Basketball Society’s Top 2019 NBA Free Agents

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The NBA offseason has become a spectacle enjoyed by the masses. Its unpredictability fuels the fun, as many sift through Twitter waiting for a drop of news from the likes of Woj, Shams, and others. To prepare you for the madness, we at Basketball Society decided to rank the Top 20 NBA Free Agents in 2019 to provide an idea of which players will be the most sought after this summer. 

1. Kawhi Leonard (27), Player Option

NBA

2018-19 stats: 60 GP, 26.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 60% TS, 25.8 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks 

Reasons a team would want to sign: After his bizarre saga with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18, Kawhi Leonard used this year’s campaign with the Toronto Raptors to remind us that he’s one of the best basketball players in the world. A true two-way dynamo, Leonard has proven that he’s capable of shouldering a championship-level load for almost any NBA team.

Biggest red flag: Questions about Leonard’s durability will persist as he’s only played 70 or more games twice in his eight-year career. Leonard also sat out 22 regular season games for the Raptors this year thanks to a “load management” strategy implemented by the team in hopes of preserving his health for the playoffs, and in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Leonard acknowledged that the arrangement allowed him to have such a dominant postseason run.

Teams won’t be thrilled about the prospect of their cornerstone missing a quarter of the season due to rest, but all the load management in the world shouldn’t deter teams from vying for Leonard’s elite services.

2. Kyrie Irving (27), Player Option

NBA

2018-19 stats: 67 GP, 26 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 7.5 APG, 59% TS, 24.3 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers 

Reasons a team would want to sign: Kyrie Irving is one of the most incendiary offensive talents in the league, and his skills are verified by an NBA championship. Only 27, Irving is inching closer to the marquee years of his career and seems eager to find a stable basketball environment in which he can settle down and further establish his legacy.

Biggest red flag: There’s no question that Irving is unproven as a leader. This year’s version of the Boston Celtics always seemed to be knocked off kilter by some internal strife, and many suggested that it stemmed from Irving’s moodiness and questionable conduct on and off the court. Irving was supposed to prove he could be the chief of a franchise after his split from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it didn’t work out. How will things fare on his next stop?

3. Jimmy Butler (29), Player Option

NBA

2018-19 stats: 65 GP, 18.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4 APG, 57% TS, 20.2 PER, 

Teams with rumored interest: Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets

Reasons a team would want to sign: “Two-way player” is probably one of the most overused denominations in basketball, but it’s fair to say Jimmy Butler falls under that umbrella. After being traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Philadelphia 76ers early in the season, Butler played mostly solid basketball for Philadelphia before stealing the show in the playoffs. While Joel Embiid battled multiple ailments and Ben Simmons tried to squeeze out points in the halfcourt, Butler led the 76ers in their most tense postseason moments. An established, All-Star level talent, Butler will have many suitors this offseason.

Biggest red flag: It’s well-documented that Butler tends to be confrontational, and while not always a bad thing, it can rub some players the wrong way. We were given evidence of this with Butler’s time in Minnesota, where his abrasiveness turned off youngsters Karl-Anthony Town and Andrew Wiggins. Some teams may be cautious about Butler’s harsh temperament disrupting an already established culture.

4. Klay Thompson (29), Unrestricted

NBA

2018-19 stats: 21.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 57% TS, 16.6 PER 

Teams with rumored interest: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers

Reasons a team would want to sign: Who wouldn’t want to sign the second-best shooter in the NBA to their roster? Klay Thompson is essentially a “Plug-N-Play” guy because he’d fit seamlessly into almost any system. Thompson gives any team in the league an immediate boost on both ends, and his chill demeanor bodes well for any locker room. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Thompson re-up with the Golden State Warriors, but if he’s hungry for a max contract, he very well may take his appetite elsewhere. After suffering an ACL injury in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, all signs seem to point to Thompson returning to Golden State. It’ll be interesting to see if the market for the five-time All-Star shrinks due to his injury.

