The list of remaining 2018 free agents continues to dry up, which means it’s nearly time to shift our focus to the group of players on track to reach the free agent market in 2019. We’ve got a full list of those 2018 free-agents-to-be, divided by position and FA type, and a separate list that sorts them by team.
Since we’re still nearly 10 months away from the 2019 free agent period opening, those lists look a little more star-studded now than they’ll end up being. A handful of top-tier restricted free agents figure to sign extensions with their current teams before opening night in October, and it’s possible that a couple veterans will be extended in the coming months as well. Kevin Love, for instance, was eligible to reach the open market in 2019 up until he signed a four-year, $120MM extension with the Cavaliers.
Still, even though not all of the top potential 2019 free agents will reach the open market – and not all of them will change teams if they do – the current list includes so many big names that it should still look pretty impressive when next July rolls around.
Below, we’ve taken our first crack at ranking some of the top potential free agents for 2019. While this is our first extended look at 2019’s top free agents, it certainly won’t be our last. Extensions, injuries, breakout years, trades, and poor performances figure to affect these rankings over the course of the 2018/19 season, so we’ll be revisiting the list every month or two to make updates and changes.
Our list reflects each player’s current expected value on the 2018 free agent market, rather than how we think they’ll perform on the court for the 2018/19 season. For instance, older players like J.J. Redick and Trevor Ariza have solid short-term value, but weren’t considered for our top 20 because they’re unlikely to sign huge, long-term deals next summer. In other words, age and long-term value is important.
Here’s the first installment of our 2019 free agent power rankings:
- Kevin Durant, F, Warriors (player option): One of the top two players in the NBA, Durant has taken below-market deals in each of the last two years, but 2019 could be the summer in which he makes up for it — the Warriors will finally have his full Bird rights, meaning he could sign a five-year deal worth a projected $221MM+.
- Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Timberwolves (RFA): Towns is a near lock to sign an extension with the Timberwolves before the October 15 deadline, with both Tom Thibodeau and team owner Glen Taylor expressing confidence it’ll get done. While there are some concerns about Towns’ defense and reported tension in the Minnesota locker room, his age, his offensive game, and his durability would make him one of the NBA’s safest long-term investments if he somehow reached the open market.
- Kawhi Leonard, F, Raptors (player option): The fact that Leonard ranks this high after missing all but nine games with a quad injury last season and then forcing his way out of San Antonio is a testament to his talent. So far this offseason, reports on his health have been positive. If he looks like the old Kawhi in 2018/19, he has the potential to rise the top of this list by next July.
- Jimmy Butler, G/F, Timberwolves (player option): One of the best two-way wings in the NBA, Butler can do a little bit of everything — over the last four seasons, he has averaged 21.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, and 1.8 SPG with a .461/.352/.848 shooting line, earning four consecutive All-Star nods. He should have several suitors when he reaches the open market next summer.
- Klay Thompson, G, Warriors: Thompson has earned a top-five spot on this list for now due to his otherworldly outside shot, his underrated perimeter defense, and his durability — he has missed just 21 total regular season games in seven NBA seasons. He may be the third option for the Warriors, but Thompson would be a bona fide star and a perennial threat for the league’s scoring title if he played for a team that leaned on him more heavily.
- Kyrie Irving, G, Celtics (player option): Irving will likely rise on this list if he shows that his knee issues are behind him and has a healthy 2018/19 campaign. He’ll only be 27 years old next summer, and teams will be willing to accept his defensive shortcomings to get his offensive play-making into their lineups, so his health will be the primary X-factor — he has missed at least seven games in each of his NBA seasons, including 61 over the last three years.
- Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, Knicks (RFA): Like others on this list, Porzingis’ upside outweighs his health concerns, but his ranking could fluctuate depending on how he looks upon returning from his ACL tear. Of course, the Knicks could take his name off this list entirely by locking him up to a rookie scale extension by October 15.
- Khris Middleton, G/F, Bucks (player option): Giannis Antetokounmpo deservedly receives the lion’s share of the attention in Milwaukee, but Middleton has developed into one of the most effective wings in the NBA, averaging 20 PPG for the first time last season while starting all 82 games and chipping in 5.2 RPG and 4.0 APG. Throw in his .391 career 3PT% and his dangerous length and wingspan on defense, and Middleton will be in line for a substantial raise in 2019.
