2019 NBA free agency: Predicting where the top free agents will land

Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images /
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NBA free agency
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images /

Kevin Durant: Golden State Warriors

Had the Golden State Warriors never been riddled with the injury bug in the 2019 NBA Playoffs and cruised to another championship, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

With three titles and two or three Finals MVPs to his name, Kevin Durant could’ve embarked on a new journey. He would’ve proved his point, gotten a new opportunity to restore a lowly franchise like the Knicks, Nets or Clippers, and the cries of “snake!” would’ve finally died off.

Unfortunately for KD and the rest of the league, that isn’t what happened. Upon returning too soon from a calf injury, Durant tore his Achilles in Game 5 of the Finals, and now his future, the future of the Warriors and the future of the entire free agency landscape has come into question.

KD has already declined his $31.5 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent, and despite the fact that he’ll miss the entire 2019-20 campaign with an injury that’s historically difficult to come back from, teams will be lining up to sign him to a max deal.

The question is now which of his four main options — the Warriors, Nets, Clippers or Knicks — he’ll select. The Knicks have seemed like the favorites for a year now, but the appeal of the Big Apple has faded in the wake of KD’s injury and Kyrie’s attraction to Brooklyn. Other star free agents like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker are unlikely to be swayed by the prospect of playing in New York with a guy who will miss all of next season.

The Nets could be the biggest threat to Golden State, since Kyrie is heading there and they can create enough room for a second max slot. Brooklyn would also be content with shelling out the max deal for KD and just enjoying Kyrie’s impact on an up-and-coming roster for a year until Durant returns.

The same goes for the Clippers, who have the luster of L.A. without the sense of urgency and pressure emanating from the Lakers (and any team with LeBron James on it). Joining another super-team wouldn’t help KD’s image, injury or not, but ushering in a new era for the Clippers would be a wonderful challenge — especially while sharing the building with his chief rival.

However, this injury opened the door to re-signing with the Dubs, even if it’s only on another “1+1” deal that allows him to re-enter free agency next summer. He could rehab with a familiar training staff, the door would remain ajar on the Warriors dynasty, and after all the well wishes following his devastating injury, hardly anyone would mind him valuing his title prospects. It’d be hard to blame him for wanting to keep winning after a potentially career-altering injury.

Remember, KD will be 32 years old the next time he takes the court for a regular season game. He doesn’t have a lot of time to build a contender from scratch as he comes back from a ruptured Achilles. A five-year, $221 million offer could be difficult to turn down, especially with the health situation factored in. That’s $57 million more than any other team can offer.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league’s hate for the Warriors will quiet down in a wide open season where Durant is sidelined, and it might even turn into excitement once he returns and an older Warriors team is tested by whatever contenders have stepped into their place.

KD’s image — and people’s opinions of that image — matter. Now that he could possibly remain with the Warriors for the long haul, without receiving that same amount of unabashed hate, there’s a good possibility he stays in the Bay Area. The Dubs can offer the most money on a short- and long-term basis, and there’s got to be a feeling of unfinished business after the way the Finals unfolded.

The Nets, Clippers and Knicks are all serious contenders, so this one could very easily wind up missing the mark. But whether it’s on a short-term or long-term extension, that horrible injury opened the door to Kevin Durant’s priorities changing … and re-aligning with the Warriors.