Biggest red flag: While respected as a multi-time All-Star and NBA champion, there haven’t been many years that we’ve seen Thompson in a basketball setting where he hasn’t been flanked by other All-Stars. Thompson also hasn’t been tasked with having to perform every night as the No. 1 option, and many of his baskets are of the assisted variety. We’re unsure how Thompson would look if asked to manufacture more for himself and his teammates, but it’s fair to wonder because it’s something we haven’t seen in large spurts. In addition, Thompson will now be coming off of an ACL injury, something that may make a team uneasy about making a big money play on Thompson.

5. Kevin Durant (30), Player Option

NBA

2018-19 stats: 26 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 63% TS, 24.2 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers 

Reasons a team would want to sign: “I’m Kevin Durant, you know who I am.” That’s why you would want to sign this guy. When healthy, he’s arguably the best player in the NBA. A seven-foot basketball powerhouse that can splash a three-pointer in your toughest defender’s grill then scamper down the court and block your center’s shot at the rim. Durant would be No. 1 on our list if not for the devastating achillies injury he sustained in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, but even with the potential of KD missing the entire 2019-20 season, he’s still someone you bet to make it back to full strength and resume releasing hell on the entire league.

Biggest red flag: Despite the advances in medicine and sports science, many of our basketball heroes can attest to how tough of a hurdle an achillies injury is to climb, especially when you consider the amount of mileage Durant has amassed throughout his career thus far. As stated earlier, Durant could potentially be shelved for the entirety of next season, and even when he does return it may take some time for him to get his groove back. If I were a betting man, I’d say Durant will get back to his ways, but how many teams will be willing to play the waiting game with a wide-open NBA championship?

6. Kemba Walker (29), Unrestricted

2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 25.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 55.8% TS, 21.72 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks

Reasons a team would want to sign: Kemba Walker appears to be the ultimate team leader and a great teammate. He just went on the record saying he would take less than the max to continue playing in Charlotte, so long as they’re trying to add pieces to become a contender. With his blazing speed, ability to control an offense, and ability to get to the rim, he provides the total offensive package many teams would want in a floor general.

Biggest red flag: Although Kemba provides somewhat of a total package on offense, he can potentially be a defensive liability against bigger guards. This may not pose as much of a threat in the regular season, but would for sure be exposed in a playoff run. Not to mention, a four (or five) year deal would bring him to his early 30’s which presumably would be a slightly slower, less efficient version of himself at his peak powers.

7. Nikola Vucevic (28), Unrestricted

2018-19 stats: 80 GP, 20.8 PPG, 12 RPG, 3.8 APG, 57.3% TS, 25.53 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers

Reasons a team would want to sign: Nikola Vucevic is one of only six players in the league to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. With his extended range to the three-point line, he could be a spectacular utility player on a team with a void down low. He’s not shy in the paint and has the strength to battle with the toughest bigs in the game.

Biggest red flag: Vucevic has made a living putting up huge numbers on relatively bad/mediocre teams. He’s also mainly been the number one option. Any team with interest would have to evaluate what he could produce on a better team where he may not get as many shot attempts.

8. Khris Middleton (27), Unrestricted

2018-19 stats: 77 GP, 18.3 PPG, 6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 55.8% TS, 16.55 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks

Reasons a team would want to sign: Talk about a “3-and-D” player. Middleton provides the outside shooting any team would crave to space the floor, coupled with his ability to defend the best perimeter wing. He doesn’t need the ball to be effective and tends to wisely choose his spots on the floor. As a bonus, if necessary, he can run an offense and also create his own shot.

Biggest red flag: The bag! Khris Middleton proved enough this season to entice teams to want to offer him a big deal. It will be important to place him next to an explosive guard that can share the ball. Teams with tunnel vision may offer him a huge contract and expect him to do more than he’s shown to be capable of. Hopefully, the money and basketball situation can co-exist.

9. D’Angelo Russell (23), Restricted

2018-19 stats: 81 GP, 21.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7 APG, 53.3% TS, 19.48 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers

Reasons a team would want to sign: Russell took his game to another level this season, clinching his first All-Star appearance. In the wake of the injury that led to Caris Levert missing a significant chunk of the season, Russell had an unbelievable wakeup moment. So much so he led the Nets to their first playoff appearance in four seasons. His court awareness and confidence allowed him to achieve career highs in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. If next season builds off of this one, Russell can continue his climb to unleashing his peak ability.

