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NBA Offseason Roundup: Finding Homes for Available Stars

As the 2018-19 NBA season comes to a close, basketball fans across the country have begun looking forward to next season. Many of these speculations hinge upon free agency signings. In recent history, NBA free agency has become increasingly more compelling for fans, to the point where many argue that it is more interesting than the Finals.

The NBA has a longstanding tradition of convincing its stars to stay with their original teams through Bird rights, which allow teams who have had a player for three or more years to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign them.

With the league’s explosion in popularity has come a significant increase in the salary cap. Since 2008, the salary of the league’s highest paid player has ballooned from $24.8 Million/year to $37.5 Million/year. These astronomically high salaries have spurred an increase in players choosing to leave their teams and accept less money to play for a team that they find appealing for reasons other than money. With the exceptional talent available in the 2019 free agency class, fans are eager to see who their team will be able to acquire.

15. J.J. Redick

Possible destinations: Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers

Best fit: Philadelphia 76ers

Most likely destination: Los Angeles Lakers

Coming off consecutive seasons of career-highs in PPG in Philadelphia, there will be a high demand for Redick’s services by teams in need of a veteran sharp-shooter. While his age (35 by the start of next season) may narrow down the number of teams willing to offer him a contract, his perimeter shooting could allow him to be a productive for three to five more years.

While both Redick and the 76ers have expressed a desire to remain together next season, the impending free agency of both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris could make it difficult for the 76ers to pay all three. Since Philadelphia traded most of its assets for Butler and Harris earlier this season, the front office has placed an emphasis on securing their services long-term. This likely leaves Redick as the odd man out, so to speak.

This loss could prove more devastating than most would imagine for Philadelphia, as their greatest weakness is their inability to make (or in the case of Ben Simmons, attempt) shots from behind the arc. If Philadelphia is unable to offer him a competitive contract, the Lakers could cash in on the opportunity.

Throughout his career, LeBron James has been at his best when surrounded by shooters, such as Kyle Korver and Ray Allen, a luxury the Lakers have been unable to provide. Only the last-place Phoenix Suns shot worse from long-range than the Lakers, who finished the season with a 33% three-point clip. The addition of Redick into their rotation could give the Lakers better spacing and lift them to playoff contention, especially after landing superstar forward Anthony Davis in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.

14. Kristaps Porzingis

Possible destinations: Dallas Mavericks

Best fit: Dallas Mavericks

Most likely destination: Dallas Mavericks

After being acquired from the New York Knicks for DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, and two future first-round picks, Porzingis was unable to play this season for the Mavericks while rehabbing a torn ACL. There is no guarantee that he will return from the injury in the same elite form that he showcased with New York.

Still, Porzingis is viewed as one of the league’s brightest young stars, possessing a rare combination of size, shooting, and finesse. As a restricted free agent, the Mavericks can match any offer from another team to retain him. Considering how much they gave up in order to require him, they will almost certainly match any offer given to him.

Additionally, as a bit of an unknown commodity following a major knee injury, other suitors will likely be reluctant to offer Porzingis anything close to a max contract.

13. Julius Randle

Possible destinations: New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns

Best fit: Phoenix Suns

Most likely destination: Phoenix Suns

Although never seen as a bust, Julius Randle was never really able to live up to expectations with the Los Angeles Lakers. However, a change of scenery seemed to serve Randle well, as he thrived with the New Orleans Pelicans. Whether due to the mentorship of Anthony Davis or an increase in opportunity in New Orleans, Randle set career-highs in every major statistical category except assists per game and field goal percentage this season.

As a talented power forward, he’ll likely be looking for a hefty raise. While it seemed as if he was destined to stay in New Orleans, the arrival of top pick Zion Williamson leaves Randle searching for a new home. As a floor-stretching big man who can also score in the post, he looks to be an ideal fit alongside DeAndre Ayton.

While it may seem unlikely that he would leave one lottery team for another, the Suns are talented in their own right. Devin Booker is a bona-fide star, DeAndre Ayton had a quietly spectacular rookie season, and Kelly Oubre is a solid 3-and-D wing presence.

If Randle signs, the Suns could accelerate a lengthy rebuild and finally return to relevancy. Furthermore, Phoenix has a clear advantage in coaching, as they recently hired Monty Williams. As a head coach, Monty Williams improved the Pelicans’ record each of his last four seasons there. Since his departure, they have perennially underperformed. With no max contract players heading to either team, both the Suns will likely go all-in on Randle.

