The immediate future of the NBA will be influenced by several key decisions in the 2019 offseason. Not only are there multiple superstars looking to ink new deals, but there are 11 teams that have max cap space.
Kyrie Irving is one of the top 5 free agents this summer and at age 26 he is having arguably the best season of his career. Only an average defender in his time in Cleveland, Irving has taken a step up as a man defender. His rebounding, on ball defense and activity in passing lanes, has elevated his game to another level. There is no doubt that playing in Brad Stevens’ system has been a large part of this, but Kyrie deserves a lot of credit for his application on this end of the floor.
Offensively it would seem that his fit within the Celtics system is ideal, but their record doesn’t reflect the preseason hype. After being a minute from making the NBA finals last season without Irving and Gordon Hayward, it was assumed by many that they would secure a top seed and claim the Eastern Conference title with a fit squad.
Current frustrations for Irving may mean he looks elsewhere in free agency. The first thing to consider is
Assuming he won’t be traded, let’s have a look at the teams with the best chance of signing him this summer.
The Clippers are deep in rebuilding mode and with front office dynamo Jerry West on the payroll they are in the picture for top free agents this summer. With around $50 million in cap space, they would have to renounce all free agents bar Tobias Harris to be able to sign Irving. As they have Harris’ bird rights, they could sign Irving and then go over the cap to keep Harris. Their roster would be guard heavy and lacking bigs, but if they feel like they can sign Irving they may be able to make some moves to bring in more bigs.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Tobias Harris was not named an All-Star reserve. Harris is currently averaging 21.2 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 50-43-88 this season. No player in NBA history has averaged 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 43% from three over a full season before.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) February 1, 2019
Kyrie likes the idea of playing in a big market like LA, and on the court, he would have the ball in his hands. With Danilo Gallinari expiring in 2020 they would have the chance to bring in another star also.
In summary, the Clippers could be in play, but it’s unlikely he would leave the Celtics for a starless franchise unless West can work his magic to bring another big name.
Prognosis – Unlikely
The Nets are also in rebuilding mode, like the Clippers they have a strong guard rotation, but have a more balanced roster with strong role players in every position.
For the Nets to be in play they would need to make a call on guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell has a cap hold of $21 million for next season and as he is a lead point guard he likely wouldn’t thrive in a bench role. Moving him prior to the deadline or renouncing him next year would clear the path for Irving to sign. Even then, the Nets would still have to renounce other free agents as their cap holds total $124 million.
The Nets are currently 6th in the East close to pressing for home court in the post season. From Irving’s point of view they are closing in on win-now mode. They are great at developing talent and have potential stars on the roster already. With a big market in New York for Irving’s commercial opportunities they would be seriously in play if they were able to attract one more star.
Prognosis – On the fence
This one may have seemed a longshot a month ago. However, the LeBron factor and the chance that point guard Lonzo Ball would likely be used as a trade piece in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes means that they can’t be counted out. Add to that the legendary pulling power of the Lakers franchise and Magic Johnson as the GM and you have an appealing situation for almost any free agent.
The Lakers cap situation is simple and they wouldn’t have any problem renouncing current players.
#Lakers star LeBron James (@KingJames) tagged #Celtics star and former #Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) in an Instagram video of himself jamming to Fetty Wap’s “Rewind.” 👀🤔 pic.twitter.com/eK6H6b6ETj— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 25, 2019
Normally the presence of LeBron would be a massive drawcard, in this instance, he may be the reason Kyrie doesn’t end up there, due to their history on the Cavs. Kyrie left the Cavs because he didn’t want to be around when LeBron left, while also wanting the ball in his hands more. But if he’s looking to clip his ticket to the Finals and the Lakers can nab Davis or another superstar, he has the perfect opportunity to be on a contender.
Prognosis – Watch this space
New York Knicks
The Knicks are an intriguing prospect. More than 20 years of struggle and inconsistency has led to some confusion around the direction of the franchise.
The Knicks roster is a touch confusing but if Kevin Durant or Irving indicated they wanted to sign, Knicks management would do everything in their power to make that happen.
"The Knicks traded Kristaps for the ability to sign Kevin Durant AND Kyrie Irving, or KD AND Jimmy Butler, or KD AND Kemba Walker. For the first time in my life, the Knicks don't have a bad contract anymore. I love this trade for the Knicks."— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) February 1, 2019
— @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/R65uOPVJ7r
Kyrie would love the New York market, alongside a scoring forward like Durant or a second-tier player like Khris Middleton he would flourish. There may be some concerns about Knicks ownership, but the additions of rookies Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox may have shown potential signees that the Knicks have turned the corner.