The 2018-19 NBA season is officially underway, and at this point in the season, we think it's safe to say that nothing could have prepared fans for how the start of the season has unfolded. Things kicked off in October after a very interesting offseason that saw several notable moves including DeMarcus Cousins' move to the Golden State Warriors, as well as LeBron James' move to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Arguably the most intriguing move of the offseason, however, was the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. The move has certainly paid off for the Canadian franchise, as the team has posted an incredible record through the start of the season. As the Raptors hover around the top of the Eastern Conference alongside the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers, who recently acquired Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves, will look to close out the remainder of the season strong and cement themselves as an Eastern Conference playoff threat.
In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers surprised the league by coming out strong to start the season as the pair have proven to be a threat in the West. Similarly, the Oklahoma City Thunder led by Paul George have been on a tear with one of the best records in the West. With that being said, the Golden State Warriors, who have faced their fair share of problems to start this season continue to make their presence felt in the West. Thanks to some injuries throughout the early part of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to continue their push as their young core hopes to make their first playoff appearance this postseason.
In this article, we're going to be looking at some surprise departures and pickups for the upcoming offseason.
20 Departure: Lance Stephenson
Last offseason, NBA vet Lance Stephenson signed a one-year $4.4 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, joining the team as a recruit of former nemesis LeBron James. After James joined the team, he enlisted both Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo as veterans to help a young team make a playoff push. While Stephenson has been decent this season, contributing valuable points off the bench, he isn't getting the minutes he'd like. Still, with a young Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk now coming off the bench at just 21 years old, Stephenson may not be in Los Angeles for long. This especially could be the case if recent rumors regarding the Lakers looking to trade Lonzo Ball prove to be true and the team acquires other guard options.
19 Signing: J.R. Smith - New York Knicks
This past offseason, when LeBron James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers, J.R. Smith became one of the few remaining players on the team that was part of the LeBron James championship era of the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers started the season with a dismal record, as they fell to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Shortly after, Smith parted ways with the team. Currently in limbo, not playing with the team, but still "on the team," Smith sits and waits to find out if he will continue to play this season, or if he will wind up sitting on the sidelines for the rest of it. One potential destination for the Cavalier is the New York Knicks, where Smith played from 2012-15. While he says he wants a trade rather than a buyout from the Cavaliers, they may be hard pressed to find a team willing to buy out his contract, and he may wind up getting bought out by his team.
18 Departure: Dwight Howard
Going into this season, Dwight Howard had been on three different teams over the course of the last three seasons. During the course of this past offseason, Howard signed with the Washington Wizards, marking his fourth team change in four years. While it seemed as though the Wizards were hoping for Howard to be a long-term acquisition, he played in just nine games this season before getting injured. Currently facing an eight-week layoff following surgery, the Wizards may change their mind on a long-term relationship with Howard following his contract's expiry this offseason. That wouldn't come as a huge surprise given that in addition to being injured, Howard is also having a rather lackluster season which has seen some of his averages slip in the early part of the season to career-lows.
17 Signing: Dwight Howard - Cleveland Cavaliers
Since the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2016 Championship team was disbanded following the departures of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Tyronn Lue, the Cavaliers have struggled to maintain a high level of competition. Early in the season, it became apparent that the team couldn't continue to play at the level it once did, and the team fell to the worst ranked team in the East. While they have since recovered slightly, now only ranked at 13th in the East, the team could look for a reliable bench player to split minutes with Tristan Thompson. This could, of course, be dependent on whether or not the team must pay to buy out J.R. Smith's contract.
16 Departure: Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas has had a bit of a rough go recently in the NBA, after having breakout seasons during the 2015 and 2016 NBA seasons, Thomas played in just a handful of games last season due to injury, splitting time between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers. At the end of the season, Thomas was signed by the Denver Nuggets on a one-year deal. While the Nuggets dominate the Western Conference, Thomas is still currently sidelined as he recovers from an injury. While the team may want him come playoff time, given the success they've found without him, they may not be too eager to keep the point guard around for the long term.
