For basketball fans north of the border, the biggest “news” that has dropped leading up to the draft was that the Toronto Raptors are reportedly playing catch-up with the Los Angeles Clippers when it comes to the Kawhi Leonard free agency push.
Because this is the NBA we’re talking about, there are clearly no shortage of rumours with Thursday night’s draft just hours away and next week’s free agency period fast-approaching.
Here are some of the latest rumblings from around the Association.
Kawhi’s pending decision has Clippers sweating
After hearing on Wednesday that the Los Angeles Clippers were in the driver’s seat for Kawhi Leonard’s services next season and beyond, a conflicting report has emerged from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who briefly discussed the situation Thursday morning.
While a guest on the network’s Get Up morning show, Windhorst mentioned the Clippers were “hyperventilating” at the notion that Leonard may take free agent meetings with other teams, including the New York Knicks, and that the Raptors could offer the most enticing short-term destination with a chance to return and go for back-to-back titles in Toronto.
“I think his decision will be staying with the Raptors,” Windhorst says of a likely one or two-year deal, adding that a move to the Clippers would likely be longer-term in nature.
To sum this all up: Your guess appears to be as good as anybody’s at this point.
Brooklyn enters the Durant sweepstakes
Kevin Durant, who was this off-season’s most coveted free agent prior to suffering the Achilles tear that many expect will see him miss all of next season, remains among the biggest fish in the free agent sea despite the injury.
Golden State Warriors president Bob Myers has said he intends to offer Durant — and fellow injured free agent Klay Thompson — a max contract to stay in the Bay Area, but Durant is reportedly deciding between three teams: the Warriors, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
Durant and Kyrie Irving have been linked in off-season rumours, as the two close friends have been said to want to play together and certainly landing both would be a major coup for any team. The Knicks were previously the favourites to land the duo, but more recently it’s been reported that the Nets have a serious shot at landing the two-time Finals MVP and the game’s most gifted scorer.
Things get complicated, however, with the recent news the Nets’ front office could be skeptical of signing Irving without Durant joining as well — given how we just saw a Kyrie-led team self-combust last season, it’s no real wonder why.
No. 4 pick up for grabs
The New Orleans Pelicans obtained the fourth-overall pick in Thursday night’s draft as part of their massive haul for disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis. While the team could use the pick to add another prospect alongside Williamson and new incoming players Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the Pelicans are said to be entertaining trade offers for the pick.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, according to The New York Times‘ Marc Stein, are reportedly among the teams most aggressively pursuing the spot, with their eyes set on drafting point guard prospect Darius Garland to fill a need in the backcourt as they continue to look to build a competitive roster around centre Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Pelicans have previously been reported to be seeking an “all-star” level talent in return for the pick, which Minnesota doesn’t really have outside of Towns.
Another team to watch for is the Atlanta Hawks, who own both the No. 8 and 10 picks and could package both to move up to four.
Celtics in trouble?
At the beginning of last season, few teams looked as promising as the Boston Celtics. With a healthy Kyrie Irving leading the way and veteran centre Al Horford holding things down in the post, the Celtics roster was littered with top-end young talent that had the team pegged as a favourite to go all the way in the East.
Now? They’re struggling to stay afloat. Irving is all but gone — that’s old news, with the Nets considered the favourites to land the free-agent point guard — but the latest hammer to fall comes in the form of Horford.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Horford was going to opt out of the final year of his deal which (would have seen him earn a hefty $30 million next season) in order to renegotiate a multi-year deal with Boston for less annual money, allowing the Celtics to have more cap flexibility to improve their roster via trade or free agency.
That good news for Boston was quickly turned sour when a new report came out that Horford had changed his mind and will now be looking to sign elsewhere — a major blow for the Celtics.
According to The Ringer‘s Kevin O’Connor, the Dallas Mavericks have emerged as the new favourites to land Horford, which would be big for a developing roster that stars rookie sensation Luka Doncic and newly acquired big man Kristaps Porzingis.
Malcolm Brogdon is reportedly also on Dallas’s radar, along with point guard Patrick Beverley, who reportedly plans to meet with the team once free agency begins on June 30 at 6 p.m. ET.
End of an era in OKC?
The Oklahoma City Thunder are reportedly looking to create cap room and avoid paying the luxury tax next season. In order to do so, they have reportedly put a number of longtime players on the trading block, most notably bruising centre Steven Adams.
Adams averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds for the Thunder last season, but still has two years remaining on a deal that will see him earn more than $52 million, which could make finding a home for the elite role player a challenge.
The team’s 21st-overall pick is reportedly also up for grabs.