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2019 NBA Playoffs free agency stock watch: Kawhi Leonard keeps helping his cause, while Kyrie Irving has questions

2019 NBA Playoffs free agency stock watch: Kawhi Leonard keeps helping his cause, while Kyrie Irving has questions

This summer's free agent class in the NBA is absolutely loaded. Here is a look at some players that have helped and hurt their stock in this year's NBA postseason...

STOCK UP

Kawhi Leonard, SF, Raptors

This is the most obvious case of a guy helping his free agent cause in the playoffs. A year ago at this time, Leonard was coming off a year in which he only played nine games due to a quadriceps injury. He missed the Spurs' first round playoff series and was the subject of a swirl of trade rumors. Even during this regular season, as the Raptors cruised to the No. 2 seed in the East, Leonard missed 22 games, mostly due to load management. But any questions about his health and what he can provide his team when it counts most have been put to rest. He is one of the best players in the NBA both on offense and defense. His playoff numbers - 31.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 40.8 3PT% - are absurd.

Khris Middleton, SG, Bucks

Middleton is benefiting a lot from Milwaukee's run to the conference finals by raising his game in the postseason and getting a lot of deserved credit for their success. He is averaging 19.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists while knocking down 46.7 percent of his threes. The points, assists and three-point numbers are all up from his regular season norms. Middleton is also playing good defense per usual and will only be 27 when he hits the open market, if the Bucks let him of course.

Klay Thompson, SG, Warriors

Few believe that Thompson will actually hit free agency and especially after Warriors owner Joe Lacob professed his commitment to the star shooting guard, but if Thompson does choose to leave this summer, he has only helped his cause in recent weeks. With Kevin Durant injured, Thompson has stepped up to remind everyone that he can be the second-best player on a championship level team. In this year's playoffs, he is averaging 18.8 points while shooting 40.4 percent from long range.

STOCK DOWN

Kyrie Irving, PG, Celtics

Irving wanted the chance to lead his own team and he experienced the potential drawbacks of that role this postseason with the Celtics. They underachieved and he took a large share of the blame. He was scrutinized for his play, as he shot just 38.5 percent overall and 31 percent from three in the playoffs, and he took heat for his leadership. Irving will still get big contract offers from many teams, but that list of teams may be a bit smaller than it would have otherwise been.

Nikola Mirotic, PF, Bucks

Mirotic found initial success with Milwaukee this season after getting traded there by the Pelicans, but a thumb injury in March kept him out until the start of the playoffs. He has since returned, but has not been the same, averaging 9.3 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting just 39.7 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three. That is a far cry from the 15.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 43.1 three-point percentage he posted in last year's postseason.

DeMarcus Cousins, C, Warriors

Cousins reportedly may return by the end of these playoffs, but remains out due to a torn right quad. It's all about bad injury luck for Cousins, who missed a year due to a torn Achilles and now has a new injury to worry about. He has played in only two playoff games and averaged 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 30.8 percent from the field. Cousins is likely to lose even more money this summer due to injury and it's a real shame for a guy who is one of the most talented big men in the game.

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The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

On Tuesday night, Portland guard Damian Lillard broke #NBATwitter with his 37-foot, series-clinching buzzer-beater against Oklahoma City. 

It's not the first time we've seen him do that, but it's by far the biggest impact his play has had on the NBA world to this point.

Fair or not, Lillard's image has always been the overlooked underdog.  Even after being named All-NBA First Team last season, it's rare you hear his name mentioned among the NBA's most popular players. 

That attitude is what fuels the Portland Trail Blazers though. It's what the entire roster uses as motivation every game. It's a mindset every team in the NBA should be emulating too, and it starts with their star. 

If you're an organization in the middle of a rebuild, you should be looking no further than Ja Morant if you want this same organizational mindset going forward.

Ja Morant is the next Dame Lillard.

Ja Morant is going to be a star. 

The Wizards are one of those teams, and with the NBA Draft Lottery coming May 14, if the ping pong balls land in their favor, Morant needs to be their pick at No. 2 in the NBA Draft.

Don't worry about any other point guards on the roster and what that means. Don't pass on Morant.

Obviously, No. 1 would mean Zion Williamson, and anything past No. 2 means both are probably off the board, so we'll stick with that No. 2 pick in this case.

Both Lillard and Morant come from small schools in Weber State and Murray State, respectively. Both were under-recruited with Lillard being just a two-star and Morant not even being ranked by recruiting services ESPN, 247Sports, or Rivals.

Lillard was the better three-point shooter coming out of college, but Morant still has range, and can jump out of the gym.

Neither has a ton of size (Lillard 6-2, 185 lbs., and Morant 6-3, 175), but both aren't scared of the spotlight, and step on the court ready to eat the other team alive.

In a star-driven league based so much around player's brands and recognizability, there's something to be said for the guys that have the talent, but haven't been given the stage to show it yet. You get that combination of "chip on their shoulder" mentality with the star potential and work ethic biggy backing it. 

One of the best movie lines ever spoken was in Remember the Titans when Julius tells Gerry "attitude reflects leadership", and it's a mantra any successful team, business, volunteer group, club, or literally any collection of people should follow. 

If you want the right attitude in your locker room, you want leaders that can create it. 

Morant and Lillard share that same leadership, and the results are there to prove it. 

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LeBron James signs 4-year deal with Los Angeles Lakers

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LeBron James signs 4-year deal with Los Angeles Lakers

In the most anticipated move of this NBA offseason, LeBron James has signed a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

James has only played for Eastern Conference teams in his career.

The announcement was made by Klutch Sports Group on Twitter. The sports agency group is owned by Rich Paul, a longtime friend of James. John Wall is also represented by the group.

According to Bobby Marks of ESPN, the contract breaks down as follows: $35.65M, $37.43M, $39.21M and $41M. He is not eligible for a no-trade clause.

James' move to the West Coast comes four years after he went back home to Cleveland. He was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2003, and left the team to join the Miami Heat in 2010. When he rejoined the Cavaliers in 2014, he stated his intent to finish his career there.

James, 33, won an NBA title with Miami twice (2012 and 2013) and brought the Larry O'Brien trophy to Cleveland in 2016 — the first title for the city in more than 50 years, helping th e Cavaliers become the first team in NBA Finals history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win it all.

James leaves the Cavaliers francise as its leader in nearly every major statistical category: games played, points, rebounds, assists and steals, per ESPN.

This story is breaking and will be updated.