‘Ka’ is the question, the word ‘why’ translated from Sanskrit, the sacred remark that sets off all understanding of the cosmos, the first word of the Sanskrit (and Hindi) consonants, the earliest word for god. ‘Ka’. The ‘kya’ (what), ‘kaun’ (who), ‘kaise’ (how), ‘kahan’ (where), and ‘kyon’ (modified why) of all things. The karma that shapes the present and predicts the future. The kismet that one eventually becomes one’s destination.
In my world, the most all-powerful Gods are the athletes playing in the NBA, basketball savants who entertain, excite, and make history every year. But starting in July, this is going to be the most turbulent summer in NBA history, where the karma of so many players could decide their future kismets, where fans will be left mystified and confused, wondering what the shape of the league will look like in a few months.
We’ll ask ‘kya hua?’ when we lose our favourite players; ‘kahan?’ when we try to chase that player’s new destination; ‘kaun?!?’ when our team overspends on someone outside our radar; ‘kaise?’ when we have no explanation for a surprise transfer; and ‘kyon’, when we are left with more questions than answers.
Kawhi, Kevin, Kyrie, Kemba, Klay, Kris, Kristaps. And many more from all over. There are free agents, restricted free agents, and names swirling in trade rumours. This is the NBA’s Summer of K.
The shocking turn of events in the NBA Finals, where the Warriors lost two superstar players and the Raptors rose as surprising champions, has opened the door for many more teams around the league hoping that their time has come. Warriors’ troubles will make anyone with ambition a contender for the 2019-20 title. This is why I predict many teams will plan for short-term glory, spent big money, and hope to be at the right place at the right time by next June, just like the Raptors were.
Below, I rank the top free agents available when the madness begins on 30 June, and provide predictions of where they will end up by the time the dust settles.
1. Kawhi Leonard: There is no bigger name on the market than the man of the moment, the reigning champion and Finals MVP, arguably the best healthy player in the league, a no-nonsense superstar in his prime, and the self-proclaimed ‘fun guy’. Weeks after leading the Raptors to a memorable NBA championship, Leonard is now a free agent. No player in history has ever left a team after just achieving what Leonard has achieved, but these are unlikely times, and Leonard is an unlikely star. Rumours have him eyeing a spot in the Los Angeles Clippers since last season, while the Lakers will also consider themselves in the running. But now, Leonard has tasted championship champagne again, found an ideal team to suit his strengths, and gained the adulation of a rabid fanbase. His plans will change — and he will choose to stay with the Toronto Raptors.
2. Kevin Durant: Durant is so good at basketball, so respected in the NBA, that even after a nightmare torn Achilles, even with the promise of missing a whole season, even with the dread that he may never be the same player, he will still get offered all the money in the world by every team on his radar. Durant would’ve likely topped this list if it wasn’t for his injury. But even with all the drawbacks, he has the potential to be a game-changing star in the future, wherever he goes. The Knicks, Nets, and Clippers will hope to sway him to their shores. But the heroic end to this season with the Warriors will make him think of unfinished business. Before his injury, I would’ve written his name in permanent marker on the 2019-2020 Knicks’ programmes. But now, I think he will return to the Golden State Warriors to continue his story.
3. Kyrie Irving: The questions about his attitude and effect on team chemistry will persist, as will some of the on-court leadership and performances in the disappointing playoff run with the Celtics. Nevertheless, Irving is still a star player capable of bringing excitement and a bump in wins to any squad. The Lakers (a LeBron reunion) and the Knicks (if they could also get Durant) have been rumoured as suitors, but all signs point to Irving choosing to start his next journey with the young core of the Brooklyn Nets.
4. Kemba Walker: Walker will present his current employer, the Hornets, a grave dilemma. Pay him the max, and he’ll clog up their cap-space. Let him go, and they have no draw left in their franchise anymore. My prediction is that, after losing Irving above, the Boston Celtics will immediately reload with Walker as the new point guard in the backcourt.
5. Jimmy Butler: The first ‘non-K’ on the list, Butler is perhaps the player I’m most unsure about at the time of writing, specifically because of the number of directions his team — the 76ers —could choose to take over the next few weeks. The Houston Rockets have shown considerable interest in a sign-and-trade for him. He would be the perfect ‘consolation’ prize for teams who have missed the biggest names, like the Knicks, Clippers, Lakers. However, my prediction is that, based on his playoffs performance and their potential as a team, the Philadelphia 76ers will max him out to make a run for the championship.
