Should be another crazy summer for NBA free agency

  • John Paxson, Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations, could be ready to make a big offer to Malcolm Brogdon or Julius Randle.

    John Paxson, Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations, could be ready to make a big offer to Malcolm Brogdon or Julius Randle. Associated Press File/April 11, 2019

 
 
Updated 6/29/2019 8:36 PM

This was supposed to be an eventful summer for free agency in the NBA, and it still will be. But a couple of significant injuries during the Finals changed the landscape.

The early buzz has Kyrie Irving moving from Boston to Brooklyn and Charlotte's Kemba Walker taking the vacant spot with the Celtics. Free agency isn't supposed to begin until Sunday afternoon, but the NBA has been looking the other way on early starts for years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Several teams have loaded up on cap space, including every team in the two largest markets: the Knicks, Nets, Lakers and Clippers. Indiana point guard Darren Collison surprisingly announced his retirement and ex-Bull Nikola Mirotic reportedly is going back to Spain, taking a couple of free agents off the market.

Before anything becomes official, let's take some educated guesses on the NBA's most significant free-agent questions:

Kawhi Leonard: This one feels like a coin flip between staying in Toronto and moving closer to home in Los Angeles. After winning the title, Leonard will be a hero in Canada either way. The feeling here is he's more likely to join the Clippers than the Lakers. He has proved he doesn't need a superteam to win, although recent buzz has him pairing up with the injured Kevin Durant, which could be done if the Clips can move a few players.

Then it probably comes down to how much Leonard loves his Raptors teammates. He could stay another year in Toronto, try to repeat with the same group, and then become a free agent in 2021 when he could get a higher max salary as a 10-year veteran. Players usually don't pass on long-term security, so maybe he'll join the Clippers.

Kevin Durant: If Golden State offers a five-year max deal, how could Durant say no? If he stays with the Warriors, there's a chance he and Klay Thompson come back late next season and try to avenge the Finals defeat. If he jumps to the Knicks, he'd follow the Achilles rehab with a rebuild. Unless Durant has a serious beef with Golden State's medical staff, he'll stay. If he leaves, it will be to join Kawhi with the Clippers.

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Jimmy Butler: There's been a lot of talk about Miami and Houston having major interest, despite having no cap space whatsoever. And LeBron James' Lakers may make a pitch. But look at it this way. If Leonard's Game 7 desperation jumper takes a halfway normal bounce on the rim, the 76ers might have bounced Toronto in the second round. So staying with Philadelphia gets Butler move money and keeps him in Finals contention. The guess here is he stays put.

Los Angeles Lakers: By moving a few players this week, the Lakers now have cap space to offer another maximum contract and could make pitches to Leonard, Butler and anyone else. One problem is if they do sign a max free agent, the Lakers' roster would include James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, the new free agent and pretty much no one else. Spending that free-agent money on multiple guys could be the smart move.

D'Angelo Russell: After leading the Nets to the playoffs, it appears Russell is going to be set free, as ESPN reported Sunday, because Brooklyn is planning to sign Irving. The Bulls should make a pitch, because Russell would fit well with the current lineup. Maybe Brooklyn would take back Kris Dunn in a sign-and-trade. A return to the Lakers also has been mentioned for Russell, Minnesota is said to have interest, and Dallas is a team with cap space that could make a play.

Milwaukee Bucks: This will be a pivotal summer for the Central Division champs, since three starters -- Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez -- are free agents. Trading Tony Snell to Detroit gave the Bucks some payroll relief for 2020-21. If Milwaukee isn't afraid of a luxury-tax bill this season, they should be able to re-sign all three.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Al Horford: Until a few weeks ago, Horford seemed a safe bet to stay with the Celtics, but he's reportedly planning to move on. At 33, Horford figures to stick with a winner. The Lakers or Clippers are possibilities, and he's not likely to follow Irving to Brooklyn, but Horford's destination feels like a mystery right now.

Klay Thompson: It's tough to improve on being a Splash Brother. Thompson will pack up and follow the Warriors to San Francisco next season.

DeMarcus Cousins: Another tough call. No team seems likely to break the bank for a long-term deal. He has played with Davis before, so maybe the Lakers.

New York Knicks: With the Kevin plus Kyrie plan looking like a miss, the Knicks probably will lay low and hope for better luck next year. They also could be active in absorbing contracts from teams looking to create cap space.

Derrick Rose: He could be a target to join the Lakers, but his first pairing with James in Cleveland didn't work out well. Frank Isola of The Athletic suggested Detroit is the favorite.

Bulls: They caught a break when the league wiped Omer Asik's $3 million buyout off the books. So they'll have about $23 million to spend. There has been talk of the Bulls making a big offer to Brogdon or New Orleans big man Julius Randle.

Brogdon would be tough to pull off, as he is restricted. Since the Bulls have 11 players under contract already, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a shot at Randle as a long-term piece. Talk of the Clippers signing both Leonard and Durant could have them looking to unload guys such as Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, which would be a great scenario for the Bulls. We mentioned Russell above.

Patience could be the best plan, waiting to see how things play out early and then get involved in a trade or settle for trying to sign the best of the rest.

* Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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