The dust has now settled firmly on the hardwood in the wake of a brilliant NBA Finals Series and the ensuing Draft, where the New Orleans Pelicans took Zion Williamson first overall and surprised absolutely no one, the NBA off season, one of the most anticipated in years, is just starting to warm up. While the first three draft picks were more or less a lock, Ja Morant heading to Memphis and RJ Barrett losing his mind about becoming a Knick, the rest of the draft featured some puzzling trades, extraordinary picks and strange omissions. Bol Bol received the very unfashionable accolade of being the furthest to fall for a ‘green room’ participant - that is one of the top 24 prospects, of whom are invited to attend the draft in person.
By the time Bol fell to 44th overall in the middle of the 2nd round, talk had already changed tack from his sparkling spiderweb garb to the upcoming free agency period, one that teams have been anticipating for years, some of the biggest stars in the league will farewell their previous contract and move on to a paycheck that puts Izzy Folau’s fundraising efforts to shame.
Here’s a quick look at 5 of the more intriguing Free Agents and where I think or hope they’ll fall this free agency period. For clarity’s sake, I’m omitting Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, purely for the fact that it’s likely their choice won’t be felt in its entirety due to their injuries.
It’s not that often that the phrase “a game of inches” is used strictly in basketball terms, but to think the bounce of a ball on a shot in the 2nd round of the playoffs can impact a players short term career trajectory, is normally a bit much. Nothing is quite ordinary about Kawhi’s story.
Had Kawhi missed that shot, sending the game to overtime for the Raptors to lose against the 76ers their season would have been a disaster. Resting their big off-season signing for nearly 20 games to keep him fresh only to bow out in the 2nd round? Firing their Coach of the Year at the beginning of the season? If they lose that game, Kawhi is already sunbaking his fun guy buns back in Los Angeles, waiting to sign a fat contract with the Clippers. Instead, he’s got a shiny new Finals MVP trophy and a championship ring to show off when he goes back home to Cali this off-season.
The bounce of a basketball on a 20 foot fade away shot was an all time sliding doors moment for Toronto, Philadelphia and the Clippers.
As we all know, that shot against the 6ers went in, and he’s coming back to ‘The Six’ to run it back one more time.
2019/20 team: Toronto Raptors
Fiercely loyal on a battling team, Kemba has sacrificed a lot already for a franchise that hasn’t seemed to reciprocate with any help for him. Kemba has endured some painfully bad basketball at the Charlotte Hornets, especially when they had the equally horrific Bobcat namesake, and even though his play has stepped up a notch these past three years, the Hornets continue to flounder.
Selected to the last three All-Star games despite the reprehensible at times play of his team, Kemba isn’t quite yet what you’d call a tier 1 talent, but his improvement and desire to lead is to be admired. If paired with another star, there’s no reason to doubt Walker’s aspirations of being more successful. Drawing other star free agents to the city shouldn’t be too difficult when you have ‘his air-ness’ aka Michael Jordan at the helm, but the organisation just seems to be a shambles, not that Kemba seems to mind. Always quoted as wanting to stay in Charlotte and stay loyal, he has also expressed his desire to be on a winning team. Kemba, Kemba, Kemba, you simply cannot have one with the other! Get out while you can.
Unfortunately for Kemba, I think he stays, because really, a super max contract is a decent carrot. His loyalty, while impressive, may cost him a decent title shot in his prime.
2019/20 team: Charlotte Hornets.
Backflipping on his desire to be ‘the man’ and lead a franchise to a championship in a way only he can, ‘Uncle Drew’ has learnt the hard way that it’s not an easy path to stomp on your own, even with mean handles to dodge all the haters.
Famously, Kyrie contacted LeBron James this year to apologise for leaving the Cavaliers, falling on his sword in admitting it's not easy to mentor the young stars, and after two years in Boston, one of the most intense pressure cookers in the NBA, Kyrie will be on the move again this off season with several of the ‘Barstawn’ faithful offering to help Kyrie pack and drive him to the airport.
Around the all-star break the drums were beating loudly for the New York Knicks using their two max contract slots to secure the services of Kyrie and Kevin Durant, Durant’s injury has skittled these plans and thrown this conspiracy theorist’s flight path into a tailspin. There is still hope for Kyrie in the Big Apple, its just that he’ll be across the bridge in Brooklyn drinking craft beers and deconstructed coffee. Kyrie recently signed with the Jay-Z owned Roc Nation Sports agency, Irving looks set for a nice payday if he heads east of Manhattan where Jay-Z has strong ties as a former part owner of the franchise. This will have a flow on affect however.
2019/20 team: Brooklyn Nets
D’Angelo really came of age this season.
A finalist for NBA’s Most Improved Player, ‘DLo’ carried the Brooklyn Nets back to the playoffs for the first time since the era of twilight Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. When Caris LeVert went down early in the season it seemed that their postseason hopes would be dashed, because until this year DLo hadn’t really put it all together as a NBA player. Outcast in a trade from the Lakers in sensational fashion after just two years in Loas Angeles. DLo was ravaged by accusations of a poor work ethic, lack of leadership skills, and an ongoing stoush with Nick ‘Swaggy P’ Young, reports leaking that DLo had outed Swaggy P for playing up on his better half, as though NBA players aren’t partaking in this sort of behaviour nightly. Now I know with these nicknames this sounds like a 90’s rap beef, and the irony of DLo going from West to East Coast is apparent, but this was the move that turned DLo’s career around, and with the toothy grinned engineer of this trade, Magic Johnson, now gone, the tables have turned for DLo to make a long awaited return to the Lakers. There just isn’t enough room for two ball dominant guards in Brooklyn and Tinseltown will happily have him back.
2019/20 team: Los Angeles Lakers
It’s tough to find a town big enough for this outspoken baller.
There’s no doubt the man they call Jimmy Buckets can play, but can his teams management keep his monopolistic ego suppressed long enough to breed a title contender? The Timberwolves couldn’t handle it, and he left kicking and screaming to the Philadelphia 76ers, who had their work cut out for them as it was with boisterous Joel Embiid already in their ranks. The project worked to some degree, with many feeling that Kawhi’s now famous buzzer beater was the only thing between the Sixers and a Finals appearance. Many forget that they had to face the MVP led Milwaukee Bucks as well but either way, whether misguided by their own delusions of supremacy or not, belief within this group was high. The problem was, by taking on Butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers had jumped the gun on their infamous “Process” of rebuilding naturally through the draft and player development, and gone all in on one big chance to win it all. Now that hasn’t worked out, grumblings from within the organisation will rue the fact that they haven’t made it work. It’s not all lost though, Butler can sign a near US$200million contract with Philly, but why do that when, for the sake of everyone’s entertainment, you can join the most turbulent locker room in the league with a better shot at the title (short term), the Houston Rockets. Purely for the fact that James Harden and Chris Paul already want the ball all the time, let’s throw another spanner in the works.
2019/20 Team: Houston Rockets.
So that’s it for now on the free agency front. One of the biggest dominoes in this off season has already fallen with Anthony David traded away to the Lakers, but there’s still plenty of free agency and trade gossip to be had as players scramble to put themselves in a position to challenge the throne with the Golden State Warriors now on their haunches and perhaps most pertinent ‘get their money’.
Should be a hell of a ride.