Biggest red flag: While Russell was able to put up big numbers, his usage rate (30.8 percent) was its highest in his career. The challenge now will be to remain effective when his roster (regardless of who he joins) gets bolstered with talent. It’s relatively easy to put up numbers on a team that needs you to initiate almost everything. Let’s see how he does with a little more help. Russell is also noted as a negative defensively, can he make strides on that end to become a more resistive defender?

10. Tobias Harris (26), Restricted

2018-19 stats: 82 PPG, 20 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 59.2% TS, 17.30 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers

Reasons a team would want to sign: Harris can be your do-it-all utility player. He’s shown flashes as the number one option in an offense, he can create his own shot, and he can catch-and-shoot. The fact that he was traded from the Clippers as the number one option, and only saw a 2.7 point per game drop in his average on a team with Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid is astounding. His rebounding and assist numbers remained consistent through the transition as well. Harris is a player that can give you minutes at both forward positions. Teams experimenting with small lineups may even throw his 6’9″ frame in at center for a few minutes to see what the results are.

Biggest red flag: Similar to Khris Middleton, Harris will command a lot of money on the open market for his versatility. Getting him in a right-fit situation is imperative to make the contract worth it. Is a max contract worth it for a guy that will be 31-years-old by its end, and possibly having already peaked? Teams will ask themselves many questions before pulling the trigger.

11. Malcolm Brogdon (26), Restricted

NBA

2018-2019 stats: 64 GP, 15.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.2 AST, 61.4 TS%, 17.8 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks 

Reasons a team would want to sign: Brogdon just completed the best season of his NBA career. Not only did he lead the league in free throw percentage (92.8%), but he made the 50/40/90 club and the last player to make that list was Stephen Curry in 2015-16. Brogdon became a huge asset for the Bucks as he helped power their potent offense alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019. Brogdon’s restricted free agent status ensures Milwaukee a chance at retaining him, but don’t be surprised to see teams chase an ascending player that can juggle both guard spots. He’s not an extremely high usage guy, but offensively he can produce major results, something teams will gush over.

Biggest red flag: Restricted free agency is a tricky game, and often requires teams to overpay for a player. How much cap space would a team be willing to let Brogdon absorb? Milwaukee certainly views Brogdon as an intrinsic piece to their basketball puzzle, but where will they draw the line financially? An even better question is what team is willing to roll the dice and find out?

12. Al Horford (33), Player Option

NBA

2018-2019 stats: 68 GP, 13.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 60.5 TS%, 20.2 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers

Reasons a team would want to sign: Al Horford is a basketball sage. He can serve as a team’s anchor both offensively and defensively, and he’s arguably been the Boston Celtics’ most important player over the last three seasons. Horford is a brute terror on both ends and gives any teams championship aspirations an immediate boost in the short-term. It appeared as if Horford was heading towards a restructuring of his deal with the Celtics, but the two sides have seemed to reach a standstill when it comes to negotiations, and it’s looking likelier that Horford will be taking his services elsewhere. Horford can handle duties at both the power forward and center spot, stretch the floor, bang in the paint and is a great locker room guy. He checks all boxes in free agency, so expect him to be highly sought after.

Biggest red flag: As good as Horford is, Father Time is undefeated. He will be 33-years-old entering his 13th season next year, and his services will still cost a team a respectable amount of change. While Horford hasn’t appeared to lost a step over the past few seasons, teams may not be willing to commit to him long-term, as such a deal would likely take him to the twilight of his career.

13. Kristaps Porzingis (23), Restricted

NBA

2018-19 season stats: Didn’t play

Teams with rumored interest: Dallas Mavericks

Reasons a team would want to sign him: Although coming off of an ACL injury, Kristaps Porzingis captivated the entire league during his first two and a half seasons with a blend of size, skill, finesse, and force that had never been seen from a guy of his stature. Dubbed a “Unicorn” by Kevin Durant, it appears as if Porzingis is preparing to team up with 2018-19 rookie sensation Luka Doncic in Dallas, which should be a fun pairing for the Mavericks. However, if something were to prevent the two sides from reaching a deal, a team would want the 7’3 forward for his explosive offensive package and high upside.

