo will serve as the centerpieces for the Mavericks going forward in the post Dirk Nowitzki era and they have enough money to bring in a max player this offseason. The Mavericks have a clear need at point guard and I look for them to try luring a guy like Kemba Walker. First order of business will be resigning Porzingis, who is a restricted free agent. I don't see Porzingis leaving the Mavericks at all. However, I don't see Walker signing with Dallas because it isn't a great fit to have Doncic/Walker and Porzingis all on the floor together, there would be a natural overlap in the need for each player to have the ball. I do expect however for Dallas to target a true center because we've heard at times that Porzingis doesn't like playing the 5. Orlando's Nikola Vucevic is the name I expect to see sign with the Mavericks. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Mavericks target a defensive minded point guard like Patrick Beverly as well.
Nikola Vucevic and a starting point guard - Dallas Mavericks
Who will play alongside of Harden in Houston in 2019-2020?
The Rockets have been on the door step of the NBA Finals the past few seasons but this is a crucial offseason for them. Houston could stick with their same roster from last season and try and take advantage of the Western Conference, which is in flux. The Lakers have star power but will need time to gel and the Warriors have stars but Durant is a free agent and so is Thompson and even if they keep both, they won't be ready by the start of next year. There are benefits in opting for continuity if you're the Rockets. However, the opposite argument could be made, Houston couldn't beat the banged up Warriors this season so why would anything change next season? If the Rockets want to bring in another max contract player like Jimmy Butler, they would probably have to trade center Clint Capela and Eric Gordon, to make the financials work. Butler would bring toughness and a defensive presence to the Rockets however I can't see him coexisting with Harden and Chris Paul, all three need the ball in their hands to be successful. Paul and Harden already have times where they look like they're taking plays off when the other is dribbling, Butler would only complicate matters. The best case scenario for brining in Butler would be getting rid of Paul and acquiring a spot up shooting point guard in the mold of former Heat point guard, Mario Chalmers.
The Houston Rockets should keep the team as presently constructed
Where will Kemba end up?
If Durant, Thompson and Leonard are in the "first tier" of free agents, Walker is not far behind. The former UCONN point guard is a one man offensive weapon that has only missed six games over the past four seasons. Whoever signs Walker is getting someone that can score (averaged 25.6 points per game last season), lead and possesses rare durability. I think the Celtics, who will probably lose Irving to free agency are the team to watch. Unlike the Mavericks. Walker fits in a lot better from a scheme standpoint with the Celtics, who possess a plethora of wings like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Romeo Langford, who can not only mask his defensive decencies but don't need to handle the ball every possession.
Kemba Walker- Boston Celtics