NBA Rumour Roundup: Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler teaming up in free agency?

NBA-Raptors-Leonard-fends-off-76ers-Butler

Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard, left, holds the ball away from Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Butler. (Chris Szagola/AP)

With the free agency period set to open on Sunday evening, marking the point when teams can officially meet with prospective players, the NBA’s non-stop rumour mill is churning at dangerous speeds as marquee names beginning with ‘K’ like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Kemba Walker get set to decide their futures — and, as a result, that of the NBA.

Here’s a look at some of the latest rumblings from around the Association.

Kawhi + Jimmy = future teammates?

With Durant sidelined for what’s believed to be the entire 2019-20 season following his Achilles’ tear suffered during the NBA Finals, reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard remains arguably the biggest free agent catch out there.

There has been no shortage of speculation as to where he’ll opt to play next season, with the Toronto Raptors recently becoming betting favourites followed closely by his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, who had long been believed to be the frontrunner to land the 28 year-old two-time Finals MVP.

Despite what’s believed to be a two-horse race for Leonard’s services, any team with cap space will be angling for the superstar and clubs like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Philadelphia 76ers are all expected to pursue Leonard beginning Sunday.

According to a report from Ian Begley, some of those teams are said to be dreaming big and eying a potential duo of Leonard and fellow free agent Jimmy Butler. From Begley:

Something that could impact the Knicks and Nets: Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.

…The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.

This doesn’t suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn’t fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together.

Butler has most recently been linked to the Houston Rockets, who are reportedly eager to acquire the two-way wing star via sign-and-trade this off-season.

Durant makes it official

On Wednesday morning it was reported that Kevin Durant has exercised his player option for the 2019-20 season and opted out of the final year of his current deal that would have paid him $31 million to remain with the Golden State Warriors.

This was an inevitability, but now officially opens the door for Durant’s long-anticipated free agent recruitment. A return to the Warriors hasn’t been ruled out, and the team is expected to try to retain both Durant and fellow free agent Klay Thompson. The New York Knicks, long a favourite to land Durant, could be losing their leverage to the neighbouring Brooklyn Nets who are reported to make a push to land both Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Clippers are also believed to be in the running for Durant’s services — and, seemingly, everybody else’s:

Celtics to lose a star, gain another?

Boston Celtics fans were rocked last week by the news that veteran centre Al Horford had a change of heart and opted out of his current deal in order to sign a longer-term deal with another team. It leaves a huge void in a Celtics lineup that will already see the loss of Kyrie Irving, and recent reports have linked Horford to a pair of Western up-and-coming teams, the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans.

In both scenarios, Horford would join teams building around generational talents in newly-crowned 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and recent first overall pick Zion Williamson, alongside whom Horford’s combination of elite rim-protection and floor-stretching shooting abilities would make him an ideal fit.

NYT’s Marc Stein joined the Bill Simmons podcast to suggest the Pelicans were in the running, but already walked back those comments earlier Wednesday:

While the Celtics are losing arguably their top two players in Horford and Irving— we are still awaiting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to realize their vast potential — the team created has created enough cap space (thanks in part to trading centre Aaron Baynes to Phoenix on draft night) to offer a max contract to a free agent.

Two names have emerged as serious Boston targets: point guard Kemba Walker and centre Nikola Vucevic. Both players come from Eastern conference teams that, until Orlando’s post-season appearance this past spring, have struggled of late and, in Charlotte’s case certainly, lack the future upside of a team like the Celtics, should they be able to re-tool on the fly.

It remains to be seen if Boston will be considered an attractive free agent destination coming off two seasons of poor player relations, beginning with the trading of beloved star Isaiah Thomas and more recently stemming from a turmoil-filled 2018-19 campaign.

The Dallas Mavericks are reported to be in hot pursuit of Kemba Walker as they look to bolster their backcourt and enter next season with three bona fide stars in Doncic, restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis (whom the team is rumoured to have prepared a four-year max contract offer) and a marquee free agent like Walker.

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