Durant, who is expected to miss all of next season after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon during the NBA Finals, announced on Instagram his intention to sign a four-year, $164 million contract with Brooklyn. The 2014 MVP also weighed offers from the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Clippers and his former team, the Golden State Warriors.
Word of Irving’s four-year, $141 million max agreement began leaking earlier in the weekend once it became clear the all-star point guard had no interest in returning to the Boston Celtics. Irving, who hails from New Jersey, is one of two point guards headed for a homecoming of sorts. The Celtics moved swiftly to replace Irving with Kemba Walker, a college star at Connecticut plucked from the Charlotte Hornets on a four-year, $141 million deal.
Kawhi Leonard, the summer’s top headliner, did not join Durant in announcing his plans Sunday. The 2019 Finals MVP is expected to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Toronto Raptors and the Clippers in Southern California this week before making his decision.
Much of the early flurry involved incumbent teams retaining their own star talent. The Portland Trail Blazers agreed to sign franchise point guard Damian Lillard to a four-year, $196 million supermax extension. The Warriors agreed to ink Klay Thompson to a five-year, $190 maximum contract even though the all-star guard suffered a torn ACL during the Finals. After trading for Kristaps Porzingis in February, the Dallas Mavericks made a pact with him on a five-year maximum deal worth $158 million. And the Orlando Magic, fresh off its first playoff appearance since 2012, agreed to re-sign all-star center Nikola Vucevic to a four-year, $100 million deal.
Among the early agreements, Irving’s decision arguably commanded the greatest influence on the rest of free agency and the 2020 title race. First, it dashed New York’s long-held dream of pairing Durant and Irving, and it scuttled talk of a possible reunion of Irving and LeBron James on the Lakers. Second, it helped the Nets land Durant, who has the potential to vault his new team to the top of the Eastern Conference once he returns in 2020-21.
For the Lakers, who have occupied center stage since they traded for all-star forward Anthony Davis, Irving’s move to the Big Apple was the first in a series of deals that limited their options. With Irving and Walker out of the picture, Los Angeles could have turned to Leonard, Philadelphia 76ers wing Jimmy Butler or Nets guard D’Angelo Russell in its search for a third max-level star. The notion of Irving and James rekindling their Cleveland Cavaliers partnership was tantalizing, but Irving’s quick decision to join the Nets — without even meeting with the Lakers — suggests he wasn’t interested in returning to life as a sidekick.
But James’s team faced stiff competition for its remaining targets: Butler was sent to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade, and Russell was moved to the Warriors in a similar move.
With so many of the summer’s top talents already claimed, the Lakers must pitch Leonard on the merits of joining a “Big Three” less than a month after the two-time defensive player of the year led Toronto to the title without a second superstar. The other top challengers — the Raptors and Clippers — can promise a larger offensive role and a quieter life outside James’s orbit.
The 76ers received Josh Richardson in their deal for Butler, a 29-year-old wing who sacrificed some of his offense upon joining Philadelphia and would have been the clear third option in Los Angeles. In Miami, he returns to life as the centerpiece.
In the wake of Butler’s departure, the 76ers agreed to re-sign forward Tobias Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract and poached Al Horford from the Celtics with a four-year, $109 million agreement. With Ben Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia should enter next season with perhaps the league’s best starting lineup.
Russell, a 23-year-old point guard, allows Golden State to receive meaningful compensation for the loss of Durant. One of this year’s highest-profile restricted free agents, he received strong interest from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hoped to pair him with center Karl-Anthony Towns, but he received a four-year, $117 million max agreement from Golden State.
While Russell’s status as a ball-dominant scorer and subpar defender makes him a less-than-ideal fit with the Warriors, he could be helpful filling minutes during Thompson’s absence and may evolve into a trade chip. To pave the way for his arrival, the Warriors traded sixth man Andre Iguodala to Memphis.
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