OAKLAND -- Buckle up, NBA fans. The 2019 free-agent ride will be fully operational in three days, and there will be whiplash.
After the Three Summers of LeBron (2010, 2014 and 2018) and the Summer of KD (2016), the league is now preparing for the Mother of all NBA Summers.
Never in the history of free agency have so many All-Stars and near All-Stars been flooded the market at once. DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, with five All-Star Games between them, can only dream of cracking this top 10.
We’re talking franchise players, as in Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kemba Walker. We’ve got at least two more, Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving, that have been and still consider themselves franchise players. We’ve got several other stars, such as Klay Thompson, Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford seeking franchise-player contracts -- as do the likes of Paul Millsap, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic.
With some teams having enough cap space to accommodate two max salaries, and half the league able to waive at least $20 million at a player, this is the practically perfect convergence of supply, demand and budgetary manipulation.
Two trades have already altered the landscape, with Anthony Davis going to the Lakers and Mike Conley Jr. going to the Jazz. The trade of Evan Turner to the Hawks for Kent Bazemore finally gives the Trail Blazers a solid backcourt defender.
Free agency, however, offers so many possibilities it almost certainly will alter the balance of power in both conferences.
Here are 10 of the biggest names, mostly unrestricted free agents, their team last season and the teams believed to be in the hunt (in some cases, additional moves would be required):
After three seasons with the Warriors, it’s likely that KD is ready to take his comprehensive talents elsewhere and spend next season rehabilitating his surgically repaired right Achilles’ tendon. The Warriors, while bracing for his exit, are keeping the door open.
Among likely destinations for a forward that commands a max contract: Warriors, Nets, Knicks, Clippers.
Traded to Toronto last summer after seven years in San Antonio, Leonard emerged as the leader of the team that dethroned the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Raptors were careful with him during the regular season before unleashing him in the postseason to crush the hopes of opponents.
Among likely destinations for a forward that commands the max: Raptors, Clippers.
He has spent his entire eight-year career in Charlotte, becoming a franchise icon. He loves the region and is said to be willing to accept a hometown discount. But with only two playoff appearances, neither of which went past the first round, it would behoove the 6-foot-1 combo guard to explore other options.
Among likely destinations for a player that commands the max: Hornets, Mavericks, Lakers, Celtics, Knicks.
A top-tier talent, as mercurial as he is brilliant, Irving forced his way out of Cleveland and spent the last two seasons in Boston. His stay was tumultuous and, last season, disappointing. The combo guard has been around long enough to earn a reputation for bringing joy and misery in equal amounts.
Among likely destinations for a player commanding the max: Nets, Celtics, Knicks, Lakers.
Much like Irving, Butler is as rosy as he is thorny. He’s hubris and production in a high-maintenance package. He left Chicago for Minnesota, then forced his way to Philadelphia. He seems to have a good relationship with star center Joel Embiid, which is of immense value. Butler also leaves folks wondering if he’ll ever been happy.
Among likely destinations for guard/forward seeking the max: 76ers, Nets, Mavericks, Knicks.
Thompson is the kind of player you build with but not around. He excels at both ends, which has made life easier for Warriors teammate Steph Curry. Thompson is decidedly low-maintenance, asking only fair compensation and the chance to play. He has repeatedly stated his desire to remain with the Warriors.
Among likely destinations for the guard seeking the max: Warriors are prohibitive favorites..
The veteran big man is among the league’s best chameleons, able to adapt to any surroundings and provide whatever his team needs most. After nine years with the Hawks, the three-time All-Star spent the past three seasons with the Celtics, where he was the team’s most stabilizing force yet still productive. Age (he turned 33 this month) could limit him to a deal in the range of three years.
Among likely destinations: Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Celtics.
The 7-3 forward wanted out of New York, which is understandable. He limped into Dallas last January, shortly before the trade deadline, to finish his rehabilitation after a serious knee injury sustained in February 2018. A restricted free agent (RFA), he seems committed to teaming up with Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic.
Among likely destinations: Mavericks.
He’s an interesting case, a terrific scorer and good teammate but better to build with than around. The 6-9 combo forward finished last season with the 76ers, his fifth team in eight seasons. Word is Philly wants him back, but Harris has to like the idea of finally choosing his employer.
Among likely destinations: 76ers, Mavericks, Nets.
A seven-year vet that has spent the last six seasons in Milwaukee, the lengthy 6-8 wing was a first-time All-Star in 2019. His shooting is a of high value alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, so the Bucks would suffer mightily if Middleton were to head elsewhere. Is he a max player? No. But circumstances could work in his favor.
Among the likely destinations: Bucks, Lakers
Here are 12 other potential impact players, their current team, and teams either reportedly interested or should be at least curious:
D’Angelo Russell (Nets, RFA): Nets, Lakers, Suns, Bulls.
Nikola Vucevic (Magic): Magic, Mavericks, Kings, Lakers.
Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks, RFA): Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, Lakers, Bulls.
Paul Millsap (Nuggets, team option): Nuggets are heavy favorites.
DeMarcus Cousins (Warriors): Warriors, Knicks, Lakers, Hawks, Mavericks.
DeAndre Jordan (Knicks): Knicks, Lakers, Nets.
Bojan Bogdanovic (Pacers): Spurs, Lakers, Pacers.
Brook Lopez (Bucks): Lakers, Bucks, Warriors.
Nikola Mirotic (Bucks): Jazz, Mavericks, Pelicans.
Harrison Barnes (Kings): Kings, Suns.
J.J. Redick (76ers): 76ers, Lakers.
Danny Green (Raptors): Lakers, Rockets, 76ers, Raptors.
As we stated earlier, this is a special summer, the deepest ever, nothing like 2012, when the top UFA was 36-year-old Kevin Garnett, with JaVale McGee and Roy Hibbert not far behind.
This isn’t 2013, when Andrew Bynum and Ty Lawson were considered top-10 free agents.
So, yes, strap in and enjoy the ride. Your favorite team likely will be directly involved or deeply affected.