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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 same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

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USA Today

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get much better than this. 

The same night the Mystics clinched a playoff spot with an 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own.

With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Cloud hit an open Elena Della Donne who finished strongly at the basket. With the pass, Cloud became the franchise's all-time leader in assists. 

Drafted by the Mystics back in 2015, Cloud has been integral to the team's rise to the top of the standings. She's averaging a career-high 5.4 assists and 8.8 points while leading the team in minutes at 32.3 per game. 

Needless to say, her teammates were excited for her. 

Hopefully, this magical season will finish with a championship, redeeming the Mystics of their 2018 Finals loss. 

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As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

Monumental Basketball, the new vertical that encompasses the NBA's Wizards, the Capital City Go-Go of the G-League, the Mystics of the WNBA and District Gaming of the NBA 2K League, is designed to help all of the respective teams owned and operated by Ted Leonsis and his partners. The Mystics, though, don't need nearly as much assistance as the others.

Sitting atop the WNBA with a league-best 18-7 record, the Mystics look well on their way to another deep playoff run. Last year, it ended in a loss in the WNBA Finals. This year, they have an even better roster capable of winning it all.

On Wednesday, the Mystics routed the Seattle Storm, last year's champions, by 29 points. They did so despite missing All-Star point guard Kristi Tolliver and with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, scoring 14 points. They might be the deepest team in the WNBA with a bench that is starting lineup-caliber.

The Mystics have already arrived, but it took some time to get here. When head coach and general manager Mike Thibault took over in 2013, they had won 11 total games the previous two years. Five years later, they were title contenders.

Leonsis wants to see the same upward trajectory for his other teams. Thibault believes the new program can help everyone get on track.

"The overall structure can be so good when you are inclusive and you have services that are available to everybody," Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I think that one of the things that I learned in trying to rebuild the Mystics is that you need a lot of hands to make it work. I go back to the days where you had a head coach and one or two assistants. The game has changed so much. If you can make a player coming in, whether it’s to the Mystics or the Wizards, feel like they are a part of something bigger."

Thibault, 68, knows what good organizations look like, as he has been a part of many over the years. He was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s during their dynasty. He later worked for the Chicago Bulls and oversaw the scouting department when they drafted Michael Jordan. It wasn't until the 2000s that he joined the WNBA ranks, first with a successful run as coach of the Connecticut Sun before coming to Washington.

Thibault believes the player services arm of Monumental Basketball will be particularly helpful.

"Let’s say you’re traded to the Wizards. You’re coming from a different city and it’s a new environment. Your family has to move and you have kids. That’s a whole thing in and of itself," he explained.

"What can we do for their post-career ability? Do they want to be a coach? Do they want to go into broadcasting, or business? There are so many things you can do to enhance how comfortable a player and a family is coming to an organization. It’s something that just makes you special as an organization."

Thibault says some of benefits Monumental Basketball will provide have already been utilized by the Mystics, including mental health professionals and nutritionists. What can help the Mystics in particular is more synergy with the Wizards.

This is the first season the Mystics are playing at the new arena at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast Washington. They now share a practice facility and office space with the Wizards. Thibault believes there are positives to feeling part of a larger operation.

"I think our players already sense that," he said. "You see Wizards players, you see Tommy Sheppard and others at our games. That makes you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. We have a dining room where all of the players can socialize in both of the organizations."

When the creation of Monumental Basketball was announced, Leonsis noted Thibault will have a certain level of autonomy in what he does. Some of the executives hired by the organization like John Thompson III, who will help with player wellness, and Dr. Daniel Medina, who will assist in training and health, will provide services to the Mystics. But Thibault will pick the players and set the vision for basketball operations.

Thibault, though, knows Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard well and thinks the team is in good hands.

"He’s got ideas. He’s very forward thinking. I think he’s a great judge of personnel and character. I think he’s very thorough in what he does," Thibault said. 

"I think that when you’re trying to build an organization, there are process you have to go through and steps you have to take to be good. I think he knows you have to have patience to do that. I think if fans give him the chance to do what he’s great at, they will see the results over time. It might take time, but he will get them there."

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