15 Signing: Isaiah Thomas - New Orleans Pelicans
Given that Isaiah Thomas has yet to actually play a minute of professional basketball this season, it may be a bit of a stretch to already project what team could potentially pick him up at the end of this season. With that being said, however, one potential landing spot for the undersized point guard is the New Orleans Pelicans. The team will have a considerable amount of cap space available to them at the end of this season and could use some of it on Thomas, given that the team has had Jrue Holiday start at shooting guard rather than point guard. Only time will tell how this season plays out for Thomas.
14 Departure: Ricky Rubio
Last season was Ricky Rubio's first with the Utah Jazz after spending six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In his first season with the Utah franchise, Rubio finished with an impressive stat line of 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. It was an extremely successful season for Rubio, who played 77 games over the course of the season, starting in all 77. While his stats have continued to be impressive this season, the Jazz have a bit of a logjam in their backcourt. While Ricky Rubio starts, 23-year-old Dante Exum, 26-year-old Raul Neto, and 25-year-old Naz Mitrou-Long all sit on the Jazz roster as point guards. It's important to note that all three point guards on the team are younger than Rubio, and will likely sign contracts worth far less than Rubio's current $14.8 million deal.
13 Signing: Ricky Rubio - New Orleans Pelicans
With Rubio entering into free agency this offseason, it's no secret that he will likely be one of the best point guards available should he continue to remain healthy and play at an elite level throughout the remainder of this season. When analyzing teams payroll for the 2019-20 season as well as each team's needs, the New Orleans Pelicans stand out as a potential destination for the Spanish superstar. With the team freeing up a significant amount of cap room after this season, they will likely look to find a point guard to facilitate an offense that will include Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, and E'Twaun Moore. With the Pelicans currently looking to cement a playoff spot this season on the back of Anthony Davis, the team is likely looking to bring pieces in rather than trading pieces away in order to keep the star center around. In that sense, signing Rubio, an elite level playmaker, makes sense.
12 Departure: Terry Rozier
This season marks the last of Terry Rozier's current contract with the Boston Celtics. The 16th overall pick in 2015 out of Ohio had a breakout season last year with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward injured and is currently averaging fewer minutes this season with the duo returning. With an impressive statline this season, Scary Terry has proven he's here to stay after last season. While the Celtics will have the opportunity to make a qualifying offer to the 24-year-old, "Scary" Terry likely will entertain offers from teams who plan to insert him into the starting lineup as he certainly will look to command a starting position in the near future.
11 Signing: Terry Rozier - Detroit Pistons
With Rozier entering into free agency at the end of this season, assuming he declines the qualifying offer from the Celtics, one potential destination for the Ohio native is Detroit, where the Pistons could look to acquire a young offensive-minded point guard. Currently, the Pistons have Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, and Jose Calderon in their stable of point guards, however, Smith and Calderon will also be free agents. While Reggie Jackson will be on the final year of his contract with the team, a younger, less injury-prone Rozier to play alongside Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond could be very appealing to a Pistons front office who recently also acquired several talented young prospects.
10 Departure: Lonzo Ball
Next season, Lonzo Ball will be on the third year of his rookie contract from the Los Angeles Lakers, a year which will also see him turn 21. The young star is already proving himself as a starter, however, the Lakers have recently been linked to rumors that put Ball at the center of a trade. When looking at the team's depth chart, it's hard to ignore the long-term relationship the Lakers would likely prefer to keep with vet Rajon Rondo, who recently caught praise from Laker great Kobe Bryant. In addition, the team also drafted 19-year-old German prospect Isaac Bonga last season. With Rondo on the team to mentor a young Bonga, and the Lakers rumored to be shopping Ball around, the Big Baller could be on his way out of LA this offseason as part of a surprise move.
9 Signing: Tobias Harris - Cleveland Cavaliers
26-year-old Tobias Harris has spent this season and last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 35 minutes a game both seasons. This season, Harris is currently performing better than anyone could have expected. The veteran small forward has continued to improve, and it's sure to catch the eye of several teams, notably the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team is currently in the midst of a rebuild following the departures of Championship-era players Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and J.R. Smith, and is in desperate need of a small forward. For the Cavaliers, Harris could fill a rather large hole in their starting lineup.