12. Khris Middleton

Possible destinations: Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks

Best fit: Milwaukee Bucks

Most likely destination: Dallas Mavericks

Despite gaining his first All-Star appearance this season on the league’s best regular season team, Khris Middleton still lives in relative anonymity as the NBA’s most underrated player. Many casual fans are completely unaware that he was even an All-Star.

He shot 0.44/0.37/0.84 this year while averaging 18-4-6 as a second option. If Middleton remains with the Bucks, they could be a title contender for years to come, especially with the Warriors no longer appearing to be an unbeatable juggernaut due to the major injuries and impending free agencies of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant.

Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo could be a formidable duo for years to come, but the city of Milwaukee is a relatively small market, so there’s really only room for one star. Plus, Milwaukee needs to re-sign other key pieces in Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez while preparing cap space for Antetokounmpo's upcoming supertax extension.

If Middleton wants to get his due, and the massive endorsement deals that accompany it, he’ll need to make a move. The Dallas Mavericks have expressed heavy interest in Middleton, and Dallas could launch him into the national spotlight in a way that Milwaukee can’t. While a big three of Middleton, Porzingis, and Luka Doncic would not contend for a title immediately, they could still be dangerous in the playoffs, especially if Dallas is able to flesh out the roster with complementary pieces.

11. Tobias Harris

Possible destinations: Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets

Best fit: Sacramento Kings

Most likely destination: Philadelphia 76ers

The most important team factors for Tobias Harris are a winning culture and team-oriented basketball. The winning culture aspect virtually eliminates the Jazz and Pacers, who currently seem to have reached their respective playoff ceilings.

While the Nets have a chance to contend, especially if they are able to acquire a superstar, they often seem to rely more on hero-ball from D’Angelo Russell, and the acquisition of a player like Kyrie Irving would only increase their reliance on isolation plays.

These qualifications narrow down the Harris sweepstakes to just three teams: the Mavericks, Kings, and 76ers. The Kings and Mavericks both have young cores and high ceilings. The Mavericks have the potential to be great, but Harris would only be their third scoring option, potentially even fourth if they are able to sign another scorer in free agency.

With Sacramento, however, he could potentially be the main scoring option on a team full of young, unselfish players. Given time to develop, the Kings could become a force to be reckoned with.

While the 76ers are a contender now, their ball distribution could become an issue for Harris. Ben Simmons is an elite distributor, but Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler can often dominate the ball. While the 76ers currently have the best winning culture of these three main options, Harris could help build a more successful culture elsewhere if he leaves.

10. Nikola Vucevic

Possible destinations: Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers

Best fit: Atlanta Hawks

Most likely destination: Sacramento Kings

Despite a less-than-stellar playoff performance, Vucevic should still be considered an elite center who is just entering his prime. "Vooch" managed to carry the Orlando Magic to the playoffs despite the absence of other All-Stars.

With the exception of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Terrence Ross, anyone on the Magic could be traded for a copy machine– à la Kyle Korver– and the Magic would win the trade. Vucevic was one of only six players to average 20-12 this year, and the only one who has not made an All-NBA team.

If Vucevic elects to remain in Orlando, he will likely be wasting his prime on a lottery team. The best fit for him would be with the Atlanta Hawks, who have two max slots available and a weakness at center.

While the Hawks performed poorly this year, they possess two top-ten picks in the 2019 draft. The development of these rookies, along with John Collins and Trae Young, could propel the Hawks to the playoffs next season. Atlanta's only legitimate competition is the Kings, who mirror the Hawks’ situation as a lottery team with two max slots and a weakness at center.

While power forward Marvin Bagley plays a similar role to Vucevic, thus limiting his productivity, the Kings also appear to be closer to winning right now, as they finished ninth in the more competitive Western Conference. While Vucevic would more easily fit into Atlanta’s lineup, a move to Sacramento would make sense if he is willing to sacrifice personal accolades for team achievement.

9. D’Angelo Russell

Possible destinations: Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns

Best fit: Brooklyn Nets

Most likely destination: Brooklyn Nets

D’Angelo Russell has carried the Nets on his back from the laughingstock of the NBA to a legitimate destination for stars in free agency. Unfortunately for Russell, ownership has their sights set on landing some bigger names in free agency, though this could change.

While the Nets have expressed interest in pairing Kyrie Irving and D’Angelo Russell in the backcourt in the upcoming season, they only have two max contract slots. If the Nets land Irving and then offer a max to Jimmy Butler, or continue to pursue Kevin Durant despite his injury, they will not be able to afford Russell.

