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- The NBA offseason is set to be one of the wildest we’ve seen in years.
- Superstars will be hitting the market, with teams from across the league hoping to make a deal and chase a title.
- Below we break down 17 teams as they head into free agency, and the biggest question facing each of them as the offseason begins in full.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It didn’t take long for the NBA offseason to begin, with the Los Angeles Lakers pulling off a blockbuster deal to bring Anthony Davis to Los Angeles just days after the Raptors won the title.
But the superstar shakeup is far from over, as a slew of talented players is set to hit the market this summer, either to re-sign new deals with their current teams or to bring on the challenge of a fresh start somewhere new.
Free agency officially begins on June 30 at 6 p.m. On the eve of what could be the wildest summer of free agency in recent memory, we break down 17 teams hoping to make a splash, and break down the biggest question facing each of them.
Was a championship enough to keep Kawhi Leonard in Toronto?
The Toronto Raptors one-year gamble on Kawhi Leonard paid off in the best way imaginable, with the team bringing home its first championship in franchise history after dominating their way through the East in the regular season.
But even with Toronto now being title town, the question remains – will Leonard stay with the team?
Leonard has long been rumored to want to get back to his hometown of Los Angeles, and the Clippers are an extremely appealing destination given their cap space and current roster. But Leonard just reached the pinnacle of the sport with the Raptors, and Toronto is well-positioned to make another run at the title should he decide to stay.
Leonard could decide to take a one-year contract with Toronto and see how things shake out elsewhere in the league if he feels pulled back to the team and the chance to defend the title.
Whatever Leonard decides, it will have huge ramifications on the Raptors’ next move.
Will the Lakers form a new “Big 3” with the help of another superstar?
The Lakers already landed one of the biggest prizes of the NBA offseason in trading for Anthony Davis, who will join LeBron James in Los Angeles with the hopes of ending the franchise’s six-year postseason drought and making a run at a championship.
While Davis and James are certainly two pieces of a championship-caliber team, the Lakers could still use one more star to be considered a real powerhouse.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks reported that the team is scrambling to free up enough space to take on another max salary, which would put the team in play to land the likes of Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, or any number of other superstars looking to land a big contract this offseason.
Adding a third superstar might hamstring the Lakers cap space for the foreseeable future, but with a triumvirate of Davis, James, and another All-Star caliber player, chances are there would be plenty of veterans and up-and-comers willing to take a slight pay cut for a shot at the title.
Who will the 76ers decide to pay?
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The Philadelphia 76ers went all-in this season, trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris although both players were on the final year of their contracts and due to get paid this offseason.
The plan almost worked, with the Sixers needing just one of four bounces on a Kawhi Leonard Game 7 buzzer beater to fall the other way to put them in position for a potential championship.
Now the team has to decide who they want to pay to make another run at the title.
Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are both expected to garner interest in the range of a max deal, and sharpshooter J.J. Redick will likely be looking for a contract that offers a bit more security than the one-year rentals that have kept him in Philadelphia the past two seasons.
The Sixers could pay all three, though it would take a willingness to go over the cap and some serious accounting gymnastics to pull it off.
For now, team owner and managing partner Josh Harris has made clear he wishes to keep the team together, saying “We’ve said it repeatedly, and we’ll keep saying it: We’ll continue to do what it takes to bring a championship to Philly, including spending into the luxury tax.”
Whether or not that attitude holds when it comes time to pay the bills remains to be seen.
What is the Warriors’ next move?
After years of dominance, Golden State’s final games in Oakland came with the losses of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and the hopes of a third straight championship. Now, just months away from moving across the bay and into a fancy new stadium in San Francisco, the Warriors need to decide what sort of team they will bring to the new arena.
Kevin Durant’s future with the franchise was one of the biggest questions looming over the season, with rumors of a move to the Knicks reaching a fever pitch at points, but his Achilles injury in the Finals brought doubt that he would leave the familiar surroundings of Golden State.
The Warriors are also expected to offer Thompson a deal close to the max, even with the sharpshooter likely sidelined for the majority of the next season.
Golden State could sign two players to max deals to keep them off the court recovering for the entire first year of their contracts. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and the company could still compete in the West without them, but with the Lakers acquisition of Anthony Davis, they’d be far from the favorites.
Further, should Durant still decide to leave the team, the Warriors will have to replace a two-time Finals MVP-sized hole in their starting five.
