NBA free agency begins on June 30th at 6:00 p.m. EST, several hours earlier than the previous start time in past years. That leaves us fewer than two weeks before the summer spending frenzy officially kicks off and all hell can finally break loose. With a plethora of top free agents available, ranging from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Khris Middleton and D’Angelo Russell, teams are going to shell out tens of millions of dollars this offseason.
Now that it appears the Golden State Warriors might have a down year ahead of them (injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson), the organizations sitting near the top of the standings all have a shot at the title. The 2019-20 season could be the most wide-open the league has been in over 10 years. But it’s not just the top free agents that will attract attention once the calendar slides in July. Teams will be trying to improve from top-to-bottom and the talent pool will dry up quick. Among those players will be some familiar names. Let’s take a look at the list of former Kentucky players who are set to be free agents this summer.
Spoiler, there are 12 BBNBA players that finished the 2018-19 season on an NBA team featured in this series. But for Part 1, we’re going to cover just the first six.
Isaac Humphries and Alex Poythress (Atlanta Hawks) – 21 and 25 years old
- Isaac Humphries joined the Hawks in April and played only five games with the team as he shuffled between the G League and NBA. He was named the NBL (National Basketball League in Australia) at the end of the 2018 season and found some success with the Erie BayHawks last year. The Hawks signed him for the remainder of the season on April 1st, but it’s hard to say if the Hawks will bring him back or if he’ll even find another NBA roster by the start of the season. He could be looking at another year working his way through the G League.
- As for Alex Poythress, he’ll be a more sought after player. Along with Humphries, both players are restricted free agents but do not have Bird Rights with the Hawks. Meaning, Atlanta has priority to sign them first, but it will count against the team salary cap. Poythress averaged 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 21 games for Atlanta last season, but the Hawks are in hardcore rebuild mode. They are constantly bringing in new pieces that they believe can be incorporated into the future. Atlanta would be the most familiar situation for Poythress and they could sign him for cheap, but his market value won’t be anything too significant elsewhere.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets) – 26 years old
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist currently holds a $13 million player option for the upcoming season. If he declines it, he sets himself up to become an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team. The value on MKG – a non-shooting wing player with slightly above average defensive capabilities – isn’t going to be astronomical. Honestly, $13 million is probably right around what he’d garner on the open market, if not a bit less than that per year. He’ll be entering his eighth NBA season next year at only 26, but hasn’t shown much improvement in that time. The odds of him developing a jumper at this stage are waning and his minutes began to nosedive halfway through this past season. Averaging under seven points in under 19 minutes per game while having your starting job stripped away is not how you want to enter free agency. His best option might be to take the player option from Charlotte and try to improve his stock for next summer. But then again, if Kemba Walker dips out for a city such as New York or Los Angeles, the Hornets will enter disaster mode. Would MKG be willing to suffer on a team destined for the lottery knowing the best player openly left the only team he’s ever known? Or would he be more willing to test the waters, take a smaller amount of money, and go somewhere where he can specialize on defense/hustle for fewer minutes and more wins?
Teams to watch for: Hornets, Warriors, Rockets, Mavericks
Trey Lyles (Denver Nuggets) – 23 years old
- Trey Lyles could never find his shooting stroke this past season. After shooting over 49 percent from the floor and over 38 percent from deep in his third NBA season and first with the Nuggets, Lyles regressed in year four. His shooting numbers dipped to 41.8 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from deep. It wasn’t due to poor shot selection, either. Lyles just could never get into a rhythm. According to NBA.com, 26 percent of all of Lyles’ shot attempts last season were considered “wide-open”, or at least six feet from the closest defender. He converted on only 33.1 percent of those chances.
- Lyles will be a restricted free agent and the Nuggets hold his Bird Rights, so they can offer him the best deal and have the best chance of keeping him on board. The question is going to be whether they want to. Micahel Porter Jr. – the 14th overall pick from 2018 – is expected to be healthy. Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley, and Monte Morris all had big seasons. The Nuggets would ideally like to give Jarred Vanderbilt more opportunities next season at full strength. This is going to be a deep team with not many minutes to spread evenly. Not to mention they have to think about paying Jamal Murray in a year, too. If the Nuggets decide to take the $30 million team option on Paul Millsap – or work with him for a new, long-term deal – the need for Lyles diminishes even more. What Lyles has going for him is his youth and ability to space the floor. He’ll earn some attention from several teams based off that alone, but likely not in the form of a big payday or even a long term deal.
- A team in rebuild mode might be more willing to take him on for a small amount of money and give him ample minutes as opposed to Denver stretching themselves too thin just for a guy to ride the bench.
Team to watch for: Nuggets, Hawks, Bulls, Kings
DeMarcus Cousins (Golden State Warriors) – 29 years old
- DeMarcus Cousins is the unknown in this group. He could very well find a way to resign with the Warriors (although unlikely) or secure a long-term contract with a team looking to contend. Hell, he might even opt for another one-year deal on another title contender. The thing with Cousins is we don’t know exactly the type of player he’s going to be next season.
- Coming off the Achilles injury, Cousins had some struggles fitting in with the star-studded Warriors lineup but showed signs that he could return to the player he once was. Even after suffering a torn quad in the playoffs, another setback, he came back in the NBA Finals under more extreme circumstances and provided his team with a lift at multiple times. He definitely needs a full offseason and regular season to get back into game shape, but from watching him in the playoffs, it’s obvious he still contains an instinctual touch around the basket. But can he get back into All-Star form? That is the question that will potentially cost him millions of dollars. It only takes one team to believe in him, though. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent. It’s open season for whichever team wants to take the chance on him.
Teams to watch for: Lakers, Warriors, Knicks
Rajon Rondo (Los Angeles Lakers) – 33 years old
- I’ve already made the case for the Lakers to bring back Rajon Rondo on a small deal. He’s one of the few characters in that locker room who understands the dynamics of working with LeBron James – and now Anthony Davis – that could aide in building team chemistry. Rondo is a born leader. Even though his shooting hinders his on-court ability, his intellect and court awareness can usually mask that. His age is beginning to creep up on him, but he’ll find a team sometime this summer for somewhere close to $8 million (rough estimate).
- But even if the Lakers don’t bring him back, there will be several teams looking to add a veteran presence in the backcourt, even it means having him come off the bench full-time.
Teams to watch for: Lakers, Pacers, Knicks, Jazz, Magic
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming later in the day.