• Alex Bisaillon

2019 NBA Free Agents: Top 25

Photo Courtesy: Clutch Points

With the 2018 free-agent period all but over (keep waiting @Clint Capela!), it’s never too early to turn an eye towards the 2019 free agent class, especially if you root for the many teams with no chance of dethroning Golden State this year. Even if some of the players below are retained by their current teams, the 2019 class is stacked with franchise changing talent and household names, promising next year will be yet another thrilling NBA offseason. More importantly, a significant number of teams should have substantial cap space available, which usually leads to multiple big names signing on with new teams. This group of free agents has so much talent that all of these solid contributors missed the top 25: Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris, Trevor Ariza, Ricky Rubio, Thad Young, Rajon Rondo, Markieff Morris, Cory Joseph, Jeremy Lamb, Wayne Ellington, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Green, Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, Nikola Vucevic, Dwight Howard and JJ Redick. Anyways, this list is ordered based on the player’s value and demand going into the market next season, meaning some of the younger restricted free agents are ranked higher than players that are more valuable contributors in the present.

1. Kevin Durant (player option)- Maybe, just maybe, Durant will be content with what he’s achieved in a Warriors uniform if they win another championship this year, and he’ll look for his next challenge elsewhere. More likely, Durant will either pick up his option and allow Golden State to deal with its other free agents, or quickly agree to a new deal like he did this offseason. The rest of the league can only hope something happens over the next year to convince Durant Golden State is no longer the best place for him to play ball.

2. Kawhi Leonard (player option)- Will Kawhi "Paul George" it and spurn LA in favor of remaining with the team he was supposed to be a rental on? There’s certainly a chance, since the Raptors will be a top team in the East and will have their rabid fan base fully behind Leonard. But, there are still the prevailing rumors from Kawhi’s camp (since Kawhi apparently never actually says anything himself) that Leonard wants to return to LA, and both franchises there will have plenty of cap space to accommodate him. Leonard’s play in Toronto and his impending free agency will be a dominant storyline around the league this season.

3. Kyrie Irving (player option)- Kyrie isn’t as good of a two-way player as some of the players below, but his defense looked significantly better in Boston than it ever had in Cleveland, and I think Irving’s shot creating and closing ability would lead to him having a higher market demand than any of the players below. Even with the rapid development of some of its young players, Boston simply cannot afford to lose Irving and should be doing all they can to lock him up before he hits the open market and has a chance to explore possibilities like joining the Knicks with Jimmy Butler.

4. Jimmy Butler (player option)- Butler has already voiced unhappiness about the attitudes and playing habits of the two young stars in Minnesota, and if the Twolves struggle or again fall in the first round Butler could easily flee town. If he does, the market for one of the best two-way players in the league would be nearly universal. Butler can slot into practically any lineup across the league and fit thanks to his versatility, and he has the shot creating skills to be a true lead option. If Minnesota struggles this year or the team’s young stars continue to frustrate with their lack of defensive effort, Butler could be the top consolation prize for any team trying and failing to sign Kawhi Leonard.

5. Klay Thompson- Golden State could be in a tough position next offseason if they need to iron out new contracts for Durant and Thompson, and Klay’s slightly lower position in the Golden State hierarchy could leave him looking to move on or Golden State deciding not to absorb a tax bill that could be greater than OKC’s this year. Thompson’s top-notch work on the perimeter both offensively and defensively make him a fit on any roster across the league, although it would be a slight gamble for a team that he could maintain his efficiency outside of Golden State. Still, the dude once scored 60 points in 3 quarters and can catch and shoot a three pointer faster than most people can zip their pants, he should be fine if he leaves the Bay Area.

6. DeMarcus Cousins- As long as he recovers from his torn Achilles and plays about half the season plus the playoffs, Boogie will price himself out of Golden State. Even without a full return to health, Cousins will likely be too expensive for the Warriors in 2019, when more teams will have cap space to chase him, but he could find himself in a situation similar to Isaiah Thomas this offseason if he struggles to return to form. As a big man with occasional conditioning, effort and attitude issues, but also top 10 level talent, Cousins will be one of the most interesting players to track during the 2018-19 season as he attempts to build his free agent value up.

7. Karl Anthony Towns (RFA)- Towns has spent the 2018 offseason hearing rumors that his attitude and effort are a major reason for Jimmy Butler’s discontent, but there’s still no real plausible scenario where the Timberwolves let him walk. Towns has put up monster stat lines throughout his young career, and his much-maligned defense did improve as the season wore on last year. Even if it makes Butler unhappy, expect Minnesota to try and lock Towns up to an extension before he even has a chance to enter free agency.

