How 2019 NBA Draft impacted what happens in free agency
The NBA Draft already had a league-changing impact on free agency.
Or, to be more accurate, the NBA Draft Lottery did. When the Lakers moved up to get the No. 4 pick, it sweetened the offer enough to make the Anthony Davis trade happen. That changed the plans of the Lakers and Pelicans — and to a degree the Celtics, Knicks, and anyone else who thought they had a shot at Davis — heading into the draft and free agency.
That said, many of turning point moments coming this July were completely unaffected by what happened in the Draft. Let’s take a look.
• The Lakers traded for Davis and now it’s about rounding out the roster. Los Angeles might have landed Davis anyway — his agent, Rich Paul, could not have pulled more levers to try to make that happen (as an agent should for his client) — but the Lakers getting the No. 4 pick put the offer over the top. At the draft, the Lakers also picked up second-rounder Talen Horton-Tucker, who has potential but is not ready to contribute much in the coming season. Now for the Lakers it becomes about how to best build out the roster around Davis and LeBron James: Clear the cap space and chase one more star, such as Kemba Walker; or, use that money to land three players (give or take) in the $7 million to $10 million range to go around the three quality rotation players the Lakers already have (meaning chase players such as Trevor Ariza, Danny Green, J.J. Redick, and others in that range).
One thing on draft night made the timing of the Lakers’ moves clear: With the Pelicans trading the No. 4 pick to Atlanta, is Davis trade will be executed on July 6. The floated of pushing the trade itself back to July 30 to create more Lakers’ cap room to sign players will not happen with another trade now hinged on the Laker/Pelican deal going through. That was agreed to before the trade, if the Pelicans moved the No. 4 pick then the Davis deal got done the first chance it was allowed (July 6). That means the Lakers will have between $24 million and $32 million in cap space. One part of the equation is if Davis waives his $4 million trade bonus. For the Lakers to have the full $32 million in cap space, they need to trade Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner, and Alex Caruso into cap space somewhere and get them off the L.A. books. Expect the Lakers to pull that off in the coming weeks.
• Boston made trades on draft night, but of the slow build, not grand, variety. Kyrie Irving’s disenfranchisement with Boston — the city, his young teammates, Brad Stevens, clam chowder, pretty much everything — blew up Danny Ainge’s plans. Trading for Davis was off the table, Al Horford isn’t sticking around for this, and the Celtics aren’t quite back to square one there is a reset. Boston made a couple of trades on draft night and ended up with a nice haul of young players — Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters, and the Bucks’ 2020 first-round pick (protected). Danny Ainge will have a new plan, and he has some cap space this summer, but there will be no panic moves.
• The Knicks are on the Plan C. Or D. Or E. Maybe all the way to R at this point. The Knicks dream summer? Win the lottery and get Zion Williamson and pair him with Durant and Irving (or maybe Kemba Walker). Now? They will still chase Durant and remain the reported frontrunners, but there are more teams seriously in the mix, and Durant will not play next season as he rehabs anyway. The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but they are a longshot to land him. Next season in New York may be about seeing how just drafted R.J. Barrett fits with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. It’s not the summer Knicks fans dreamed about.
• What are the Pacers planning? No doubt center Goga Bitadze was the top player on the Pacers’ draft board when they took him No. 18, but it raises a question: What is the plan in Indiana? There have been rumors of them wanting to go with either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis at center, not the platoon we saw last season, and Bitadze gives them some cover for it. The Pacers want to sign or trade for one more good playmaker to go next to Victor Olaidpo, and with Mike Conley now in Utah one target is off the board. Ricky Rubio at the point is a top target, but they have the room to be bolder. They are a team to watch.
WHAT DID NOT CHANGE
• Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power. No one decision this summer will change the landscape of the NBA like Leonard’s — whatever team he chooses instantly becomes a title contender. While the Lakers and Knicks want to get meetings (and may, nobody knows what Leonard’s process will be, exactly) I have heard from sources for almost a year now that those two teams were not mix in a meaningful way, and numerous others have reported that as well. This is a two-team race: Stay with the Raptors and be the favorites in the East, come back to Los Angeles and be a Clipper, turning a 48-win team into a contender. While speculation is rampant, nobody knows which way Leonard himself is leaning, and he has not tipped his (giant) hand. Whatever he chooses, it tips the balance of power between the conferences.
• Kevin Durant has to decide where he wants to do his rehab, and eventually play. Durant is a kingmaker just like Leonard, but not in quite the same way because he will miss most or all of next season recovering from his torn Achilles. The Warriors are in the mix, but the Nets (theoretically with Kyrie Irving), Knicks (they also would like to play the Irving card), Clippers, Lakers, and others would like meetings and a chance to make their case. What does Durant want? Not to be recruited. After that, nobody knows because nobody knows how the injury changed his mindset.
• Kyrie Irving has to decide if he wants to go to Brooklyn, the Nets have to decide if they want Irving without Durant. Irving is not the same level of franchise player that Durant and Leonard are — his leadership reputation took a serious hit this past season — but he is still an All-NBA level guard who makes a team much better. The Celtics wanted him for his play and to help win Anthony Davis over after the trade but that plan blew up. The Nets remain the frontrunners to land him, but some in the organization wonder if they want him without Durant. They probably sign him either way — Irving is an elite player, not just bait — but the Nets aren’t the same with just him replacing D’Angelo Russell.