Biggest red flag: While Porzingis’ numbers during his young career have been impressive thus far, he’s yet to prove he can be a high-impact player on a winning team. Shifting from the unsteady culture of the New York Knicks to the fixed, championship heritage of (presumably) the Mavericks will be a change for Porzingis and one that he has to handle well. Porzingis also has something to prove when it comes to durability, as he’s shown a tendency to get worn down as the season dances along.

14. DeMarcus Cousins (28), Unrestricted

NBA

2018-2019 stats: 30 GP, 16.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 56.2 TS%, 21.4 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Golden State Warriors 

Reasons a team would want to sign: The DeMarcus Cousins experiment in Golden State was a weird one. There were instances where he looked like himself, and others where you’d find it hard to believe you were watching a guy that was once a perennial All-Star and one of the best players in the league pre-achillies injury. Still, Cousins was able to provide a hobbled Warriors team with some big moments in the NBA Finals and proved he can still play a noticeable part for a team offensively. With a full summer to re-boot his body, Cousins can possibly regain traction in the NBA as one of the better starting centers in the league in the right situation.

Biggest red flag: Still, Cousins is still coming off of an achillies and quad injury in the same leg. What are the long-term implications there, and while it’s doubtful that he’ll ever be the Boogie we knew before the ailments, will he ever be able to regain some semblance of his former dominant self as he inches towards 29-years-old? What type of role can he carve out in this transitionary phase in his career?

15. Brook Lopez (31), Unrestricted

NBA

2018-2019 stats: 81 GP, 12.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 59.7 TS%, 14.6 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers 

Reasons a team would want to sign: Brook Lopez was an inexpensive signing for the Milwaukee Bucks, but he still paid huge dividends on the court. Lopez was one of the best long-range snipers in the NBA this past season, connecting on 187 three-pointers. Lopez stretched the floor a considerable amount for Milwaukee and also proved to be an effective rim protector. Teams with guards or wings that love to drive-and-kick will be the most likely to flirt with Lopez in free agency, and most clubs hope they can get him on a cheap deal like Milwaukee was able to last offseason. A center that can splash threes at a consistent rate and also shield the rim is super valuable in today’s NBA, so expect a beefy market for Lopez.

Biggest red flag: This past season was the third in a row that Lopez made at least 100 three-pointers in a season, but will his production wane as he continues to creep up in age? Teams with NBA Finals hopes will also examine how many minutes they’ll actually be able to play Lopez in the deeper rounds of the playoffs, as many teams elect to go to smaller and speedier lineups.

16. Marc Gasol (34), Player Option

Free Agency

2018-19 season stats: 79 GP, 13.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 54% TS, 16.7 PER 

Teams with rumored interest: Toronto Raptors 

Reasons a team would want to sign: Marc Gasol was cardinal in the Toronto Raptors’ surprising championship run. While Gasol did seem to shy away from assertiveness on the offensive end for the Raptors, he emerged as one of their main defensive anchors, one that melded strength and savvy brilliantly. Gasol’s value for a team is rooted in his defensive acuity, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get things done on the offensive end. He’s dependable in both the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations and can pitch some impressive passes around as well. Gasol is a player that can help any upper echelon team in either conference immediately.

Biggest red flag: Gasol will be 35-years-old by next year’s All-Star break, and while still proven to be an effective, championship-caliber piece, how much longer he can remain as such is fair to question. Gasol only logged 30 MPG for the Raptors this postseason, and it would be unwise to think that a team could see a significant uptick in that number in the coming seasons. Franchises that are looking to chase a championship over the next couple of years may be interested in inking Gasol to a short-term deal that’s on the friendlier side, but don’t expect much more than that.

17. Julius Randle (24), Unrestricted

Free Agency

2018-19 season stats: 73 GP, 21.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.1 APG, 60% TS, 21 PER

Teams with rumored interest: New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, 

Reasons a team would want to sign: Julius Randle is coming off of an impressive 2018-19 campaign where he nearly averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game even though he came off of the bench in 24 contests. Despite a role that seemed to fluctuate on a nightly basis and the Anthony Davis trade drama, Randle still pieced together his best statistical season as a pro. He’ll be only 25-years-old in November and has upped his numbers every year he’s been in the NBA, including a 12 percentage-point increase from behind the three-point line between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Randle can come to any team and give them a notable scoring and rebounding punch, and can also switch between the power forward and center positions.