8. Kristaps Porzingis (RFA)- If he can show he’s fully recovered from his torn ACL this season, Porzingis is a lock for a max extension from the Knicks. Even if he has a slow recovery, it’s hard to fathom even the Knicks ownership being short-sighted enough to let the Latvian big man leave the Bronx. His emergence has been the most significant from a homegrown Knicks player since Patrick Ewing, and there’s simply no way the Knicks will let a player like that go in restricted free agency. The one way the situation could get intriguing is if Porzingis struggles to get healthy all year and accepts the Knicks qualifying offer, which would allow him to enter free agency in 2020 unrestricted.

9. Khris Middleton (player option)- Middleton has been an underrated player sitting on a team friendly contract in Milwaukee for years, and he should be preparing to get PAID in the summer of 2019. League-wide demand will be high for a 6’7 swingman who can play with or without the ball and play top-notch level defense, and if Middleton can help the Bucks make a playoff run, he could force the Bucks hand in offering him a max contract to keep a strong second option next to Giannis. Middleton could follow Mike Conley’s path in going from underrated to struggling to justify a max deal, but he’ll still be worth the gamble to someone.

10. Al Horford (player option)- Big Al will be in an interesting position at the end of the 2018-19 season, as he’ll have to decide between another year of max level pay or attempting to secure one more big contract over a few years. Considering he’ll be 33 at the end of the season, Horford might decide to re-enter free agency a year early and put the pressure on Boston to lock him up. With no real in-house replacement, unless maybe Robert Williams develops shockingly fast, Boston would be forced to pay him, but Horford would likely make less annually than the $30 million he’s due to be paid in 2019-20 if he picks up his option.

Photo Courtesy: NBA.com

11. Tobias Harris- Harris just bet on himself by turning down a 4 year, $80-million extension from the Clippers ,putting the pressure on himself to ball out in a contract year. Fortunately for him, this Clippers roster is set up where he should get plenty of chances to put up a lot of points and showcase his ability to play both forward positions. If he can shoot over 40% from beyond the arc like he did last season, Harris’ gamble should pay off in the form of a deal worth over $25 million annually.

12. Paul Millsap (team option)- The Nuggets will be in a tough place with Millsap’s option, as accepting it keeps the already capped out Nuggets over the cap and possibly over the luxury tax, while declining either allows one of their most important players to leave or forces them to offer a four or five-year deal to a big man in his mid-thirties. A lot will probably depend on how Denver fares this season, but I would think they’ll pick up Millsap’s option and hold off on having to make a decision on whether to retain him for after the 2019-20 campaign.

13. D’Angelo Russell (RFA)- It wouldn’t be surprising if Russell is signed to an extension in Brooklyn before he gets a chance to hit the open market in 2019. The Nets have continually added assets and taken shots at adding a star to the roster during the Sean Marks era, and Russell remains the best in-house option at developing into that elusive centerpiece. His efficiency numbers need to rise this season for the Nets paying him to not look eerily similar to Chicago paying Zach Lavine this offseason, but the gradually improving roster around him should help Russell in that regard.

14. Kemba Walker- After years of improving while on a team friendly deal, Walker will hit the market next offseason with eyes on a max contract. The Hornets are in a tough spot financially with a roster that has struggled to compete for more than fringe playoff contender status in the East. Walker’s name popped up in trade rumors before the draft, so if Charlotte fails to make the playoffs once again, they might decide to let their star guard walk and start retooling around younger players.

15. Myles Turner (RFA)- The Pacers big man didn’t make a leap last season like many pundits expected, and in fact regressed in most areas, but there are plenty of reasons to believe in Turner heading into the 2018-19 season. His floor stretching and shot blocking potential are still very much in play, with Turner posting nearly two blocks a game while shooting over 35% from deep. If Turner can up his scoring and rebounding output while continuing to show signs as a defensive anchor in the middle, Indiana will likely lock up the young big man to form a long-term partnership with Victor Oladipo as the Pacers core.

16. DeAndre Jordan- Jordan will re-enter the market in 2019 after signing a one-year deal to join the Dallas Mavericks looking to lock up his salary for the 2018 season over multiple years. Playing under Rick Carlisle should lead to a productive season for Jordan and will likely lead to him getting approximately the same yearly value of the $22 million deal he got this offseason over a longer span, whether it be from the Mavericks or another squad.