8 Departure: Kemba Walker
Currently in the seventh year of his professional career, Connecticut alum Kemba Walker is having the best statistical season of his career. While Walker is averaging 35 minutes, he's also averaging 26.5 points per game, and also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists. While Walker has spent his entire seven-year career with the Charlotte Hornets, some are projecting that this may be the last year Walker stays on the team before accepting a deal elsewhere. With the team vying for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Walker may want to look for a long-term deal elsewhere given that the team won't have enough cap space to make both him and another player a max offer this offseason.
7 Signing: Kemba Walker - Indiana Pacers
This will be the first time Walker is entering into free agency. Throughout his career, Walker has been under contract with the Hornets, and it wasn't until just last season that the team even began to hear offers for the loyal guard. Given that up until now, the only way for a team to acquire Walker was to trade, his upcoming free agency stint will be an extremely interesting one. Several teams will no doubt be keeping an eye on Walker, however, the Indiana Pacers have proven themselves as Eastern Conference playoff threats on the back of Victor Oladipo. To put it bluntly, the team is poised to make a playoff run. The only thing getting in the way of being in title contention is the need for one more star player. With Victor Oladipo at the shooting guard spot, and the team having some money to spend this offseason, Walker going to Indiana isn't as crazy as it sounds.
6 Departure: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is currently in the midst of his first year with the Toronto Raptors after being traded from the San Antonio Spurs this offseason. While the Raptors and Leonard have been on fire so far this season, Leonard will have the opportunity to exercise his option on his five-year, $94 million contract from the Spurs, and become a free agent. Given that, there have been reports flying around regarding the possibility of Leonard joining LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers after this season. Given that Leonard was traded to the Raptors, only time will tell if he chooses to stay there. As we have seen in the past, winning isn't necessarily enough to keep Leonard on a team.
5 Signing: Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers started their season off strong and find themselves doing well in a stacked Western Conference. The team starting off the season as strong as they have is a strong testament to the possibility in Los Angeles, and the front office knows it. According to reports, Clippers President Lawrence Frank was at the recent Toronto Raptors-Denver Nuggets game earlier this season scouting Leonard. At the end of this season, if Leonard were to leave the Raptors, a move to the Clippers is much more likely than a move to the Lakers.
4 Departure: Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside will be 30 next season, and the elite-level rim protector is currently having one of the best statistical seasons of his six-year career. Given that, it's understandable how frustrated Whiteside is with the Miami Heat's dismal record in Dwyane Wade's final season. Whiteside recently walked off the court with time left on the clock during a Heat loss, so we don't think anyone is really expecting him to opt-in to the final year on his contract from the team. This, of course, could set the stage for an interesting free agency for Whiteside, who has been with the Heat for five seasons now.
3 Signing: Hassan Whiteside - Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks have been having an incredibly dominant season, as the franchise has proven themselves to be a serious threat thanks to the "'Greek Freak." With young star Giannis Antetokounmpo currently starting at power forward, the team has Brook Lopez starting at center. With that being said, Lopez' contract expires at the end of this season, and second-string center Thon Maker isn't ready to start for Bucks team poised for a championship run. That's where Whiteside comes in. The team will have money to spend on a free agent after this season and could look to Whiteside to fill a frontcourt need as they move one step closer to NBA gold.
2 Departure: Kevin Durant
While it may not come as a surprise to some, Kevin Durant sits atop our list of departures. The lanky scorer has been on the Golden State Warriors for several seasons and is currently coming up on a contract option. Given that, rumors have continued to fly in regards to whether or not Durant will consider leaving the Warriors. Several key factors have become apparent after a recent interview in which Durant discussed wanting to "just play basketball". Given the recent drama in Golden State with Draymond Green this early in the season, we could very well see more tension in the Warriors locker room going forward, setting the stage for a Durant departure.
1 Signing: Kevin Durant - Los Angeles Lakers
With the Western Conference currently being stacked, the Golden State Warriors won't have an easy run to the NBA Championship. The rest of this season will truly give fans an idea of whether or not Durant is on his way out, and how the team performs in the playoffs will be the clearest indicator. Durant has stated that there is a lot of attention that comes with playing alongside LeBron James, however, if the Golden State Warriors aren't able to once again reclaim their spot atop the NBA after the postseason, Durant may very well be on his way to the Lakers to join his friend. That, combined with Durant's likely desire for a short-term contract once again could set the stage for a new dynamic duo in California.