As the Toronto Raptors closed out the 2019 NBA Finals, it was widely agreed upon that this has been the most entertaining Finals experience of the 21st Century. I’ve never seen an NBA Finals in which the unrelated subplots were as important (if not more important) than the actual basketball being played in late May and June.
While the Raptors clinched their first ever NBA Championship over the Golden State Warriors, the NBA Rumor Mill couldn’t have been more active. After a playoff run for the ages, speculation of Raptors star and upcoming free agent Kawhi Leonard’s future was at an all-time high, in both importance and ambiguity. The same could be said for Warriors stars and upcoming free agents Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson; until they both suffered catastrophic injuries. In news that was unrelated to the Finals, Kyrie Irving declined his player option for the 2019-2020 season with the Boston Celtics, fired his agent, then signed with a different agency. He signed with Roc Nation, whose President (Michael Yormark) is the twin brother of the Brooklyn Nets CEO (Brett Yormark).
Now, as the age of player empowerment hits its stride, what happens next?
Let’s start with a timeline.
June 20, 2019
June 24, 2019
- Last day for potential restricted free agents to exercise player options.
- NBA awards are announced.
June 29, 2019
- Last day for decisions on player, team and early termination options, unless individual contracts specify otherwise.
June 30, 2019
- Last official day of the 2018/19 NBA league year.
- Last day for teams to make qualifying offers to players eligible for restricted free agency.
- Last day for players eligible for veteran extensions in 2018/19 to sign them.
July 1, 2019
- Official start of the 2019/20 NBA league year.
- July moratorium begins. The moratorium allows teams and players only to agree upon deals in principle, no pen-to-paper deals are allowed.
- Free agents can begin reaching verbal agreements with teams.
- Restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet.
- Teams can begin signing players to rookie scale contracts, minimum salary contracts, and two-way contracts.
July 6, 2019
- July moratorium ends (11:00am CT)
- Teams can begin officially signing players, extending players, and completing trades.
- The two-day period for matching an RFA offer sheet signed during the moratorium begins.
Who makes this offseason so important?
Here are some important names of this year’s offseason. These are the players that will in one way or another, change the landscape of the NBA’s next 5-7 years in this offseason. Included are their current team, their age at the beginning of next season, their stat line from this past season (PPG/RPG/APG/SPG/BPG, FG%/3FG%/FT%), their contract status, and my prediction for where they’ll land this offseason.
- *Kevin Durant, GSW: 31, 26 PPG/6 RPG/6 APG/1 SPG/0.7 BPG, 52 FG%/35 3FG%/88.5 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent. Prediction: New York Knicks
- Kyrie Irving, BOS: 27, 24 PPG/5 RPG/7 APG/1.5 SPG/0.5 BPG, 49 FG%/40 3FG%/87 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent. Prediction: Brooklyn Nets
- **Klay Thompson, GSW, 29: 21.5 PPG/4 RPG/2 APG/1 SPG/0.6 BPG, 47 FG%/40 3FG%/82 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent (Eligible for Super Max). Prediction: Golden State Warriors
- Kawhi Leonard, TOR: 28, 26.6 PPG/7 RPG/3 APG/1.8 SPG/0.4 BPG, 50 FG%/37 3FG%/85 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent. Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers or Toronto Raptors
- Kemba Walker, CHA: 29, 25.6 PPG/4 RPG/6 APG/1.2 SPG/0.4 BPG, 43 FG%/36 3FG%/84 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent (Eligible for Super Max). Prediction: Charlotte Hornets
- Jimmy Butler, PHI: 30, 19 PPG/5 RPG/4 APG/1.9 SPG/0.6 BPG, 46 FG%/35 3FG%/85.5 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent. Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers
- D’Angelo Russell, BKN: 23, 21 PPG/4 RPG/7 APG/1.2 SPG/0.2 BPG, 43 FG%/37 3FG%/78 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent. Prediction: Utah Jazz or Indiana Pacers
- Nikola Vucevic, ORL: 29, 20.8 PPG/12 RPG/4 APG/1 SPG/ 1 BPG, 52 FG%/36 3FG%/ 79 FT%, Unrestricted Free Agent. Prediction: Orlando Magic
- Kristaps Porzingis, DAL: 24, 2017-18 Stats: 22.7 PPG/ 6.6 RPG/1 APG/ 0.8 SPG/ 2.4 BPG, 44 FG%/ 39.5 3FG%/ 79 FT%, Restricted Free Agent. Prediction: Dallas Mavericks
*Durant suffered a ruptured achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, sidelining him for the entire 2019-20 season, therefore diminishing his value as a free agent. **Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, likely keeping him out of the upcoming regular season.