17. Marc Gasol (player option)- The Memphis mainstay has a chance to join a new squad for the first time since he was traded for his brother Pau, and while his age limits his ranking on this list, Gasol still has plenty of on-court value. His passing and floor spacing are both skills that won’t be affected by getting older, while his defensive skills aren’t too based on athleticism, so they shouldn’t dilute too much either. How Gasol plays next to rookie Jaren Jackson and the level Memphis is able to compete at this season will be huge factors in whether Gasol returns.

18. Tyreke Evans- Evans will be right back on the market after signing a one-year pact with the Pacers, and if he proves his accuracy from 3-point range last season wasn’t an anomaly, he should be in line for a multi-year deal at even more than the $12 million he signed this year. His attacking ability has always been there and he’ll never be much of a factor defensively, so it really comes down to Evans maintaining his improvements from the perimeter.

19. Goran Dragic (player option)- This option will likely be picked up by the Slovenian point guard, as his current deal is above the market value for the player Dragic is, especially with the surplus of talented lead guards around the league. If he declines his contract, Miami might be stuck having to pay him, since they likely won’t have the cap space to bring in an equivalent player and they likely won’t want to re-build with two unprotected draft picks in other team’s possession thanks to the trade they made for Dragic.

20. Isaiah Thomas- Slotting Thomas here, and really on this list at all, is a hedge between hoping Thomas returns to All-NBA form and fearing the debilitating effects of last season’s injury, as his play last season wasn’t worthy of inclusion on this list. That being said, last season was the only time doubting IT worked out for anyone, and I’m not ready to bet against one of the most driven players in the league. Reverting back to the sixth man role he held before breaking out in Boston should allow Thomas to play to his strengths by running the second unit offensively while spending more time guarding backup point guards. Health provided, Thomas should be a top contender for sixth man of the year, and possibly a contract finally worthy of a Brinks truck.

Photo Courtesy: MassLive

21. Darren Collison- The journeyman point guard has found a comfortable home in Indiana, where his solid floor general skills have been accentuated by improved play off the ball. Collison shot a league leading 46.8% from 3 last season, and if he maintains that clip he’ll have no problem landing a starting job in the competitive point guard market. Even with the number of talented young point guards around the league, Collison will be worthy of a starting spot entering the market at 31.

22. Terry Rozier (RFA)- Scary Terry will be on the market unless the Celtics can hammer out an extension during the season, which seems unlikely. Boston is already capped out, and by the end of the 2019 season they will already be closing in on needing to look at extensions for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. With Marcus Smart returning to Boston, Rozier could be expendable if a team with cap space decides to bet on the young point guard’s ability to continue his development in a larger role. Judging by last year’s playoff run, Rozier seems both willing and able to lead a team if given the chance.

23. Julius Randle (player option)- The contract he signed with New Orleans was a perfect deal for Randle, as he gets a solid payday for next year and then the option to make the same nine million in 2019-20 or to re-enter the market and seek a more lucrative deal. If Randle continues the strides he made in Los Angeles last year, he could re-enter the market and have a shot at doubling his yearly payday if he can find a team that believes in him. It remains to be seen if there will be a market for a big who can’t consistently shoot or protect the rim, but playing next to Anthony Davis should bring out the best in Randle and could convince a team to throw the bag at him.

24. Nikola Mirotić- After a few years of inconsistent shooting and stagnated development in Chicago, Mirotić broke out in New Orleans last season playing next to Anthony Davis. The Pelicans will likely have to choose between the two forwards next offseason, and Mirotić’s floor spacing might be more appealing for New Orleans than Randle’s interior grit. As long as he maintains the level of play he exhibited once he joined the Pelicans, Mirotić will be due for a solid pay bump in 2019.

25. Patrick Beverley- The league’s premier defensive pest will likely be available in the summer of 2019, since the Clippers just drafted a pair of guards and will be trying to use their cap space to sign more star-level targets. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Beverley, who can use this coming season to prove to other teams he has the ability to be a starter. Even if he can’t convince anyone of that, Beverley will be due a solid payday as an elite backup point guard and sixth man, although I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he’s intent on staying in the Western conference just so he can play against Russell Westbrook as often as possible.

RFA=Restricted Free Agent

Stats via https://www.basketball-reference.com/, contract info via https://www.spotrac.com/nba/

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