What do the Celtics do after Kyrie Irving leaves?
All signs point to Kyrie Irving leaving the Celtics.
Further, the Celtics now seem close to losing big man Al Horford, who opted out of the final year of his deal with the team and will garner strong interest from other contenders in need of a veteran big man who has proven himself a valuable asset in the postseason.
The Celtics still have a young core of talent in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but would be losing key players at a time the rest of the East is attempting to stock up for a potential title run.
Boston could make a drastic move with the hopes of bringing another superstar to the city or could look to build its assets, see how this year shakes out, and save their chips to go all in at another time when the poker table of free agency is a bit less crowded.
How will the Knicks handle striking out?
The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks and in exchange received some interesting pieces and enough cap space to take on two max contracts. That set up a dream scenario that would bring two perennial All-Stars to New York and make them an immediate force in the East.
But in a flash, those assumptions changed, with Kevin Durant’s injury making his decision murkier, and the Nets seemingly supplanting the Knicks as Kyrie Irving’s New York destination of choice.
The Knicks are still expected to be players in the offseason and are the favorites to sign Durant, even with his injury likely to keep him out for what could be his first season in New York.
Regardless of what happens with Durant, cap space that had been earmarked for Irving could remain, leaving the Knicks to decide between spending it on another player or accepting another year of mediocrity.
Can Brooklyn steal the Knicks spot as the New York free agent destination of choice?
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As the Knicks big plans in free agency crashed and burned, the Nets were quietly positioning themselves as a destination for players looking to embrace the New York state of mind.
Brooklyn has a talented core of young players that could serve as both a supporting cast for superstars joining the team in free agency and potential trade assets. If Irving does join the team as expected, emergent guard D’Angelo Russell will immediately become one of the most sought-after young players on the market.
The Nets could also be players in the races to sign Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and J.J. Redick. Depending on which assets they’re able to hang on to while adding such talent to their roster, don’t be surprised if the Nets find themselves making a substantial postseason run next year.
What do the Charlotte Hornets want out of Kemba Walker?
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Kemba Walker’s third-team All-NBA selection qualifies him for a supermax contract should he decide to stay with the Hornets. But even with the substantial commitment, the Hornets could offer, it’s still unclear what Walker will choose to do this summer.
A dynamic and versatile guard, Walker is linked as a potential addition to the Lakers, who could use a ball-handler who could fill out their new “Big 3,” both distributing to Davis and James and finding his shot when necessary.
But Walker has said he enjoys playing in Charlotte and even indicated he’d be willing to take less money to stay with the team.
For the Hornets, Walker’s free agency puts the franchise at a crossroads. A max contract ensures that Walker stays with the team, giving them a bit of star power the team would otherwise be severely lacking, but would also keep them cash-strapped with a player they’ve only won three playoff games with over the past eight seasons.
Can the Miami Heat become a player?
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According to Barry Jackson at the Miami Herald, conversations with team officials have made clear that “everything is on the table,” heading into this summer of signings. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra are both proven deal-makers, and between the team’s legacy and South Beach location, it’s never easy to count them out.
The biggest issue facing the Heat will be working themselves into some cap space – with big money committed to the likes of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and James Johnson, the Heat will have to get creative if they want to bring in one of the top players in this year’s class.
Still, don’t expect the Heat to resign themselves to the leftovers of this year’s free agency class, as just a few cost-saving moves could put the team in position to be big buyers if the right opportunity presents itself.
The Heat are far from the favorites to land any of the biggest free agents this summer but don’t be surprised if they start getting meetings.
Can the Clippers lure Kawhi Leonard away from Toronto with a title-worthy pitch of their own?
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In the middle of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Los Angles Clippers appeared to be the favorites to sign Kawhi Leonard in the summer. Then the Raptors won the NBA championship, and the Clippers plans of signing Leonard suddenly were put into question.
The pitch from the Clippers is mostly the same as it was just a few months ago, but there is a reason to think Leonard might want to stay in Toronto a bit longer. Beyond a desire to defend the title with his teammates, Leonard would also be eligible for one of the biggest NBA contracts ever if he were to re-up with the Raptors for two seasons.
For now, all the Clippers can do is make their best pitch and hope it lands.
What do the Nuggets need to do to make the leap?
