Kawhi. Kyrie. Kemba. Klay. There’s a common denominator between these superstar players (and not only that their names all start with “K”)- all are free agents that will shape the NBA landscape this summer. Whether it’s discussion about a player’s legacy, or the chance for a fresh start, or the chase for championships, there are a multitude of intriguing factors at play that will make each decision far from a sure thing until the deal is sealed. The decisions won’t be made in a vacuum either, as each prospective deal carries a tremendous amount of league-wide implications and the potential to have a domino effect. All of which to say- stay tuned. This is gonna get wild.
For each major free agent, I’ve written a compelling case for each of the major suitors for the player’s services. I’ve also taken the perspective of the player, choosing the best spot as well as the spot where I expect the player to land. Finally, I’ll take the role of GM and give my best strategy for the major players in this year’s free agency.
Golden State Warriors- Stay in Golden State, and NBA Finals appearances are almost definitely in your future. Though you and Klay Thompson could miss the upcoming season, the core of you and Steph Curry, Klay, and Draymond Green will still be intact and a threat to the rest of the NBA. No team can offer combination of a All-NBA supporting cast with deferential superstars that will let you take the spotlight. Plus, after the NBA Finals, your narrative has changed- you are the unquestioned piece that the Warriors need, not just another commodity. If you think that NBA titles is the way into the GOAT conversation, San Fran is the place.
New York Knicks- New York is one of the capitals of the basketball world, and taking the Knicks back to glory would elevate you to the level of the greatest to ever play the game. There are young players such as R.J. Barrett that add long-term potential, flexibility to add superstar talent in free agency and a rabid and global fan base that would see you as their hero. Write the story of your career in New York City and you will be a legend.
Los Angeles Clippers– You’ve taken a backseat to LeBron James for your whole career, so what better way to supplant him as the best in the world than take over his city? The Clippers are a well-run organization under Jerry West and have a talented supporting cast that already made noise in the Western Conference Finals. Plus, LA offers all of the luxuries and glamour you could ask for in a market. Travel south to LA and become number one.
Brooklyn Nets- Think of everything you love about the New York Knicks and then look at their neighbors in Brooklyn. The Nets are a storied franchise like the Knicks, but one that has a track record of functional leadership and proven talent. Kyrie is a favorite to play for the Nets, and the combination of the two of you would make us a title contender each year. Become an Eastern Conference power and erase the cupcake narrative by heading east.
Where He Should Go- Brooklyn Nets. The Nets combine flexibility, functionality and prestige, and would offer KD a place to dominate a conference for the next five seasons.
Where He Will Go- New York Knicks. The Knicks aren’t a bad fit, either. They are a more storied and supported franchise than the Nets and could attract a Big Three of superstars.
Toronto Raptors– You came to Toronto and saw a once-in-a-generation story play out – a whole country cheering for an ignored franchise that finally realized its championship dreams. And in spending a year here, you saw that we provide everything you need to be in the all-time great conversation. We were accommodating with your injury situation, were aggressive in supporting you with the talent necessary to flourish in the playoffs and treated you as you should be treated – as the best player in the NBA. The grass may look greener elsewhere, but in Toronto, you know we give you everything you need to win championships and build your legacy.
Los Angeles Clippers- You said it yourself – you want to play in LA. Your Raptors’ career was nice, but you don’t owe them anything now after delivering a title. Come to the Clippers, a franchise that has long been the Lakers’ doormat, and become an instant title favorite. With a talented and young supporting cast, you can flourish in your hometown and steal LeBron’s thunder, truly establishing you as the best player in today’s NBA. Plus, when you win the title with us, you, not LeBron, will be the first to win Finals MVPs playing for three different teams. We are your favorite choice, and you know it!
Philadelphia 76ers- Come here, and the league’s next superteam is born. You will be flanked by a transcendent big man in Joel Embiid, a stellar ball handler in Ben Simmons and a team that was as close as anyone to knocking you off last year. Come here, and the NBA title, and NBA titles to come, are within your grasp. It’s a storied franchise with a chance for historic dominance, exactly what you need to become a historic player.
Brooklyn Nets- Functional? Check. Big market? Check. Talented supporting cast? Check. Roster flexibility and free agent attractiveness? Check. The next chapter of your career should be spent in the place you want to be, and Brooklyn offers all of that and more. The infrastructure is in place for you to thrive as a superstar and as a part of a title favorite, and what better place to prove you’re the best player in the world than in New York City.