The most important part of this list lies within the two Warriors mentioned. The injuries to Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant will keep both of them out for at least the 2019/2020 regular season. So even if Golden State somehow re-signs both of them, the Warriors won’t be nearly as strong as they’ve been. The Warriors have been a perennial powerhouse of the NBA. The collapse of a superpower seems like it should be accompanied by the passing of the proverbial powerhouse torch, but things haven’t ever worked that quickly in the NBA. After Russell’s Celtics fell, it took about a decade for Larry Bird and Magic to take over the league (Although Kareem just about completely dominated the 70’s). The transition from the 80s’ Celtics/Lakers era to the 90’s Jordan Bulls era was relatively smooth, but it was separated by a buffer called the Bad Boy Pistons. After Michael took six rings, it took a few years for the Kobe/Shaq Lakers to take hold of the league. What I’m trying to say is, don’t expect a new era of the NBA to be ushered in as quickly as the Warriors have fallen.
The Short-Term Future (1-2 Years)
If we’re looking at the next couple years of the league, we have to pay complete attention to Kawhi and Anthony Davis. If the Clippers sign Leonard, they automatically become a contender in the West. If Kawhi stays in Toronto, the West is left wide open. There will be a black hole where content used to spawn in the West naturally, and it could be filled by just about any teams or players. Here are some of the teams from the West that I think could make their case as perennial contenders next year:
- Dallas Mavericks – It’s hard to think of a team that has a better long-term core than the Mavs. Luka Doncic just had one of the most impressive rookie seasons of the past 20 years, and he’ll only be 20 by the beginning of next year. Kristaps Porzingis has been almost forgotten about since he tore his ACL. He was a borderline All-NBA level player for the Knicks at 22 years old, but, understandably, he lost hype after his knee injury. It’s difficult for a 7’3″ man to rehab a knee injury and return to 100%. Dallas has a ton of cap space, they have over $50 Million free this offseason, but they’ll likely sign Porzingis to a deal worth over $30 Million annually. They still have enough salary cap room to sign a third all-star level player. There are rumors that they’ll offer Kemba Walker. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pursued someone like Khris Middleton, although Dallas hasn’t had a ton of recent success in the free agent market.
- Los Angeles Lakers – This is an obvious one. Even though it’s premature to crown the Lakers as the favorites to win it all next year, they’ll dominate the NBA news cycle no matter how successful they are as a team. I think they could go one of two ways in free agency this year. They have somewhere from $23-27 million in cap space and five players on their active roster (Lebron, AD, Kuzma, Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner). The first option is to target a ball-handling star and try to convince him to take a pay cut (i.e., Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving,
D’Angelo Russell, Jimmy Butler) then use the veteran minimum to fill out a lackluster bench. The second option is to try and sign a few solid role players to round out a balanced 7-8 man rotation. They could target guys who could take $6-9 million annually, like Patrick Beverly, Danny Green, Paul Milsap, Marcus Morris, or Seth Curry. I like the latter option, but I think it’s more likely that Rob Pelinka will go with the superstar route.
- Los Angeles Clippers – Sticking with another Los Angeles team, I think this is pretty straight forward. If the Clippers sign Kawhi, they’re the favorites to win the 2020 NBA title. It’s as simple as that. It’ll be a battle in Staples Center for control of the West, and I think that could be the most entertaining storyline of this offseason.
- Utah Jazz – This is less of a breakout candidate because they’ve already broken out as a contender. However, they’re rumored to be targeting D’Angelo Russell in free agency. I love his fit with Utah, although they already have a slightly inefficient, volume-shooting, ball-dominant guard in Donovan Mitchell. Replacing Rubio with Russell adds an entirely new dimension to their already-solid offense, and their defense will barely take a hit.
