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The Key NBA Free Agents in 2019

The 2019 offseason may be two years away, but it’s never too early to start making long term plans.

Benny Nadeau

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By this point in this summer, most NBA franchises generally know their fate for the upcoming season. Either you’re a contender or a pretender — but thanks to the Golden State Warriors’ stacked, nearly unbeatable core, some teams are looking even further down the road. Free agency in 2019 is a full two seasons away and, obviously, much can change in the upcoming 20-plus months before then.

Still, if you’re one for forward-thinking and future planning, here’s a far, far too early look at which players could be the big-time free agent targets in 2019. Each potential free agent is denoted by their contract type and how old they’ll be by the time July rolls around two years from now.

But first, a few caveats:

On The Low, Low Odds They Don’t Opt Out in 2018

If any of these players decide to opt into their contracts in 2018, they’ll be unrestricted the following year. However, the top superstars often snag that player option to protect themselves in the case of a long-term injury. Kevin Durant, for example, seems settled into the life of 1 + 1 deals — a guaranteed one-year contract with that sweet player option in the second to make sure that he always holds the cards in free agency.

LeBron James — Cleveland Cavaliers — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds + 8.7 assists in 37.8 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 34

Until Kyrie Irving’s recent shock trade request, it would have been tough to believe that the Cleveland Cavaliers were headed toward a breakup. In 2018, James will almost certainly opt out, earning himself the freedom to go anywhere he pleases. Should he and Irving suddenly reconcile their differences, they’ll both be free agents in 2019, along with Kevin Love, in all likelihood.

Kevin Durant — Golden State Warriors — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds on 53.7 percent in 33.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

Russell Westbrook — Oklahoma City Thunder — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds + 10.4 assists in 34.6 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

In 2016-17, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double and won MVP, thus setting the stage for an epic trip to free agency in 2018. However, that was before the Oklahoma City Thunder went out and traded for All-Star Paul George this summer. While Westbrook has mentioned his intentions to stay with the Thunder long-term, the allure of Los Angeles may be too much to handle. Note: Both Westbrook and George have player options in 2018 and then are unrestricted in 2019 — can you say package deal?

Paul George — Oklahoma City Thunder — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds + 3.3 assists in 35.9 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Carmelo Anthony — New York Knicks — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds in 34.3 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 35

Carmelo Anthony will earn himself at least one more NBA payday in 2019 — that is, if he doesn’t opt out of his contract after next season, wherever it is that the future Hall of Famer ends up. After strong stints with both the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks over the last fourteen years, Anthony will surely look to target the ever-elusive NBA Championship — hence his desire to join up with Chris Paul in Houston.

DeAndre Jordan — Los Angeles Clippers — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds on 71.4 percent in 31.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

LaMarcus Aldridge — San Antonio Spurs — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds + 1.2 blocks in 32.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

Surprisingly, it seems as if the San Antonio Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge are barrelling toward a split. After frustration surrounding his fit with the Spurs arose this summer, Aldridge is likely a lock to opt out in 2018 instead of waiting for it to naturally expire one year later. Aldridge had a tough postseason for San Antonio, but he’ll be sought after whenever he hits free agency.

Yeah, They’re Restricted Free Agents… But Don’t Get Any Ideas

Technically, this quartet will all hit the open market in 2019, but something drastic would need to happen in the next two years before their respective franchises balk at matching any offer sheet they receive. More or less, it’s fair to cross this daydream off your free agency wish list — these four won’t be going anywhere.

Karl-Anthony Towns — Minnesota Timberwolves — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds + 1.3 blocks in 37 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 23

What else is there to say about Karl-Anthony Towns? If head coach Tom Thibodeau can work on improving Towns’ raw defense, then the young center will quickly become one of the NBA’s most dominant forces. With Andrew Wiggins preparing for a max offer from Minnesota, the two could form an extremely potent duo for the next decade. Condolences to the other 29 teams, but Towns is destined to be the face of the franchise in Minnesota for a very, very long time.

Devin Booker — Phoenix Suns — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 22.1 points, 3.4 assists + 1.9 three-pointers in 35 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 22

Kristaps Porzingis — New York Knicks — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds + 2 blocks in 32.8 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 24

Ditto goes for Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks’ Latvian unicorn. Since he was drafted in 2015, Porzingis has been absolute revelation — blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and hitting three-pointers, the budding superstar does it all. There was some worry the Knicks might move him around June’s draft, but fret no longer, Porzingis will terrorize opponents at Madison Square Garden until further notice.

Myles Turner — Indiana Pacers — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds + 2.1 blocks in 31.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 23

Max ‘Em Out

Kawhi Leonard — San Antonio Spurs — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds + 3.5 assists in 33.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2018: 28

The Klaw quickly became one of the league’s greatest assets under the tutelage of head coach Gregg Popovich and the recently-retired Tim Duncan. Of course, Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and already has an NBA Finals MVP to his name as well. Oh, and given the way the Spurs typically take care of business, it’s fair to expect that Leonard won’t be leaving San Antonio for quite some time, if ever.

Kyrie Irving — Cleveland Cavaliers — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 25.2 points, 5.8 assists + 2.5 three-pointers in 35.1 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 27

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota Timberwolves — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, + 5.5 assists in 37 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Superstar Jimmy Butler reunited with former head coach Tom Thibodeau in a stunning draft day trade back in June. Now in Minnesota, Butler will compete alongside Wiggins and Towns on a nightly basis in the crowded Western Conference. If the Timberwolves find quick success, Butler is a strong candidate to stick around past his player option in 2019.

