Player movement dominates the NBA more each summer as contracts get shorter and players control their destiny, setting up 2019 NBA free agency to be crazier than any in recent memory.
Limiting this list to 20 almost feels like a disservice to the playoff rotation-caliber talent cut off of our power rankings here, but we don’t do honorable mentions. On or off. No consolation prizes.
The first player won’t surprise you:
1. Kawhi Leonard, F, Toronto Raptors, Unrestricted
The Klaw is coming off a Finals in which he played 41 minutes per night and averaged 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks per game on .434/.357/.906 shooting splits. Before that, he dismantled the best of the East, falling behind in each of the team’s first three playoff series before ultimately taking matters into his own hands time and again to give the Raptors their first-ever championship.
No one will doubt Leonard now. Coming off a year in which he played just nine games and battled with the Spurs organization all season, many wondered whether Leonard could return to his MVP-caliber level of play from the 2016-17 season. Offensively, he certainly did and sustained it throughout 24 high-level playoff games to take home his second Finals MVP. Maybe he could have done more defensively, but the triumphant end result makes such complaints silly.
The Clippers have coveted Leonard all year, sending top executives to random regular season games and leaking to reporters all year how strongly they would pursue him in free agency. The franchise did not get too aggressive in the Anthony Davis derby but ultimately is still set up to build a championship roster around Leonard with a great young player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and salary cap flexibility.
On the other side stands Toronto, with a year’s worth of goodwill built up by taking Leonard’s health incredibly seriously and winning with him. David Thorpe of TrueHoop during the Finals reported he expected Leonard to remain in Toronto for at least one more season on a short contract. Two years from now, Leonard will be eligible for a higher maximum salary reserved for players who have been in the league at least 10 seasons.
It feels like a two-horse race, and Leonard’s decision will represent a tectonic plate shifting along the surface of the NBA world.