6. Klay Thompson: Perhaps the league’s most-beloved player, Thompson’s torn-ACL in the Finals will not deter teams from chasing him, like his teammate Durant above. He is the perfect fit for any team he joins, a low-usage high-impact star that is a game-changer on both ends of the floor. But, even more than Durant, Thompson’s legacy and kismet are bound tightly with the Golden State Warriors, and it would be a colossal shock if he chooses another destination this summer.
7. Al Horford: A surprise member on this list. Horford’s contract talks with the Celtics have gone awry, and a number of teams will now hope to snag him for his experience and defensive chops. My prediction is that Horford will sign with the Dallas Mavericks to provide veteran leadership and lead the young Doncic-Porzingis duo to the playoffs.
8. Kris Middleton: Another K. Middleton is a good player who, because of the circumstances of playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo in a team teetering close to the title, will be overpaid like a great player. Giannis wants the franchise to bring everyone back, and the team will obey. Expect Middleton to accept the offer and stay with the Milwaukee Bucks long term.
9. D’Angelo Russell: Russell had a breakout season last year and the restricted free-agent will command interest all over the league. If the Nets get Irving as predicted above, Russell is most likely to be on his way out. Teams who have missed out on Irving and Walker and have a need at PG to fill will sell themselves on his skills, age, and potential. Desperate for a marquee signing after missing out on the top names this offseason, I think the New York Knicks will settle on Russell, poaching him from their neighbours in Brooklyn.
10. Tobias Harris: The 76ers gave up a lot to get Harris from the Clippers last season. He’s a talented player but will be out of Philadelphia’s budget going forward — especially if they choose Butler as predicted above. That will leave Harris to other teams hoping to fill in their giant cap-space needs. I predict that he will be taken by the Brooklyn Nets, who will make him their consolation prize after missing out on the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
11. Kristaps Porzingis: A restricted free agent, recovering from injury. Porzingis was traded to the Dallas Mavericks to build a special partnership with Luka Doncic, and that’s where he will almost certainly stay.
12. Nikola Vucevic: ‘Vooch’ is a solid, not spectacular player, but will be paid well (everyone will). The Celtics are rumoured to be interested, but I think he will eventually be taken by the Sacramento Kings, who are seemingly set to lose Harrison Barnes (below).
13. Malcolm Brogdon: Another important piece of Giannis’ army in the Bucks, Brogdon is a stable point guard with reliable shooting touch. Several teams around the league — including the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, and more — are lining up to poach the restricted free agent. But I predict that the Milwaukee Bucks will swallow a bitter pill and pay out of pocket to keep the former Rookie of the Year on their roster.
14. DeMarcus Cousins: It’s been a wild 16 months for ‘Boogie’, who went from being an All Star calibre talent to his Achilles injury, to joining the reigning champion Warriors, to getting hurt again in the playoffs, to eventually contributing uneven but important minutes for Golden State in the NBA Finals. Cousins is as good as the value NBA teams assign to him. My prediction is that he’ll get a mid-level exception short-term contract by the New York Knicks, who will be desperate for another ‘big name’ after losing out on Durant.
15. Harrison Barnes: Barnes chose to opt out of his contract with the Sacramento Kings after just a few months with the team, presumably with the mission to find a team that can put him in a position to succeed again as the Golden State Warriors did. That new team will be the Denver Nuggets, who will find him a perfect fit as a wing scorer alongside Nikola Jokic with aims to become the next great Western Conference powerhouse.
Other names to keep an eye on: Bojan Bogdanovic, Ricky Rubio, Paul Millsap, JJ Reddick, Brook Lopez.
Over the next few weeks, there will be many more surprise moves. Players will be traded to create space for others, and a couple more big names could change addresses. Teams that seem silent so far might emerge as surprise contenders for your favourite free agent. The NBA’s core could change its face quicker than we react.
Kya hua, kaise hua? There will be little time for questions. The free-agency shot-clock begins soon. And the Summer of K will be one to remember.
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Updated Date: Jun 29, 2019 12:28:44 IST