Projections suggest that the NBA salary cap will spike considerably during the next couple of seasons, opening budget space for franchises attempting to avoid hefty luxury tax penalties. Over the 2018 offseason, DeMarcus Cousins joined the Warriors to push NBA futures betting markets to predict a 63.6% chance of Golden State winning another ring, as per research from Canada Sports Betting.
Boogie accepted less money partly because of the upcoming cap spike, which all but guarantees a considerable raise before the 2019-20 campaign. An inflated salary cap will provide front offices with additional purchasing power to transform franchises when free agency begins in July 2019. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be committed to attract an all-star from one of the best free agent groups in years.
Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors
Agent – Rich Kleiman / Roc Nation
$31,500,000 – Player Option
Perhaps the greatest natural scorer in the NBA, Kevin Durant can be inscrutable on-court and off-court. Pundits attempt to predict where he’ll sign, but no one – perhaps even Kevin himself – knows which team will be graced by Durant’s presence. To quote Kevin Garnett, anything’s possible, including opting into his current contract, a raise from the Warriors, or signing a max deal with another franchise.
Mixed messages obfuscate Durant’s intent. On one hand, Kevin said “I have never felt more a part of the team” after Green yelled at Durant during game seven against the Rockets. On the other hand, Kevin laughed when owner Joe Lacob suggested resigning during the NBA championship ring ceremony, a light-hearted gesture which will generate more speculation.
Nearly every team in the association becomes a championship threat if Kevin Durant joins the rotation. He owns career averages of 27.1 PPG on .490/.383/.883 shooting splits, including a 50/40/90 season in 2012-13. Kevin’s also an elite defensive player who can cover all positions, fully deserving of two consecutive NBA Finals MVP and a regular season MVP award in 2013-14.
Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors
Agent – Greg Lawrence
$18,988,725 – Unrestricted Free Agent
One-half of the best shooting backcourt in NBA history, Klay Thompson’s an original splash brother alongside Steph Curry, a brotherhood which recently grew when DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Warriors. If Curry’s the best pure shooter ever, Klay might be the second-best, particularly from beyond the perimeter.
Thompson’s three-point success rate has never dipped below .400 in seven seasons with the Warriors, averaging .422 from beyond the arc as a high-volume perimeter shooter. He’s averaged 19.2 PPG over 537 career appearances, rarely missing a game due to injury.
Nobody on earth, including LeBron, Curry, Durant and Harden, matches Klay’s shooting when he gets hot. Thompson broke the record for most points in a quarter in 2015, scoring 37 on 13-13 shooting, including 9-9 from beyond the arc. Klay also happens to play some of the best perimeter defense in the NBA.
In theory, he might defect to another franchise, but he’s never hinted at wanting to be anything other than a Warrior.
Kawhi Leonard – Toronto Raptors
Agent – Mitch Frankel
$23,114,066 – Player Option
GM Masai Ujiri did not hesitate when the dream of acquiring Kawhi Leonard became a reality. Trading DeMar DeRozan, a heart-and-soul member of the Raptors, destroyed relationships and angered many observers – after all, Ujiri promised DeRozan would stay. The Raptors front office considered all this chaos an acceptable risk for a single year of Leonard’s services.
At his best, Kawhi can be a top-three player in the NBA, capable of dominating superstars on defense while dropping 30 points against the opposition’s best defender. Leonard leapt into quiet superstardom out of nowhere as the 2013-14 NBA Finals MVP, dominating LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kawhi are the only three players to earn defensive player of the year, NBA Finals MVP and an NBA All-Star nod.
Signs seem to point to Kawhi returning to the west coast, possibly to the Clippers or Lakers, as a preferred destination. Similar to Durant, no one knows where Leonard will land. Don’t discount Toronto, a massive sports market which gained respect across the association during the Ujiri era. The Raptors also have the leverage of offering more money than other suitors in 2019.
Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves
Agent – Bernie Lee
$18,691,627 – Player Option
A self-made superstar, Jimmy Butler never sipped from a silver spoon. Instead, he’s overcome impossible odds throughout his journey to NBA stardom, consistently proving everyone wrong along the way. The now-infamous practice with the Timberwolves showcased Jimmy’s intense desire to win and complete disregard for anyone unwilling to offer championship-level effort.
Stranger things have happened, but there’s little doubt that Butler’s not interested in staying with Minnesota in the long term. Jimmy underearns at less than $19 million per year, a result of contract negotiations before the cap spike. As such, he’s almost guaranteed to opt out of his current deal for a new max deal.
An elite two-way force since 2014, Jimmy averaged 21.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 4.6 APG over the last four seasons, along with 1.8 steals per game. Some were shocked when Butler suited up to play for Minnesota after embarrassing the club, but Jimmy’s the type of pro who gives 100%, even when displeased. Expect him to sign a max deal anywhere other than the Twin Cities.
DeMarcus Cousins – Golden State Warriors
Agent – Andrew Rogers
$5,337,000 – Unrestricted Free Agent
Not a single front office tendered an offer for DeMarcus Cousins, a unique all-star big man who evolved his skill set throughout his tumultuous career. Cousins transformed into a prototypical, modern center by adding a consistent three-point shot in 2015 and expanding his ball distribution abilities in 2016.
After learning of Cousins joining the Warriors, Curry laughed and welcomed “the third splash brother” to the Bay Area. Boogie’s undeserved negative reputation obliviates his intelligence and competitiveness, both of which will fit in well with Golden State’s complex, high-tempo offensive schemes. Cousins will be a defensive force in the paint, capable of extending to the perimeter on switches.
Barring another injury setback, Boogie will enjoy the opportunity of winning a ring as part of the best starting five since Jordan and the 72-win Bulls in 1995-96. Cousins will receive a max contract in 2019 if he wants, as long as he contributes to a Golden State three-peat. Any serious contender should consider a healthy Boogie.
Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics
Agent – Jeffrey Wechsler
$20,099,188 – Player Option
Kyrie Irving directly addressed Celtics fans at the TD Garden before the season, saying “if you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here.” This doesn’t mean that Kyrie won’t opt out of his player option, worth slightly more than $20 million. GM Danny Ainge won’t automatically offer Irving a max contract, considering his options before committing a significant chunk of cap space.
Boston already commits big money to Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, while Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier will demand massive pay raises. Tatum looks like a lock for max money. Another excellent season from Rozier could inflate demand, leading to max or near-max offers.
Irving dismissed a $107 million extension over four years during the summer, aiming for his own max contract with a five-year term instead. The Celtics face a difficult choice in the offseason if ownership wishes to avoid hefty luxury tax penalties. Will Boston reciprocate Irving’s loyalty, or will Ainge part with Uncle Drew like Kyrie left LeBron?