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While the Nuggets’ postseason run fell short of a title, the emergence of Nikola Jokic as one of the top players in the league made it clear that the Nuggets are title contenders. With the Warriors hobbled by injury and the 2019 free agency market set to shake up both conferences, the time to go all-in might be now.
This leaves Denver to answer one question – what type of player can push their roster over the top and into the Finals?
Jokic is quite a partner to pair with – not only is he a quality rim-protector, but he’s also an unbelievable distributor, pulling off passes that one would expect out of a guard half his size. Should Denver add a reliable sharpshooter who can take some of the offensive burdens off of Jokic’s shoulders? Or possibly bring in another big man to further improve what is already one of the best defenses in the West?
Expect the Nuggets to move fast – the race for the 2020 title looks wide open, and Denver might be just one piece away.
What piece can the Mavericks want to add to go from intriguing to elite?
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The Dallas Mavericks spent the majority of their 2019 run as a team filled to the brim with potential energy. Between the electricity brought by rookie Luka Doncic and the arrival of Kristaps Porzingis from New York, the Mavericks were an intriguing team once everyone was healthy.
This year, Dallas has to convert that energy from potential to kinetic, and there’s a good chance Mark Cuban will be eager to add one more piece to give his team a shot at competing in the West.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks says that the Mavericks are set to be a “wild card” team this summer when it comes to signing free agents. After the first round of big names, expect Dallas to push hard to add one more key player before the season begins.
How will the Pelicans surround Zion Williamson?
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Zion Williamson’s arrival cushioned the blow of Anthony Davis’ departure in a deal with the Lakers that brought in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a slew of draft picks to New Orleans.
Don’t expect the Pelicans to go after any big-name superstars that might take the spotlight away from Williamson – the team is pretty clearly Zion and Friends for the coming seasons. But the Pelicans could be in the market for a veteran presence to serve as a guiding force for their young roster.
For proven veterans who might be passed over by more established title contenders, New Orleans presents an interesting roster to join.
How will the Rockets rebound after the apparent feud between Chris Paul and James Harden?
Just as the Warriors seemingly never-ending window at the title seems to be closing, the Rockets are running into struggles of their own. Reports of turmoil between the team’s two stars – Chris Paul and James Harden – started swirling after the team’s departure from the playoffs.
The discontent will have to be dealt with fast, and while the front office and Paul have both denied any tensions in Houston, it seems likely that the Rockets will want to be dealers in the offseason with the West now simultaneously wide open for the taking and filled with contenders.
Will the Bucks run it back?
The Bucks free agents prospects are likely to focus more on retaining players than going out and landing a major signing.
Khris Middleton opted out of the final year of his deal and could command a max contract. Additionally, the Bucks will have to decide what to do with Malcolm Brogdon (a restricted free agent), as well as Nikola Mirotic, and Brook Lopez.
The Bucks could try to find a way to pay everyone and keep their team together for one more run. But it feels likely that, between competing offers from other teams and the difficulties that come with locking in multiple contracts in the same year, some parts will be shuffled and replaced.
Can the Suns find a point guard to pair with Devin Booker?
Devin Booker is yet to turn the Suns into a winning team. But with young talents like Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Kelly Oubre now filling out the roster, Phoenix finally feels like a team on the rise.
Booker still needs some support, and specifically could use some help in the backcourt in the form of a ball-first point guard that could help both as a distributor and carrying a bit of the offensive load.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently said the Suns “openly covet” D’Angelo Russell, who would certainly work as a fit. Should Kyrie Irving wind up on the Nets and in turn push Russell onto the market, the Suns could put together a solid pitch.
Can the Kings make a splash?
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The Kings sport a talented young trio of players in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley III, all of which could be contributors to a great team in the next few years. If Sacramento can use their cap space to bring in another star, that great team could be the Kings.
Willie Cauley-Stein’s agent said recently that the big man was looking for a fresh start on a new team, so chances are Sacramento will focus on bringing in another center at some point during the offseason.
If potential free agents are focused on gunning for a title this season, chances are they pass on Sacramento. But for those looking to lock in some solid money and join a team that could be on the upswing, the Kings present an enticing offer. Al Horford, who is expected to be leaving the Celtics and at 33 years old, will be looking for one last big contract before he ages out of the league, is an intriguing proposition.
At the very least, Sacramento has enough money and enough potential to land some big meetings.
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