Duke’s RJ Barrett
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
While the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors continue to battle for a spot in the NBA Finals—and the Golden State Warriors patiently wait for their fifth straight appearance—the rest of the league is focused on the pending offseason.
This offseason is likely to change the landscape of the NBA in a big way.
The 2019 NBA draft is set for June 20, and free agency officially begins on July 1. Both events bring the potential for teams to dramatically improve and could turn some NBA afterthoughts into playoff teams virtually overnight.
Though it isn’t a certainty, we know that Kevin Durant at least appears likely to leave the Golden State Warriors in free agency. We know that the New Orleans Pelicans are likely to take Duke’s Zion Williamson with the first overall pick in the draft. We can only speculate on what else might unfold ahead of the draft, though the rumor mill is steadily churning out possibilities.
Here’s a look at some of the latest free-agency and draft buzz with the 2019 NBA Finals rapidly approaching.
Knicks May Throw a Curveball at the Draft
The New York Knicks didn’t land the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, which means they have no virtually no shot at landing Williamson. It’s fair to assume, then, that New York will scoop up one of the other members of the draft’s big three—either Murray State’s Ja Morant or Duke’s RJ Barrett—depending on the player the Memphis Grizzlies take at No. 2.
With the Grizzlies looking likely to draft Morant, this would leave the Knicks with Barrett.
However, the Knicks may not pull the trigger on Barrett if he is sitting there at No. 3. Instead, they may take Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News. In fact, several teams appear keen on Culver.
“Before the unveiling of the lottery results, some scouts and personnel execs said that if the Hawks had won the No. 2 pick, they would focus on wing Jarrett Culver—and that the Cavaliers might have done the same, passing on outstanding guards Ja Morant and RJ Barrett,” Deveney wrote. “Rumors have even cropped up about the Knicks considering Culver over Barrett with the No. 3 pick. At the least, the Knicks will weigh the option.”
Culver going to the Knicks at No. 3 would be at least a mild surprise and could then lead to Barrett landing with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 4.
LeBron Doing Some Free-Agent Recruiting
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Lakers endured a disastrous season both on and off the court, but when everyone was healthy, they weren’t as terrible as some might have you believe. They were firmly in playoff contention before James suffered a groin injury, and adding a player like Barrett to the mix could make them contenders in the West.
Los Angeles will be in win-now mode as long as James remains on the roster, so the Lakers won’t be content just landing a promising prospect. They are going to target established veterans in free agency, and it appears James is already on the recruiting trail.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, James has already met with Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler.
“From what I understand, he has already begun the recruiting process,” Windhorst said on Pardon the Interruption. “I’ve heard he’s had contact with Kawhi Leonard. I’ve heard he’s had contact with Jimmy Butler. There’s no tampering enforcement by players. And while Magic Johnson, the guy who got in trouble for tampering before, is no longer there, LeBron is ‘tamperer in chief’ of the Lakers right now.”
While it’s hard to envision Leonard going from being the leader of the potentially Finals-bound Raptors to being LeBron’s sidekick, Butler has shown some interest in joining L.A.
“He likes L.A, LeBron James has been in touch with him and he would join the Lakers in a second if they offered him a max deal,” Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times said via Twitter.
If the Lakers were able to add both Barrett and Butler to a team that already features James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, they would suddenly be quite formidable.
Kyrie Irving Not Likely to Join Los Angeles
Winslow Townson/Associated Press
While the Lakers seem to have a realistic shot at landing Butler, they’re probably not going to reunite James and former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving. At least, that’s the feeling of ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan.
“I did a little digging around and my feeling is very strongly that while LeBron and Kyrie have kissed and made up, that Kyrie is not going there,” MacMullan recently said on the Hoop Collective. “He’s just not. I just don’t believe it. And I think people close to him just don’t believe it, either.”
The idea of Irving and James reuniting is intriguing. While Irving didn’t seem to like being in LeBron’s shadow in Cleveland, the two played well together while bringing a title to the Cavaliers.
There has been speculation of late that Irving could indeed rejoin LeBron, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst is one who touted the move as a possibility.
“I think it’s on Kyrie’s radar, it’s on Kyrie’s board,” he said on the Hoop Collective in early May. “He has had discussions with people about playing for the Lakers.”
While the possibility will remain until Irving signs elsewhere, if MacMullan is accurate, it’s not likely to happen.