In this scenario, Russell would be wise to seek a starring role in Indiana, Minnesota, or Phoenix. All three teams are full of great role players, but could use an elite scoring point guard like Russell.

8. Kemba Walker

Possible destinations: Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers

Best fit: Dallas Mavericks

Most likely destination: New York Knicks

In eight seasons with the Hornets, Kemba Walker has an All-NBA nod and three All-Star appearances, but has only made the playoffs twice. Both appearances ended with first-round exits. While Walker has given everything he can, including becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, they have proven unable to build around him, overpaying middling free agents and finding themselves in an undesirable financial position.

Walker averaged 25.6 PPG this year, but only one other Hornet averaged more than eleven points (Jeremy Lamb, with 15.3). It’s time for Walker to move on to a team where he can experience meaningful success.

The team with the greatest chance to steal Walker from the Hornets is the New York Knicks. As a Bronx native, Walker grew up as a Knicks fan. On the other hand, James Dolan is considered one of the most incompetent owners in sports, shown both through his inability to create a winning culture and the ire drawn from players and fans alike.

If he joins the Knicks without assurance that he will be paired with another star, Walker will simply be jumping from one losing franchise to another. Still, if he goes alone and can bring the franchise back to relevance, he will be deified in his home city. This temptation could potentially be enough to lure him away from the Dallas Mavericks or Los Angeles Lakers, his other main suitors.

If he chooses to sign with Dallas, the trio of Walker, Porzingis, and Luka Doncic could dominate the West for years to come, while a trio of Walker, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis would immediately be the front-runner in the West. While chemistry could be an issue at first as each of these players is accustomed to being the primary scoring option on their team, the Mavericks and Lakers could become immediate threats barring unforeseen friction.

7. DeMarcus Cousins

Possible destinations: Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks

Best fit: Dallas Mavericks

Most likely destination: Milwaukee Bucks

Before his torn Achilles last season, DeMarcus Cousins was widely considered the league’s best center. Since his return, he has also suffered a torn quad, which forced him to miss another significant period of time. Cousins has been productive in the few games he has played since his return from the latter injury, but he still lacks the stamina, mobility, and strength he had before the injuries.

Still, the potential to get a top-tier center for a discount is worth the risk for teams lacking a quality big man. The Knicks will likely make him an offer considering they seem to be dissatisfied with DeAndre Jordan at center. Cousins didn’t get the ring he was chasing with the Warriors, however, so joining the league’s worst team is probably out of the question.

The Lakers are also probably off the table, as the frontcourt will already be crowded with James and Davis. Even Dallas, another heavy contender for Cousins, seems unlikely due to their lack of success last year. He would be a perfect fit in their lineup, and they would definitely have the potential to contend if they could find a way to bolster their bench, but it would be difficult to fix these issues immediately.

This leaves the Bucks as Cousins’s most likely option. Milwaukee had the best record in the NBA this year. Brooks Lopez often struggled when matched up with another quality big man, but Cousins could provide them with the additional elite scoring option and rebounding necessary to put them over the top. The Bucks would likely heavily pursue Boogie, especially if they lose Brook Lopez to free agency this offseason.

However, much of this likely depends on which team is willing to pay Cousins, as many may be unwilling to break the bank from an aging center who has suffered major injuries in recent years. As a result he will likely sign with whichever team offers him the most financial security and the best chance at re-asserting himself as an elite big man.

6. Jimmy Butler

Possible destinations: Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers

Best fit: Philadelphia 76ers

Most likely destination: Philadelphia 76ers

Since his departure from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jimmy Butler has become one of the NBA’s most controversial characters. Some view him as a coach killer and locker room cancer, while others describe him as an elite two-way player, distinguished by his desire to win.

While chemistry issues may scare some teams away, there will still be an abundance of teams willing to offer Butler a max deal. It would come as no surprise if Butler simply chooses to remain in Philly, with the 76ers likely to remain a title threat. After all, they were able to take the Raptors to the brink in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and even then only lost on a miraculous buzzer-beater by Kawhi Leonard.

If Simmons and Embiid continue to develop, Butler could win a championship in Philadelphia next year with the Warriors potentially losing Durant, Cousins, and Thompson. While he has expressed a desire to team up with Kyrie Irving in New York, they lack the winning culture necessary to keep both of these stars happy.

While it is entirely possible that the two unite in Brooklyn, the Nets seem to be more focused on Kyrie and Durant, and would likely also prioritize re-signing D’Angelo Russell over acquiring Jimmy Butler. While Butler may be more talented, there has been a call for organizations to have loyalty to their stars since Isaiah Thomas was traded from the Celtics after all he did for their organization. As such, the Nets’ front office would be crucified for abandoning Russell for Butler considering Russell was the one who put them on the map. While he is likely open to leaving, Butler lacks the quality options to lure him away from Philly.