Where He Should Go- Raptors. Kawhi has proven everything he needs to in Toronto and has nowhere to go but down (there’s literally nothing better than winning the Finals), but the Raptors give him the chance to be at the forefront of the league and are attentive to his needs. With Canada behind him and teammates like Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry by his side, Kawhi should see how even the brutal Toronto winters are worth it.
Where He Will Go- Clippers. He wanted to go to LA, and it’s possible that he will never be content until he gets to the sunny shores of SoCal. Simply put, the option to go to LA is open and the Clippers are more than enthusiastic to get him.
Golden State Warriors- You and Steph Curry form the Splash Brothers, the most prolific backcourt tandem in NBA history. Stay here on a max contract, and the core of this dynasty will stay intact for the foreseeable future. You know how much you love it here, and you know that we will do whatever it takes to bring a title back to Northern California.
Los Angeles Lakers- Your father wore the purple and yellow threads of the Los Angeles Lakers, but you have the chance to surpass him and become something more – an all-time Laker. Just imagine you, LeBron and Anthony Davis – unstoppable. Instead of going down with the ship in Golden State, you could be the missing piece for the league’s next superpower.
New York Knicks- Team up with another superstar in the capital of the basketball world and bring a historic franchise to the promised land. With the balance of power possibly shifting to the Western Conference, you could elevate the Knicks into yearly contention for the Finals, plus prove that you’re an All-NBA, franchise player.
Where He Should Go- Warriors. As long as Steph and Klay play for the Warriors, I can’t write them off in the Western Conference. If they offer him the max, he should definitely stick around.
Where He Will Go- Warriors. The Lakers are an enticing option, but the lack of cap space and proven aptitude makes the Warriors a better pick.
Boston Celtics- We won’t deny it- the narrative is against you. But one more season as the face of the winningest team in NBA history, and you will show the world that you are more than just a supporting piece and that last year was a fluke. From talent to coaching, we’re a top-notch organization that wants you here and knows that you’re the man who will put us over the top.
New York Knicks- Team up with Kevin Durant here and establish yourself once more as a postseason legend and clutch shooter. You flourished with LeBron, but New York gives you the best opportunity to thrive in both the short and long terms with the world’s best player. The Eastern Conference, and a legacy as one of your generation’s best point guards, is yours for the taking.
Brooklyn Nets- You were drafted into Cleveland. You were traded into Boston. But now you choose, and Brooklyn is your best bet. Your new representation, Klutch Sports, has Brooklyn ties, but the connections don’t stop there. You will have the talent around you to thrive and the opportunity to add another superstar through free agency or trades. We’ll even ship out D’Angelo Russell just to have you as our star point guard. Did I mention that Boston is in our division?
Los Angeles Lakers- Life outside of LeBron’s shadow is a sobering experience, and to right your past wrongs and be a part of a championship team once again, go to the Los Angeles Lakers. The combination of you,
Where He Should Go- With Kevin Durant. He needs to pair with a superstar to thrive, and with LeBron getting up there in age, KD is the perfect teammate for Irving. Plus, Irving and Durant’s interests in terms of potential teams have significant overlap, so this pairing is not out of the question.
Where He Will Go- Nets. Kyrie wants a fresh start and his ties to Brooklyn are too strong to ignore.
Charlotte Hornets- You are loyal. You want to play in Charlotte – you said it yourself. And we want you and are willing (and able) to pay more than any team in the NBA to make that happen. Yes, acquisitions like Gordon Hayward and Marc Gasol fizzled out and we’ve fallen short in surrounding you with the talent you need – we’ll admit that. But things are about to change, and contention is right around the corner. Stay here, and be a Charlotte hero and the face of a franchise, not to mention a very, very rich man.
New York Knicks- You’re a big time player and Charlotte has obscured your talent for far too long. Come to your home in New York and be an all-time hero for a historic franchise. The opportunity to add a top talent like KD is also a significant possibility, making a long playoff run more than just a pipe dream. New York is your home and is where your NBA career will go to the next level.
Los Angeles Lakers– LeBron James. Anthony Davis. Kemba Walker. That trio would be the best in NBA history, and one that would be heavily favored to bring hardware to LA not just this year but for seasons to come. Your shooting is the missing piece for this roster, and there is no better stage than Los Angeles for you to show that you are truly an All-NBA player.
Boston Celtics- We are the winningest team in NBA history, but we have one huge hole at point guard and you are the man to fill it. Play for the league’s best coach, Brad Stevens, and alongside the best young talent in the NBA. The Finals may not come next season, but we are building towards the long-term and you are our centerpiece. Imagine you, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in three or four years. That’s All-Star, and NBA Finals, material. In Boston, you will be the face of a legendary franchise and a true title contender.
