The NBA’s off-season is the best in sports and no other league’s break comes anywhere close. This year’s edition should be extra wacky, because nearly 40% of the world’s best basketball players are free agents.
Not only that, the calibre of available talent might be the highest of all time. Three of the greatest playoff performers to ever play — Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving — can test the market, along with quite a few No. 2- or No. 3-type players providing support to the superstars on great teams.
Back in 2016, the salary cap shot up because of a huge new U.S. television deal. A lot of mistakes were made by executives who spent the cash just for the sake of doing so.
This time around, some of those deals have mercifully expired. Many more have not. Still, as many as nine teams are projected to be able to offer a max contract, or close to it. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets can likely offer two players the max to play in the Big Apple.
The rumour mill is in overdrive, with players said to be lining up meetings with clubs, waiting to be pitched on new or existing horizons.
The Los Angeles Lakers, in the midst of an embarrassing run of six straight years without a playoff appearance, have paired Anthony Davis with LeBron James and found a way to open up room for another elite player. The rival Clippers have been taking aim at Leonard and others all year. The Nets are reportedly confident Irving, who grew up in New Jersey, will be joining them, while the Celtics could replace the perennial all-star starter with Kemba Walker, but could also lose big man Al Horford.
Philadelphia’s free agents include starters Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick. Milwaukee, the league’s best team in the regular season, has to find a way to keep all-star forward Khris Middleton, guard Malcolm Brogdon — who might have been the team’s second-best player against Toronto — and starting centre Brook Lopez.
The Raptors expect to get the final meeting with Leonard, who led the team to the title. Danny Green is also a free agent, but Toronto has his Bird Rights, meaning a luxury-tax bill could be the biggest obstacle to bringing him back.
With Marc Gasol opting in to the final year of his contract, Toronto would not have cap space to make a splash even if both Leonard and Green went elsewhere. But next summer would be a different story.
Per Sportrac, Durant or Walker could get deals worth up to $221 million by staying with their current teams (for five years) versus $164 million and $140 million, respectively, by leaving (for four years).
Leonard, Butler, Thompson, Irving and others would leave as much as $50 million on the table by choosing a new team. Leonard could have signed for $221 million had he stayed with San Antonio.
All of the fun will officially kick off at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, six hours earlier than in previous years. The moratorium period prevents any official contracts from being signed until noon ET on July 6.
WHO ARE THE TOP PRIZES?
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Nets the current favourites. Was linked to Knicks for months.
Kawhi Leonard, Raptors
Toronto and the two Los Angeles teams angling for the Klaw.
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Nets the current favourites.
Kemba Walker, Hornets
Celtics, Hornets, Mavericks believed to be in the mix.
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Reports have him likely staying on a max deal.
Jimmy Butler, Sixers
Rockets trying to get in the mix.
Tobias Harris, Sixers
Philadelphia gave up a lot to acquire him during season.
Nikola Vucevic, Magic
Coming off first all-star appearance.
Al Horford, Celtics
Expected to leave Boston.
Khris Middleton, Bucks
A priority for the Bucks.
JJ Redick, Sixers
A potential second guy in Brooklyn, where he lives.
D’Angelo Russell, Nets (restricted)
Unclear, and could depend on Irving’s decision.
Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks (restricted)
Bucks could be vulnerable to big offer sheet.
WHO ELSE IS OUT THERE?
Kristaps Porzingis, Mavericks (restricted); Bojan Bogdanovic, Pacers; Julius Randle, Pelicans; DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors; Brook Lopez, Bucks; Terry Rozier, Celtics (restricted); Derrick Rose, T-Wolves; DeAndre Jordan, Knicks; Ricky Rubio, Jazz; Thaddeus Young, Pacers; Danny Green, Raptors; Darren Collison, Pacers; Patrick Beverley, Clippers; Marcus Morris, Celtics; Willie-Cauley Stein, Kings (restricted); Cory Joseph, Pacers
WHO HAS THE CASH?
New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers (One caveat: They won’t really have this space unless they renounce top three FAs)
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans Pelicans
LEARNING FROM HISTORY?
NBA executives and owners could be wiser with their spending than they were back in 2016 when much of the league seemed to lose its ability to make rational decisions.
Some horrific deals were handed out. Here’s a sampling:
Timofey Mozgov: Four years, $64 million by Lakers
The aftermath: Played 54 games for them before being traded. Rarely plays these days.
Joakim Noah: Four years, $72 million by Knicks
The aftermath: Bought out after 53 games and will be on New York’s books until 2022.
Luol Deng: Four years, $72 million by Lakers
The aftermath: Bought out after 57 games.
Miles Plumlee: Four years, $52 million by Bucks
The aftermath: Traded after 32 games, now with Hawks.
Chandler Parsons: Four years, $94 million by Memphis
The aftermath: Has only been able to play 95 games over three years due to knee issues.
Ryan Anderson: Four years, $80 million by Rockets
The aftermath: Contributed for two years, but has since been traded since and rarely plays.
Allen Crabbe: Four years, $75 million by Blazers
The aftermath: Traded after a solid year, hasn’t been the same player since.
Nic Batum: Five years, $129 million by Hornets
The aftermath: A decent player, but production going the wrong way as salary rises.
Hassan Whiteside: Four years, $98 million by Heat
The aftermath: Puts up big stats, but Heat might play better with Bam Adebayo starting.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019