5. Klay Thompson

Possible destinations: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers

Best fit: Golden State Warriors

Most likely destination: Golden State Warriors

Considering he is widely regarded as one of the greatest shooters of all time, there are surprisingly few teams openly pursuing Klay Thompson in free agency. The incumbent Golden State Warriors seem to be the heavy favorite to retain him. Thompson fits perfectly into the Warriors’ offensive and defensive schemes, and is unlikely to find the same level of chemistry he has with his Warriors teammates elsewhere.

His game depends on ball movement, as he is more of a catch-and-shoot player than a shot creator. While it was expected that the Warriors would offer Thompson the max upon Durant’s exit, his freshly-torn ACL and Durant’s torn Achilles complicates things. Durant will likely miss all of next season, lowering the likelihood of him receiving a max offer elsewhere.

If he feels that he won’t be offered a max contract from the Knicks, Nets or Clippers, Durant could opt into the last year of his contract and receive $31.5 million. If he chooses this path, the Warriors may be unable to offer Klay a max, leaving him to pursue other options.

If he leaves for the Los Angeles Lakers, Thompson could be the piece that makes the Lakers need the unquestioned title favorite. For Thompson, however, that would mean a reduced role on offense alongside James and Davis. He would likely see more double-teams without Stephen Curry redirecting defensive pressure from the backcourt, as the Lakers do not have another elite scorer at the guard position.

If Thompson wants to be a fixture in the Lakers’ offense, he would need to learn to create his own shot, which is something fans have yet to see from him. Take, for example, the time he scored 60 points on only 11 dribbles. With Golden State, he can continue to contend for a championship on his own terms rather than simply as a role player alongside LeBron James. In the end though, money talks, and a max deal with the Lakers could override a lowball offer from the Warriors.

4. Kyrie Irving

Possible destinations: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks

Best fit: Los Angeles Lakers

Most likely destination: Brooklyn Nets

If you’re a Celtics fan, you’re going to want to just skip to the next section. After a tumultuous time in Boston, Kyrie Irving is gone, leaving the Celtics as simply a mess of rookies and role players. While he is almost definitely leaving the Celtics, Irving's next destination is still up in the air.

While initial indications pointed to him joining the Knicks in the offseason, signs now point to him joining the Brooklyn Nets. However, Irving is unpredictable and always changing his mind. This change was likely caused by the increasing dysfunction present in the Knicks' organization. Their decision to trade away their best player in Kristaps Porzingis for nothing of value only further decreases their odds.

By joining the Knicks, Kyrie would be returning to the same issues that drove him out of Boston with none of the benefits. If Irving wants to go to New York City, then the Nets would be the far better option. He and D’Angelo Russell, Jimmy Butler, or Kevin Durant could form one of the best tandems in the Eastern Conference.

The continued development of Jarett Allen, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Spencer Dinwiddie could make the Nets an immediate contender in the East even without the acquisition of another star in the offseason. The Lakers could also make sense for Irving.

He already knows that he is one of the few players that can achieve success with LeBron James without having to give up his own offensive production. This contrasts heavily with Brooklyn, where there is no guarantee that he and Russell can find a way to effectively share the ball, similar to the way Irving struggled to find a balance in the backcourt with Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown this year.

While Irving and James seemed to have friction towards the end of his tenure in Cleveland, Irving apologized and made amends with James, admitting that he was at fault for their differences. All this seems to set the stage for a Kyrie-Lebron reunion tour, but the allure of playing in New York City, along with LA's lack of a max contract slot, may be too much to overcome.

3. Anthony Davis

Possible destinations: New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks

Best fit: Boston Celtics

Most likely destination: Los Angeles Lakers

While Davis is not a free agent until next season, his availability has been well-documented.

Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week, ending a season-long saga which featured a public trade request on Davis's part, many attempts to force a move to a major market, sabotage by New Orleans Pelicans ex-GM Dell Demps, and a great deal of bad blood and shady dealings.

With both New Orleans and Los Angeles parting ways with their executives, the two sides reconciled and agreed to a trade which seems to benefit both parties. Los Angeles landed Davis and became an immediate title contender, while New Orleans added Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, along with multiple first round picks.

New Orleans suddenly has one of the most promising futures in the league despite things looking hopeless just a few months ago. The Pelicans now boast a potential lineup of Jrue Holiday, Ball, Ingram, Hart, and Zion Williamson, along with one of the deepest stocks of assets in the NBA.