Where He Should Go- New York. LA’s cap situation makes that a bit of a reach, and Kemba is one of the toughest competitors in the NBA, making mediocre Charlotte and dysfunctional Boston hard sells. Kemba will team up with Kevin Durant and RJ Barrett in New York and make his hometown the center of the NBA.
Where He Will Go- New York. The fit is too perfect.
Other Notable Names: Jimmy Butler, D’Angelo Russell, Nik Vucevic, Tobias Harris, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol
New York Knicks- Make NYC respectable. The Knicks have been a laughingstock of an NBA franchise, with problems both on the court and in the front office with owner James Dolan. This free agency period offers the Knicks the chance to change all of that. New York has established itself as the favorites for Kyrie and KD, and Kemba Walker, a New York native, should be a target. Knicks fans have high hopes for this summer, putting immense pressure on New York’s management but also a golden opportunity to turn the franchise’s narrative around.
Brooklyn Nets- Accumulate talent. Brooklyn has had a commendable upward trajectory despite having virtually no draft capital the past few seasons, but their name has come up in discussions about a lot of free agents. There may be no going back now with the Nets’ current core with talk of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving possibly teaming up in Brooklyn (the free agent status of point guard D’Angelo Russell signals that sweeping changes could be coming). Whether it’s KD, Kyrie, or Klay, the Nets should take advantage of their sudden status as a free agent destination and find a franchise star.
Los Angeles Clippers- Strike it big. The Clippers have been waiting for this free agency for a couple years, so there is no excuse to whiff on this year’s big names. Los Angeles has a ton of draws for free agents- the chance to outshine LeBron, a talented and young supporting cast, SoCal weather (looking at you, Kawhi), Jerry West and Doc Rivers at the helm, and roster flexibility- and the flexibility to add multiple blue-chip talents. Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are the obvious targets, but adding a point guard like Kemba or Kyrie are enticing possibilities that should be pursued.
Los Angeles Lakers- Support LeBron. For the Lakers to return to Finals contention, two things must happen – LeBron must stay healthy and he must have shooters to support him. Last year’s mix of erratic youngsters and vets on one-year deals struck out big time, and LeBron’s prime may be nearing its end. Their trajectory changed with the acquisition of Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade, signaling that Los Angeles should be a free agent destination for years to come and that they are the NBA’s incumbent superteam. Adding either Klay Thompson or Kemba Walker would be huge in creating a Big Three, but the wiser decision may be to split up the limited cap space to provide the depth the team needs to be a contender.
Boston Celtics- Capitalize on roster. The Celtics’ rapid ascension to the top of the NBA ranks seemed destined to continue with a Finals berth last season, but poor team chemistry and injuries derailed Boston’s season. With top player Kyrie Irving on the market, the Celtics are at a breaking point. Should the Celtics let Irving walk and adopt a long-term approach, or should they make a move for another superstar and go for it all right now? Whatever strategy the Celtics take, they should not waver and tear down the foundation they have worked all these years to build up.
Philadelphia 76ers- Keep core intact, but add next-level star if possible. The 76ers’ starting five is the East’s answer to the Death Lineup, but free agency threatens to break up this All Star-laden bunch. Recent additions J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are back on the market, and it would be a mistake for general manager Elton Brand to let all three leave. Remember, this was the team that nearly took the victory against Eastern Conference champion Toronto in the second round. Butler is the priority, but if there is a possibility of adding a premium, take-the-ball-over-type of player like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard interested in joining the team, Brand must consider it. This is the Eastern Conference, where every team is going all-out, so now is the time for bold moves.
Major NBA Contenders (Rockets, Bucks, Raptors, Jazz, Nuggets, Spurs, Pacers)- Make big moves. One year ago, the Raptors were just another team in a crowded Eastern Conference, one that seemingly only produced bait for the Warriors to destroy in the Finals. Fast forward one year, and GM Masai Ujiri’s bold moves of changing coaches, trading his top player away for a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard, and adding veteran pieces like Danny Green and Marc Gasol paid off big time as the Raptors made a historic run to a championship. The rest of the NBA (and Ujiri himself) should take notes from Toronto’s wild year of wheeling and dealing. With a host of talented, game-changing players in free agency and on the trade market, general managers should evaluate their championship window, and if they want to be contenders, then they should have no reservations about making bold moves to bolster their chances. Otherwise, the NBA may just leave them behind.