Kevin Love — Cleveland Cavaliers — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 19 points, 11.1 rebounds + 2.4 three-pointers in 31.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

Klay Thompson — Golden State Warriors — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 22.3 points, 3.7 rebounds + 3.4 three-pointers in 34 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Klay Thompson has made a living as one of the top contributors responsible for Golden State’s now three-year rampage through the league. Perhaps in two years, Thompson could be ready to follow his curiosity to a new franchise and, finally, taste professional basketball as the number one option on offense.  Or, of course, he could stay in the Bay Area forever and ruin the other 29 franchise’s plans indefinitely — that reality is still certainly in play.

Hassan Whiteside — Miami HEAT — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds + 2.1 blocks in 32.6 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

Kemba Walker — Charlotte Hornets — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 23.2 points, 5.5 assists, + 3 three-pointers in 34.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

In this point guard-driven league, the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker is one of the NBA’s most underrated. It stands to reason that if Walker had a more prolific supporting cast, he’d be a shoo-in for All-Star festivities each year. During the fourth quarter, Walker becomes an entirely different animal — the type of player you’d want to take the last shot with the game on the line. If Charlotte doesn’t take the next step in development soon, it wouldn’t be surprising to find Walker looking toward greener pastures in 2019.

Eric Bledsoe — Phoenix Suns — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 21.1 points, 4.8 rebounds + 6.3 assists in 33 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Veterans With Something Left In The Tank

Paul Millsap — Denver Nuggets — Team Option
2016-17 Line: 18.1 points, 7.7 points + 3.7 assists in 34 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 34

Paul Millsap’s arrival in Denver has made the Nuggets’ young squad a popular postseason pick and for good reason. If Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray continue their ascent alongside one of the game’s best veterans, there’s little chance that Denver will decline the opportunity to keep Millsap around in that third and final year of his deal.

Al Horford — Boston Celtics — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 14 points, 6.8 rebounds, + 5 assists in 32.3 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

Marc Gasol — Memphis Grizzlies — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds + 1.3 blocks in 34.2 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 34

Marc Gasol has been a dynamic force for the Memphis Grizzlies since he broke through back in 2008-09. With Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (potentially) out the door, there are changes coming in Memphis sooner rather than later. Gasol has always been a strong defensive presence, but his growth as a three-point shooter (38.8 percent) last year could extend his career well into his 40s.

Tyson Chandler — Phoenix Suns — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 8.4 points, 11.5 rebounds + 1.4 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 36

Dwight Howard — Charlotte Hornets — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds on 63.3 percent in 29.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

As Basketball Insiders’ Joel Brigham pointed out on Monday, Dwight Howard is about to do some serious climbing on the NBA’s all-time leaders list. For Howard, who has had an overall rough go of things since he left Orlando in 2012, has still proven to be a very capable NBA center. His days as the franchise player are long gone, but he’s still averaged 10 or more rebounds in all 13 years of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Worthy Pieces On A Contender

D’Angelo Russell — Brooklyn Nets — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 15.6 points, 4.8 assists + 2.1 three-pointers in 28.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 23

D’Angelo Russell could easily find himself in the same company as Towns and friends from up above if he turns in two improved seasons with the Nets. Russell will become an offensive focus for the retooling Brooklyn franchise and the team, who still owes one more first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics in 2018, would have a hard time parting with the young guard no matter the price. With the pressure off in the Eastern Conference, Russell’s league-wide standing could be much different in just one year.

Khris Middleton — Milwaukee Bucks — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds + 1.6 three-pointers in 30.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 27

Harrison Barnes — Dallas Mavericks — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 19.2 points, 5 rebounds + 1.5 assists in 35.5 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 27

In order for the Warriors to evolve from an impressively strong roster to its nearly unbeatable final form, Harrison Barnes was sacrificed to sign Durant. While Golden State steamrolled their way to another championship, Barnes performed fairly well in his top dog role with the Dallas Mavericks. Barnes still has a great distance to go before he reaches his ultimate potential, but he’ll be a wanted man should he opt out early in 2019 nonetheless.

George Hill — Sacramento Kings — Non-Guaranteed
2016-17 Line: 16.9 points, 4.2 assists + 1.9 three-pointers in 31.5 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

Ricky Rubio — Utah Jazz — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 11.1 points, 9.1 assists + 1.7 steals in 32.9 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 28

Almost overnight, Ricky Rubio became an afterthought on the Timberwolves’ perpetually underachieving roster. At this point, Rubio is a finished product and has the weathered playmaking chops to prove it. Although he never nailed down a sense of consistency from three-point range, Rubio still possesses the qualities of a very effective defender. For a playoff-bound team in Utah, Rubio can start rebuilding his brand ahead of unrestricted free agency in two years.

Jonas Valanciunas — Toronto Raptors — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 12 points, 9.5 rebounds on 55.7 percent in 25.8 minutes per game
Age on July 1st: 27

Other Intriguing Free Agents: Jeremy Lin (Unrestricted)Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Player Option), Jeff Teague (Player Option), J.R. Smith (Non-Guaranteed), Goran Dragic (Player Option), Nikola Vucevic (Unrestricted), Enes Kanter (Unrestricted), Frank Kaminsky (Restricted), Danny Green (Unrestricted), Thaddeus Young (Unrestricted).

Ultimately, 2019 is still a distant though for the casual NBA fan and half the players on this list may have their respective situations resolved by the time free agency opens in two years. However, front offices across the league are already planning out their next moves, all in hopes of finally thwarting those powerhouses out in the Western Conference. For front offices, it’s never too early to start preparing — where will your team be after another two seasons?

Benny Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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