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2019 NBA free agency is going to be wild. Here are the 19 best players on the market

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If you thought this summer was strange, just wait until next summer.

2018 NBA All-Star - Media Day & Practice Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

2018 NBA free agency has been put to bed. All of the most notable players have settled in with teams new or old, with LeBron James — the greatest basketball player of his generation and most others — snagging the biggest headlines by moving west. That was the league’s biggest earthquake by far, followed by Paul George’s decision to re-up with the Thunder and DeMarcus Cousins’ move to the Warriors. Weeks later, the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors in a blockbuster swap for DeMar DeRozan.

That’s a lot of crazy stuff for one month.

The good news is that a lot of crazy stuff is on the docket for next July, too. We don’t know what trade requests will pop up over the next 12 months — you think we could have predicted the Kawhi imbroglio a year ago? — but we do know who is on track to be a free agent. And we want you to know, too.

So here’s a list of the top 19 NBA free agents of 2019, followed by additional short lists of players who might opt out and join the market, restricted free agents of note, and other unrestricted free agent meriting consideration. We’ll update this as necessary, should players start signing extensions.

1. Kevin Durant

Durant has become the eternal free agent, opting for a series of short deals with escape hatches with the Warriors. Golden State will finally secure Durant’s Bird rights in 2019, meaning they can exceed the cap to pay him the max on a long-term deal if they’d like. (Moreso if he’d like.)

Or, Durant could take the three championships and two or three Finals MVP trophies he’d have at that point, and decide to build a legacy elsewhere. Like with LeBron in Los Angeles, or Kristaps Porzingis in New York, or Dion Waiters in Miami. The world is his oyster.

2. Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi’s reputation has taken a severe blow due to essentially missing the entire year with a quad injury and requesting a trade from the NBA’s model franchise. But once he gets back on the court, his value will snap back into place. He has a player option for 2019-20, so Toronto could convince him to stick around one more year even if it can’t get him to commit long-term.

3. Kyrie Irving

Irving is one of the best point guards in the league, has plenty of playoff experience, and is just 26 years old. Boston figures to be back in the mix for an NBA Finals berth with Irving leading the way, which should give the Celtics a good shot at keeping him long-term. But Irving is ... different. His impending free agency is worth watching even if Boston is the clear favorite.

4. Jimmy Butler

Butler is expected to decline his player option for 2019-20 to cash in before he turns 30. As evidenced by the Timberwolves’ rise upon his arrival, he’s really good. He’s an effective two-way star who would fit just about anywhere, a healthier but older and less accomplished version of Kawhi.

5. Klay Thompson

The first real bill comes due for the organic Warriors core (the Hamptons Five minus Durant and, to a lesser extent, Andre Iguodala). There is disagreement about whether Thompson will take a haircut to keep the group together. We’ll find out either when Thompson negotiates an extension in the run-up to the 2018-19 tip-off or in the early days of 2019 free agency. The Warriors aren’t ruled by the luxury tax, but they are conscious of it. If Klay looks interested in the max, the Warriors might lose him.

6. Karl-Anthony Towns (restricted)

Odds are Towns will not be a restricted free agent in 2019 because he’ll likely sign a max early extension before the October 2018 deadline. If for some reason he does not, the Timberwolves can issue a max offer sheet when 2019 free agency begins to lock him in. He’s not leaving Minnesota unless the Wolves pull off some wackadoo trade.

7. Kristaps Porzingis (restricted)

See above. Porzingis can technically be a restricted free agent in 2019, but there’s like almost no chance that will happen, and if it does, the Knicks will secure him with a max offer sheet immediately.

8. DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins was one of the most high-profile free agents in 2018 despite coming off of a major injury, but shocked everyone by seeking and securing a mid-level exception with the Warriors. He won’t be taking another short, small contract in 2019. If he comes back and plays as he has over the past three years, he’ll be treated like a superstar and could really change a franchise’s fortunes. Keep in mind that LeBron has always liked his game.

9. Al Horford

Horford may not walk away from a $30 million player option for 2019-20 given his age (33 when 2019 free agency begins), but he could opt out to help the Celtics fit all their talent into the payroll. He seems happy in Boston and pleased with his teammates. That counts for a lot.

10. Kemba Walker

The Hornets are not trading Walker ... yet. He can walk in 2019, so if Charlotte gets off to a rough start in 2018-19 under new coach James Borrego, that position may be revisited. Walker will be highly sought-after in free agency given his scoring prowess, great attitude, and reputation for stepping up in big moments. Like Cousins (and essentially everyone on this list), LeBron’s Lakers seem like a target.

