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The Key NBA Free Agents in 2019

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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?

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Benny Nadeau

Benny Nadeau

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.