- Kemba Walker, G, Hornets: Walker isn’t a top-five NBA point guard, but he’s a two-time All-Star who might look even better if he got the opportunity to play alongside a second star. A Hornet since 2011, Walker is fond of the city and the franchise, so it will be interesting to see if he stays put or seeks a free agent opportunity that puts him closer to title contention.
- Myles Turner, C, Pacers (RFA): Although injuries and the arrival of Domantas Sabonis diminished Turner’s impact in 2017/18, the 22-year-old capable of protecting the rim (1.8 career BPG) and making outside shots (.353 3PT% over the last two years). He should only get better, and if he reaches restricted free agency, an up-and-coming organization looking for a young building block may put pressure on the Pacers with an aggressive offer sheet.
- Tobias Harris, F, Clippers: Harris reportedly turned down an extension offer from the Clippers worth about $80MM, so he seems to be betting on a major payday in free agency — if the 26-year-old keeps playing like he did after being traded to L.A. last season, he should get it. In his first 32 games for the Clippers, Harris recorded 19.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 3.1 APG with a .473/.414/.800 shooting line.
- Al Horford, C, Celtics (player option): Horford is one of a few players on this list who may ultimately exercise his player option rather than opting out. He remains one of the NBA’s most underrated and effective frontcourt players and could probably secure one last lucrative multiyear contract next summer, but his $30MM+ player-option salary will be tough to turn down.
- DeMarcus Cousins, C, Warriors: This spot seems simultaneously too high and too low for Cousins, who is one of the NBA’s most productive players when he’s healthy, but is still recovering from an Achilles tear, one of the most challenging injuries for an NBA player to return from. Even if he looks good for the Warriors in the second half and helps the team win another title, Cousins will essentially be a role player for the star-studded squad, which will limit his chances of signing a massive long-term deal in 2019.
- Goran Dragic, G, Heat (player option): Coming off his first All-Star performance, Dragic’s stock is high, but he’ll turn 33 years old next May and there’s no shortage of productive point guards around the NBA. His market won’t bottom out, but he won’t be signing a $100MM contract either.
- DeAndre Jordan, C, Mavericks: Jordan opted for a one-year contract this summer, presumably expecting a more player-friendly market in 2019. That’s certainly possible, but as this list shows, there will also be more elite free agents available than there were in 2018, which will work against the veteran center. He’ll also turn 31 next summer, and his shot-blocking numbers have fallen off sharply in recent years. While his ability to rebound, defend, and finish at the rim should earn him a solid deal, Jordan probably won’t be one of 2019’s most sought-after free agents.
- Julius Randle, F/C, Pelicans (player option): After settling for a short-term, mid-level contract in 2018, Randle will look for a big year playing next to Anthony Davis. He’ll be 24 when he returns to unrestricted free agency, assuming he declines his 2019/20 player option.
- Terry Rozier, G, Celtics (RFA): Of the restricted free agents on this list, Rozier is the most likely to switch teams, given the presence of Irving and Marcus Smart in Boston. The Celtics will have to make sure they can re-sign Irving before making letting Rozier get away, but he’d be a nice fit for a young team in need of a point guard, such as the Suns or Magic.
- Eric Bledsoe, G, Bucks: Bledsoe was inconsistent as a Buck, but he’s still just 28 years old and is capable of being a strong defender and play-maker when he’s making the right decisions. A year under new head coach Mike Budenholzer could help improve his stock.
- Harrison Barnes, F, Mavericks (player option): Like Horford, Barnes may simply decide to opt into the final year of his contract if he determines he won’t be able to top his $25MM+ player-option salary. If he chooses free agency, he’s the sort of three-and-D wing who would look good to a lot of teams as a second or third option.
- Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies (player option): 2017/18 was mostly a lost season for Gasol and the Grizzlies, but the veteran big man continued to impress, adding a three-point shot (.362 3PT% over the last two years) to complement his ability to rebound, defend, and score and pass out of the post. Staying healthy will be a key component in Gasol’s option decision next summer — a healthy year could earn him one last big contract, but he’ll be 34 in January and will probably pick up his option if he struggles through an injury-plagued season.
Disagree strongly with any of our rankings? Feel like we omitted any players that should be in the top 20? Weigh in below in the comments section to let us know!
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.