11. Khris Middleton

Middleton is really, really good. He’s the chef’s kiss emoji of non-superstar three-and-D players. He’s the first player on this list that won’t be earning a max contract and could conceivably become overpaid. Milwaukee and any other suitor would like to land him on a reasonable deal in the $15-20 million range; odds are he’ll end up in the $20-25 million range. That might be OK, because he’s really good! With the Bucks moving on from Jabari Parker this summer, it opens space up to commit to Middleton in 2019.

12. Eric Bledsoe

Bledsoe, on the other hand, is a question mark for the Bucks going forward. Middleton clearly fits perfectly with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bledsoe? Perhaps not. But Bledsoe has some unique gifts and, in theory, can be an excellent two-way player.

He’s also represented by Klutch Sports, which is something to keep in mind considering that LeBron’s Lakers will have plenty of cap space in 2019.

13. Tobias Harris

Harris turned down a decent extension offer from the Clippers (a reported five years and $80 million), signaling that he will be going after big money even if it means moving again in 2019. He’s on his fourth team in seven years, which isn’t a knock, but also isn’t quite an endorsement. He’s a good scorer who became (at least for one season) an excellent shooter with the Pistons and Clips, and he doesn’t need the ball a ton. A nice third piece for a good team.

14. Paul Millsap (team option)

The Nuggets will decide next summer whether to pay Millsap $30 million for the 2019-20. That’s roughly what Denver is paying him each year now; the issue is that Millsap will turn 34 this season and the rest of the Nuggets roster is getting mighty expensive. Should Denver release him, what Millsap commands in what should be his last substantial contract will depend wholly on how he and the Nuggets do this season. The other option is that Millsap could decide to go ring-chasing.

15. DeAndre Jordan

Jordan took a one-year deal with the Mavericks for some reason. The official explanation is that he wants to hit free agency again in 2019 when more teams have money. But he gave up his Bird rights in the move, and he’ll be a year older when chasing the bag, and ... whatever, it happened.

We’ll see if Jordan can secure a major contract in 2019 or if he’s going to be forced into short-term deals going forward. How improved Dallas is this season should matter a lot, because he’ll get credit.

16. Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah is also looking to cash in come 2019 after deferring free agency a year. Thomas signed a flyer with the Nuggets with hopes of reclaiming his reputation after a horrendous year of multiple trades and bad vibes. We’ll see.

17. Marc Gasol

We’ve entered the zone of second-tier stars with huge player options. Gasol’s 2019-20 option is for $26 million. Whether he picks it up may not rest on recapturing that salary level on the market. Gasol looked miserable all last season, and if the Grizzlies are awful again, he might just slide out even if it means giving up money.

18. Goran Dragic

Dragic has a $19 million player option for 2019-20. On the one hand, he’s already 32 years old, and was only an All-Star this past season based on rampant injuries to other players. On the other hand, there’s so much cap space available in 2019 that opting out to pick up a 2- or 3-year deal for $20 million or so a season would be smart, and is definitely attainable if Dragic has another good season.

19. Harrison Barnes

Last but not least, there is Harrison Barnes, who has a $25 million player option for 2019-20. As with Jordan, the Mavericks’ performance will dictate a lot here. Barnes averaging 19-6 on average efficiency for a bloody bad team is a lot different than Barnes averaging 19-6 on average efficiency for a decent team.

Still, it’s likely that Barnes will opt in: evidence suggests he’s not a $25 million player. If not, hey, the Warriors might have an opening if KD leaves!

Other intriguing restricted free agents

These players are eligible for extensions this summer. Otherwise, incumbent teams will have matching rights in the summer of 2019.

“Scary” Terry Rozier
Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky
Larry Nance, Jr.
Trey Lyles
Kevon Looney
Milos Teodosic (yes, he’ll be restricted even though he’s currently 31)
Justise Winslow
President Malcolm Brogdon
Willie Cauley-Stein
Delon Wright
Kelly Oubre

Other intriguing player options

These players could opt out of their contracts in 2019 to hit a bumper market. Each player’s 2019-20 option is in parentheses after their names. Data via spotrac.com.

Hassan Whiteside ($27 million)
Jeff Teague ($19 million)
The Eternal Free Agent Dwight Howard ($5.6 million)
Julius Randle ($9 million)
C.J. Miles ($8.7 million)
Jonas Valanciunas ($17.6 million)

More unrestricted free agents, in no particular order

Spencer Dinwiddie
Tyreke Evans
Thaddeus Young
Patrick Beverley
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Garrett Temple
JaMychal Green
Nikola Mirotic
Enes Kanter
Terrence Ross
Nikola Vucevic
Taj Gibson
J.J. Redick
Trevor Ariza
Al-Farouq Aminu
Rudy Gay
Danny Green
Ricky Rubio
Alec Burks
Markieff Morris