There’s a lack of Eastern Conference teams for several reasons. Mainly, everything is pretty much set out there. If Kawhi re-signs in Toronto, they’re defending their title with a good chance to repeat. If they don’t re-sign him, they go into a rebuild. The Bucks are mostly figured out for the next few years, as are the Sixers (Barring a surprise Ben Simmons trade.)
The Long-Term Future (5-7 Years)
- Boston Celtics – It seems like Danny Ainge’s asset-stacking strategies never really resulted in any notable success, which is bad. I like the Celtics’ long-term roster, though, which is good. Jayson Tatum had a pretty bad sophomore slump this past year, but I think he just completely over-performed in his rookie year. The Celtics are going to be relevant no matter what, but I don’t see a championship window opening for them over the next four or five years. They’re eventually going to have to pay Jaylen Brown and Tatum, and I don’t see either of them ever being the best player on a championship team, and I only see Tatum has potentially being a great number two. It’s going to be tough to build around those two.
- New Orleans Pelicans – The Pelicans currently have a dream team. More specifically, a dream team if you’re playing Franchise Mode in NBA 2K. They have the greatest abundance of young talent that the league has seen in the past 25 years, and it’ll be exciting to see what happens with it. I love the backcourt duo of Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball. They’re two young, extremely intelligent, unselfish, and very defensively savvy guards, and their team-first brand of basketball will be perfect for a budding superstar like Zion Williamson. They also have what seems like every single one of the Lakers’ first-round draft picks for the next four-five years, so if Zion, Lonzo, Jrue, and Brandon Ingram blossom into a cohesive, efficient core, it won’t be hard to surround them with more talent. I don’t love Brandon Ingram’s fit in New Orleans, a pure scorer may be all he amounts to in the NBA, and I don’t know how he’ll develop as a defender due to his thin frame. It’ll be interesting to see what the Pelicans do with their fourth pick. There are reports that they’re negotiating with Washington in a deal for Bradley Beal. Sending the fourth pick, Brandon Ingram, and a future first-rounder for Beal would make sense for both teams. It would free up cap room for Washington, give them two future assets to boost their rebuild, and a potential star in Ingram. For New Orleans, it would introduce a win-now culture while developing their young players, plus it wouldn’t damage their rebuild due to all of the picks they acquired from Los Angeles. I think the Pelicans will be a League Pass must-watch for the next decade.
- Milwaukee Bucks – I had to include them on this list. Whichever team has Giannis for the next ten years will be a force to be reckoned with. I hope that they can continue building a roster with championship potential around Giannis before his contract expires. They’ve already done a better job of this than how Cleveland and New Orleans treated Lebron and AD on their rookie contracts, respectively.
- Philadelphia 76ers – I don’t have a great feeling about the 76ers’ future, but what do I know? I think Joel Embiid is a little too fragile, and he already moves like he’s 40. I got some real Greg Oden vibes in the playoffs this year, but he was technically nursing a back injury (and gastrointestinal issues.) Okay, now I have to go out and say it: I don’t think Ben Simmons is a Top 25 player in the NBA, and I will continue to believe this until he either develops a jumper or decides to show up in the playoffs consistently. If I were a GM trying to win a championship, I wouldn’t feel comfortable having him as my second option. I hope he improves, though. I hope he proves me wrong, and I would like to see the Sixers win a title over the next 5-7 years. If things go right for them, they could win a couple.
NBA Award Predictions
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year: Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
Most Improved: Pascal Siakam, PF/SF, Toronto Raptors
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic, SF, Dallas Mavericks
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
How to Keep Track of Everything:
Keeping up with all of the happenings in the NBA’s offseason is tough. There’s smokescreens, welched deals, false reports, internet trolls, etc. If you need a way to stay connected to all of the news, I suggest following these twitter accounts. Rob Perez of the Action Network, @WorldWideWob, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, @WojESPN, Shams Charania of The Athletic, @ShamsCharania, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, @KevinOConnor . NBA Twitter is the best part of twitter, don’t forget that.