2. Kawhi Leonard

Possible destinations: Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers

Best fit: Los Angeles Clippers

Most likely destination: Toronto Raptors

If the Toronto Raptors are able to convince Kawhi Leonard to re-sign this offseason, then Raptors GM Masai Ujiri will have pulled off one of the greatest trade robberies in basketball history. While DeMar DeRozan is a good player, Kawhi Leonard is now arguably the best player in the NBA, a once-in-a-generation talent on both ends of the court.

While Toronto’s efforts seemed futile at first based on Kawhi’s desire to play in his home city of Los Angeles, the love shown to him by the city of Toronto may have very well changed his mind. Whether it be through the “Kawhine and Dine intitiative”, or through the multimillion dollar penthouse offered to him upon his re-signing with Toronto, there have been very few cities that have shown a player more dedication than Toronto has to Leonard.

This, along with the unprecedented success that Leonard has achieved in Toronto, make it ever more likely that he will return to The Six on a short-term deal. The Raptors can also offer Leonard the most money, although money has never been much of a motivator for him; his decision will almost certainly be made for basketball reasons alone.

While Leonard has never been one to revel in the spotlight, it would not be a smart career move for him to sign with the Lakers just to live in LeBron’s shadow. The Clippers, on the other hand, are still on the table. While Leonard has won in Toronto, he does not have nearly as good of a supporting cast as he would have on the Clippers.

Not only are the Clippers’ role players superior to Toronto’s, but they also have a brighter future. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montrezl Harell, Lou Williams, and Landry Shamet (and, if you will, Jerome Robinson) are all 25 or younger, yet have still shown the ability provide great contributions to their team.

If he were to make the move to the Clippers, he would have both a better supporting cast now and a better chance to continue winning even after he exits his prime. Additionally, he could establish himself as the greatest Clipper of all time. If he wins in Los Angeles, he could become the only player ever to win a Finals MVP with three different teams, as well as one of the select few to lead multiple teams to their first championship. While his success in Toronto has greatly improved the Raptors’ case, the Clippers are by no means out of the hunt.

1. Kevin Durant

Possible destinations: Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers

Best fit: Los Angeles Clippers

Most likely destination: New York Knicks

There has been widespread speculation about Kevin Durant’s free agency decision circulating since the moment he left the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nobody expects him to remain with the Golden State Warriors due to the harsh criticism he has received for joining a superteam, but his injury has made them retaining his services a distinct possibility.

There have been rumors that the Warriors will offer Durant a max contract even if he is unable to play again next year due to a feeling of guilt for rushing him back onto the court, plus the opportunity to extend their existing dynasty. Still, the most widely-accepted destination for Durant seems to be the New York Knicks.

While the Knicks are quite the opposite of his last free agency decision in that they finished the season with the worst record in the league, something about the allure of New York seems to draws him in. Despite a lack of success since the early 70’s, they are still considered a marquee team. Madison Square Garden is still "the Mecca of basketball."

Regardless of the poor state of the team’s roster and ownership, this prestige seems to be enough to attract Durant. All signs point to him favoring the Knicks, including a report that he recently sold his home in the Bay Area and purchased one in New York. With their desperate state of affairs, they will likely offer him a max deal even if he is unable to play next season. If he wants to play for another chance at a ring, however, the Brooklyn Nets are also a viable option.

When ignoring the name-recognition value, the Nets have just about every other advantage. Their ownership has been significantly less problematic, they can offer a supporting cast that, when combined with a superstar or two, could legitimately contend for a championship, and they are still in New York City. Yet, something about the Nets just doesn’t seem attractive to Durant. Reports have suggested, however, that Durant is just as likely to choose the Los Angeles Clippers as he is to choose the Knicks.

In many ways, the Clippers are like the Nets, just in a different city. They have all the pieces to produce a winning culture but lack the marquee name. The main difference between the Clippers and Nets is the venue in which they play. While the Clippers lack prestige, they still play in the Staples Center, the most prestigious venue in basketball aside from Madison Square Garden.

On the other hand, they have so much potential available to them, and with the rumors of other stars possibly joining, they could be reluctant to offer Durant a max deal considering he may never come back the same. The Clippers could either lowball Durant or move in a different direction entirely. They could focus on other stars this year, and if they miss, save their max slots so they can sign a superstar as their young core enters their prime in a few years. In this scenario, KD almost certainly ends up wearing the Blue and Orange when he returns from his injury.

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