Looking ahead at the top NBA free agents in 2019

Kawhi Leonard
Will Kawhi be a Laker come next summer? (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

2018 was an odd year in free agency. One-year contracts seemed to be the theme of the summer, with seemingly half of the free agents signing either one-year deals or a two-year deal, with an option to opt-out after the first year. The reason behind so many of these one-year contracts is because only a handful of teams had the ability to spend, with many teams close to the luxury tax.

Looking ahead to the summer of 2019, things will be much different as it’s expected that more than a majority of NBA teams will have more than $20 million to spend. Looking back on the summer of 2016, we saw a ton of teams looking to spend and many players used that opportunity to cash in. 2019 will be a very similar situation.

The list below breaks down the list of big names who will be free-agents in 2019. Some of these players are obvious re-signers with their current team, but some will have a major decision to make about 11 months from now.

A. Likely Re-Signers:

Free agents
Expect KD to re-sign with Golden State next summer. Photo via: Sports Illustrated

Kevin Durant: Durant has a player option in 2019, and he could very likely opt-out of his current contract to see if he can squeeze some more money out of Golden State. Regardless, with the success sustained thus far after leaving Oklahoma City in the summer of 2016, Durant would be foolish not to come back to Golden State. Even if his decision to re-sign is at the cost of another player, it is the best decision for both he and the Warriors to maintain their current success in the future.

Klay Thompson: Klay Thompson is one player that almost every team and their owner’s mother will be calling for, but with his attitude of “team-first,” Thompson is someone who is very happy where he is, and rightly so. He has said in the past that he is very willing to take a discount to stay with the Warriors, and that should bring a smile to all people of the Bay Area. You don’t have too many players of Klay’s caliber who wouldn’t want to be the number one player on a given team. 

B. Restricted Free Agents:

Free agents
Kristaps Porzingis is a restricted free agent, but all signs point to a return to the Knicks. Photo via: Getty Images

Kristaps Porzingis: It’s interesting to entertain the thought of Kristaps Porzingis being on another team in 2019, but even with his gruesome knee injury, the Knicks will keep this guy as the focus of their franchise. With Kevin Knox displaying signs of a franchise centerpiece, the Knicks need to keep Porzingis to really have ammo to use when looking to sign other free agents next summer. Porzingis will be at the forefront of that when he most likely resigns with New York.

Terry Rozier: Depending on how Rozier starts off the season will determine his status going into the summer of 2019. The Celtics are known for being very wise players in NBA deals, especially of late. They made the very underrated signing of Al Horford two summers ago and it has paid off dividends.

The Celtics keeping Rozier on the roster for the 2018-2019 season could prove to be very beneficial for them to obtain more assets in the future. Rozier shined at the end of last season in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals as Kyrie Irving’s season ended early with knee surgery. Rozier is someone who isn’t in much control of his own future at the moment but has earned the respect of a lot of players in the NBA after last seasons performance.

Karl-Anthony Towns: Towns is the most interesting name in the restricted free agent category. Jimmy Butler, Towns’ current co-star on the Minnesota Timberwolves, is frustrated with his situation and most likely will opt-out in 2019, if not traded before then. The Timberwolves value the presence of Towns much more than they do Butler because of his youth and when the contract eventually gets negotiated, it’s going to show exactly how much they value Towns. He’s a young player with a lot of talent, but once this contract gets done, the Timberwolves will have to look at who they bring in to build around him (assuming Butler is traded or leaves).

C. Big-Named Free Agents:

Free agents
Will Kawhi be a Laker come next summer? Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Kawhi Leonard: In what seems to be the craziest franchise-player saga we have seen in quite a long time, Kawhi Leonard’s injury and holdout situation with the San Antonio Spurs finally ended with him being traded to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan. It was a trade that most people around the league were taken aback by as it just seemed to be inevitable that he’d end up in Los Angeles. The Lakers still will be the frontrunners for signing him after this upcoming season, but don’t rule out Toronto re-signing him if all goes right. In order for that to happen, it needs to be a reciprocal appreciation for both sides. Other teams that shouldn’t be ruled out are the Knicks and Sixers who will have plenty of positives to present him with after this upcoming season. It’s going to be a big summer of decision-making for Leonard and his party.

Kemba Walker: Kemba’s situation in Charlotte may be the most overlooked going into the 2018-2019 season. Ownership has said that they want to keep Walker around and compete with the pieces they have in place. They say that now, but there is no real promise as to why the situation will work out for both parties in that case. The options will be there for Kemba and a sleeper team to keep an eye on are the Chicago Bulls, as they want to have a franchise player to build around with Lauri Markkannen and other pieces such as Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine already in place.

Kyrie Irving: Irving’s situation next year is an interesting one because the Celtics will be eager to re-sign him if he stays healthy. The key word there is healthy because Kyrie really is one more knee injury away from scaring away his current franchise and a lot of other potential suitors. For the Celtics, re-signing Irving means that they likely would be getting great assets from a potential Rozier trade. With Irving being an unrestricted free agent, there will be a lot of suitors offering the max for his talents. A player like Jimmy Butler, who has spoken adamantly about teaming up with Kyrie, could be a situation to watch out for in 2o19.

Jimmy Butler: As mentioned previously above, the Timberwolves’ highest priority is signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a max contract. With Butler frustrated with the aloofness of Towns and fellow youngster Andrew Wiggins, he seems to be the odd man out in the Timberwolves’ future endeavors. We have to remember that Butler was traded and so he may not have really been ‘happy’ from the start, and potentially only content with a potential chance to make a playoff push. Butler will have options in free agency if he doesn’t get traded. The Timberwolves would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t ultimately trade Butler, but suitors like New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles just to name a few, will be licking their chops when Butler hits the free agent market.

D. Best of the Rest: 

Free agents
Will DeAndre be in Dallas more than one year? Photo via: Getty Images

DeAndre Jordan: DeAndre Jordan is poised to have a strong season playing next to proven sophomore point guard Dennis Smith Jr., and rookie-newcomer Luka Doncic in Dallas. The adjustment will be easy for both guards playing with Jordan and also Jordan himself. With that being said, Jordan wants to get paid, and there are plenty of quality guards out there who’d love to have the chance to play with a big man of Jordan’s caliber.

DeMarcus Cousins: For Cousins, it’s simple, rest up that Achilles and be ready to make a run and contribute for Golden State when he returns. If all goes well, and he seems to be an integral part of the team’s success when healthy, plenty of teams will have their laser on him. He will look to make more than the $5.3 million one-year contract that he signed with Golden State, and with that being said it’s, unfortunately, a wait-and-see situation for him.

Goran Dragic: Dragic will be 33-years-old once he hits free agency in 2019, but it’s crazy to think that the production he puts up has really gotten overlooked. He averaged 17.3 points per game, 4.8 assists, and shot 37 percent from three this past season, and helped land Miami in the playoffs. Any team will demand a player like that, but his player option with Miami is $19.2 million. He will have options to increase his chances of winning a ring, but he can get paid if he stays in Miami.

Marc Gasol: At 34-years-old, Marc Gasol has been the face of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise for a long time since his brother Pau left to go to Los Angeles 10 years ago. His numbers have declined but he is due for $25.2 million dollars if he picks up his player option. Most believe that he will likely pick it up as he probably won’t get that kind of money elsewhere. Ultimately, he still put up solid number with 17.2 points per game last season while shooting 34.3% from three.





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