This article is part of our NBA Draft series.
The clock is ticking down toward the start of the 2019 NBA Draft, and with just over 24 hours until Zion Williamson walks across the stage, the rumor mill is in full swing. We have a pretty good idea how the top of the draft is going to shake out, but the fireworks could begin as early as the No. 3 or No. 4 pick.
Outside of the draft, the NBA offseason has already begun in earnest, headlined by a pair of trades and a boatload of free agency scuttlebutt – and we're still 11 days away from the arrival of the actual chaos.
Here's a quick roundup of what you need to know as the draft approaches:
The Grizzlies and Jazz agreed to terms Wednesday morning on a deal that will send Mike Conley to Utah in exchange for Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Utah's 2019 first-round pick (23rd), and a future first-rounder. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the future pick is expected to hold partial lottery protections and will likely convey as a late-lottery pick in 2020 or 2021 – the latter of which could be the long-prophesied "double-draft."
The acquisition of Conley gives Utah a formidable big three in a Western Conference that projects to be as wide open as it's been in at least half-a-decade. With Golden State likely to take a step back in the wake of major injuries, Utah, with its three-man core of Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, could be poised to challenge the Lakers, Rockets, Trail Blazers and Nuggets – among others – for a run at the Conference Finals.
Conley doesn't come cheap. He's due more than $32.5 million next season and holds a $34.5 million player option for 2020-21. He'll turn 32 in October, but he's coming off of a resurgent season in Memphis, averaging 21.1 points and 6.4 assists in 70 games after missing the bulk (70 games) of the 2017-18 season due to injury. This is news to no one, but Conley's arrival should officially spell the end of the Ricky Rubio era in Utah. Rubio will hit the market as a 28-year-old unrestricted free agent on July 1.
On the other side of the trade, Memphis brings in a solid but not overwhelming package for Conley – the last remnant of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies and the franchise's all-time leader in a number of key categories. In terms of players, Allen is the de facto headliner, though that's probably too generous an adjective. As a rookie last season, he showed a few flashes but was mostly on the fringe of the rotation. Crowder and Korver are still useful role players, but Korver turned 38 in March, while Crowder will hit free agency next summer. With his salary only partially guaranteed next season, Korver is a candidate to be waived or bought out, which would likely clear the way for him to sign on with a contender.
Little-known NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski also reported Wednesday that Khris Middleton will officially decline his $13 million player option for next season. This is, of course, not shocking whatsoever, as Middleton could more than double that annual value on his new contract, which he expects to be at the max. Wojnarowski reports that Middleton and the Bucks are expected to work toward a new, five-year deal to keep the All-Star in Milwaukee. If Middleton were to look elsewhere, he'd only be eligible to sign a four-year deal.
Other Bucks players set to hit free agency include Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon (restricted) and Nikola Mirotic. George Hill also figures to join that group, as he's likely to be waived before his contract becomes fully guaranteed at $18 million for next season. Milwaukee has until July 2 to waive Hill.
Harrison Barnes informed the Kings on Tuesday that he'll decline his $25.1 million player option for 2019-20. While Barnes is leaving a fair amount of money on the table, he has good reason to believe he'll be able to command a lucrative, longer-term deal, and the Kings could be the team to give it to him. Barnes fit in well in 28 games last season, averaging 14.3 points and shooting better than 40 percent from three on 4.6 attempts per game. If the 27-year-old were to sign a four-year contract this summer, he'd likely set himself up for one final big-money deal in the summer of 2023.
With Kyrie Irving on the way out, the Celtics' core received another major blow Tuesday night with the news that Al Horford is prepared to sign a long-term contract elsewhere. Just which teams may be in on Horford remains to be seen, but the veteran figures to have multiple suitors, and Marc Stein reports that Horford may already have a nine-figure contract offer lined up.
The Lakers continue to explore all avenues toward clearing max space to bring in a third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Reportedly on the block are three of the Lakers' five remaining players – Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones and Mo Wagner – whom the team would attempt to replace with second-round picks. I'll spare you the mundale salary cap details, but essentially Los Angeles needs to make a few moves around the margins to get to the full, $32-plus-million in cap space that would be necessary to sign another max player.
That the Lakers are aggressively pursuing these deals heavily implies that they believe they're in the mix for any one of Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker or even Kyrie Irving. Whether the interest is mutual between any of those players remains to be seen, but the Lakers appear intent on building a big three, rather than spreading out their remaining cap space between multiple, lesser players. If the Lakers do bring in a third star, they'd likely be restricted to veteran's minimum contracts and the mid-level exception to round out a roster in desperate need of depth.
Holders of six picks in Thursday's draft, the Atlanta Hawks remain interested in packaging their two highest picks – Nos. 8 and 10 – to move up in the lottery. Per Jonathan Givony, Atlanta attempted to get as high as No. 3 but was turned away by the Knicks. Packaging 8 and 10 for the Pelicans' pick at No. 4 may still be in play, however. As of Wednesday, Atlanta owns picks 8, 10, 17, 35, 41, and 44 overall.
It's long been assumed that the Knicks will take R.J. Barrett with the third overall pick Thursday night, but according to Jonathan Givony, New York brought Darius Garland in for a last-minute workout Wednesday. Per Givony, Garland is "serious consideration" for the Knicks at No. 3. The pick carries ramifications beyond the Big Apple, and if New York was to pivot to Garland, it could set off a bidding war to select Barrett with the No. 4 pick, which is owned by the Pelicans. New Orleans has made it clear that No. 4 is available for the right price, though the chance to pair Zion Williamson with Barrett could change that.
Speaking of Barrett, he's reportedly tweaked his jumpshot in the weeks leading up to the draft while working with his trainer, Drew Hanlen. Barrett shot just 30.8 percent from three and 66.5 percent from the line at Duke last season.
Following the last-minute additions of Kevin Porter, Jr. (USC) and Nic Claxton (Georgia), 22 players will be waiting in the Green Room at Barclays on Thursday.
According to Sports Illustrated, many teams believe Rui Hachimura has a promise somewhere in the late lottery, with the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 12 believed to be the most likely landing spot. This rumor dates back to before last month's Draft Combine, which Hachimura skipped altogether.
Georgian big man Goga Bitadze continues to steadily rise up draft boards, and he could hear his name called as early as the late-lottery. The 19-year-old has prototypical size and moves well for a 6'11'', 250-pounder. He may never be a great defender, but Bitadze already has the framework of an impressive overall offensive package.