Biggest red flag: While improved as a three-point shooter, Randle has yet to demonstrate that he deserves defensives respect as a consistent threat from downtown. With an increased premium on floor-spacing bigs, Randle lags behind his contemporaries in that regard. Also, despite his hulking frame and solid lateral quickness, Randle can still be a liability on the defensive end, too short to contend with some of the biggest behemoths in the paint and too nonchalant closing out to bigs that let it fly from the perimeter.

18. Danny Green (31), Unrestricted

Photo via: Getty Images

2018-19 season stats: 80 GP, 10.3 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 63% TS, 13 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks

Reasons a team would want to sign: Danny Green is a veteran long-range sniper that has been tested in the most trying of playoff scenarios. Green can still get things done on the defensive end as he’s able to go toe-to-toe with players at both guard spots. Green should be a relatively cheap “3-and-D” option on the open market that can thrive as a starter, or possibly even pivot to a reserve role as he creeps up in age. He’s expressed a desire to be retained by Toronto, but teams hankering for a championship will most likely be making calls to Green and his agent once free agency opens up, as he’d be a huge help to any club aiming for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Biggest red flag: While a great shooter, Green isn’t capable of much else offensively. If a team is devoid of guards or wings that can whip the ball to him while he’s spotted up behind the three-point line, both parties would be done a disservice.

19. Bojan Bogdanovic (30), Unrestricted

(Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

2018-19 season stats: 81 GP, 18 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2 APG, 61% TS, 16.1 PER

Teams with rumored interest: Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings 

Reasons a team would want to sign: Bojan Bogdanovic had a career year for the Indiana Pacers, emerging as a secondary scorer next to Victor Oladipo. Once Oladipo went down midseason with a devastating quad injury, Bogdanovic commandeered the role of head honcho for Indiana, dropping bombs from behind the arc and even hitting defenses with some other surprising offensive sizzle. Bogdanovic can get to a bucket, and fares well as either a low-usage guy spotting up or someone that can have the ball in their hands in spurts and make a play for either himself or others. Teams looking to add an additional scoring punch to their lineup will certainly court Bogdanovic, but teams looking to posture themselves as contenders will eye the market for him as well.

Biggest red flag: With career earnings of only (I say that with an eye roll) roughly $21M and coming off of a career year, Bogdanovic could go hunting for the bag. Last season was the first year of Bogdanovic’s five-year career that he clocked in at eight figures, and it’s doubtful that Bogdanovic is willing to do any type of financial backtracking. At 30-years-old it wouldn’t be surprising if Bogdanovic was eager to secure a sizable payday before he gets any older. Respect to him for (possibly) wanting to seize the bag, but will a team be willing to have to overpay for his services?

20. JJ Redick (34), Unrestricted

Free Agency

2018-19 season stats: 76 GP, 18.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 60% TS, 15.1 PER 

Teams with rumored interest: Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers 

Reasons a team would want to sign: JJ Redick is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and can offer him some surprising stuff off the dribble as well. His touch from the outside commands an overt amount of attention from defenses, often freeing his teammates for clean looks that would’ve been made a lot tougher by his absence. In addition to the shooting bravado that Redick brings, he’s also a dependable locker room presence, one that no franchise would anticipate fracturing the culture of a team.

Biggest red flag: While Redick is in great shape and he’s been able to dodge any catastrophic injury over the past few seasons (he’s played in at least 70 games every year since 2014-15), he’s still trending the wrong way age-wise when it comes to NBA basketball. His services are best reserved for a team with immediate NBA championship hopes while he still appears to have a considerable amount left in the tank. In addition to aging, Redick has continually been exposed at the defensive end in both the regular season and playoffs. His Defensive Rating rocketed to the worst it’s ever been in his career this past year, and there should be no expectation of improvement on that end, as he’ll continue to be a target.

 

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