Opinion: This is where the top remaining NBA free agents should sign

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Wondering where free agents like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard will land? Well, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz is here to lend his expertise and predict where they all will go. USA TODAY

The good news about the NBA having little interest in enforcing its free agency rules is that we’ve already gotten some drips and drabs of real news before the signing period begins at 6 p.m. Sunday. 

Point guard Kemba Walker is reportedly headed to Boston, Klay Thompson is headed back to Golden State, Nikola Vucevic is staying in Orlando and Kyrie Irving appears eager to sign with the Brooklyn Nets at the first opportunity. So four of the biggest free agent names are, for all intents and purposes, already off the board. 

So now that it appears tampering is OK, why not get into the game ourselves? We’re going to have our own free agent meetings right here, with my best pitch to each of the top remaining free agents about where they should sign once the bell rings Sunday evening. 

L.A. or Toronto for Kawhi Leonard?

First of all, Kawhi, congratulations both on the championship and for utterly confusing everyone over the last two years. In an era where we seemingly know too much at times about star players, you remain a mystery, although it does seem like you’ve been in on the joke the whole time.

What do you really want out of your career? Is being in Los Angeles your top priority? Is it pairing up with another superstar? Is it an organization that will be careful about your body? The NBA world is at your disposal coming off a second Finals MVP; even LeBron is supposedly willing to take a back seat if you’ll come join him and Anthony Davis with the Lakers. 

But why would you believe those offseason promises by LeBron or the uncertainty of pairing up with a post-Achilles Kevin Durant when you’ve got a known quantity in Toronto? The Raptors did right by you in every way, especially making sure your health and “load management” during the regular season was a top priority. And unlike even LeBron James, you’ve already proven you don’t need another superstar to win it all. 

If you want to add another title, sign a one-year deal with a player option and run it back with Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam, a core of smart, experienced pros that should be favored to win the East for at least one more season.

Clippers would give Durant what he wants

How’s the rehab going, KD? We know you have a long road ahead of you to get back on the court, and the hardest part is yet to come. There’s going to be a lot of free time over the next year for you to pick Twitter fights and create burner accounts, and trust us, being cooped up in some apartment in a cold-weather city isn’t going to help matters. This winter is going to be a lot easier to handle in sunny Los Angeles, and for that matter, signing with the Clippers will give you everything you want. 

Unlike your last free agency, nobody is going to call you a frontrunner for picking a team that just squeaked into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed last year. In fact, now that you’ve already got the sympathy of NBA fans on your side, you can totally reverse all the narratives around your career by going head-to-head with LeBron James in the nation’s No. 2 media market. 

With a couple promising young guards in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet, this is a roster that will grow around you with cap space available to add even another high-profile free agent. By the time you are back up and running in 2020-21, you’ll be the piece that puts the Clippers over the top in the West. 

Chemistry experiment: Butler to Houston

We know you have some detractors out there, Jimmy, but as far as we’re concerned the results speak for themselves. You may be a little bit hot-headed at times and not the best personality fit for every locker room, but every team you’ve played on has gotten significantly worse after you’ve left. We’re believers. 

So let’s push this chemistry experiment to the limit and get you to Houston, where there is already a locker room full of volatile personalities that frankly needs the kind of rear-end kicking that only you can provide. If Chris Paul and James Harden don’t like your style of in-your-face leadership? Too bad. You’re there to win, and you probably will — but we’re all going to enjoy the show regardless if you don’t. 

Can Daryl Morey strong-arm the 76ers into a sign-and-trade that will fit you under the salary cap? Who knows, but we need to make this happen because the possibilities both off the court and on are too enticing to pass up.

If there’s anything the Rockets have shown in their last two playoff exits, it’s that they need someone who can take the pressure off Harden and deliver clutch shots in the playoffs. Jimmy, that role is custom made for you.

Al Horford would help power a 76ers’ title run

Even though you’re 33 now, Al, you’ve still got a lot of years left to complain about having to play center rather than your preferred power forward. But why put yourself in that situation again, even though your skillset in the modern NBA screams you’re really a five?

We’re here to tell you, Al, it’s time to throw caution to the wind here and live your best NBA life as a power forward alongside Joel Embiid in Philadelphia. 

Your versatility, your creativity as a passer out of the post, your defensive smarts, your ability to stretch out to the 3-point line? It’s only going to make the 76ers that much more dangerous, and they were already right on the verge of making the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

At your age, the top priority should be winning a title, and nobody with salary cap space is better positioned to open up their championship window than the 76ers. With you, Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers could instantly form the NBA’s best defense. 

D’Angelo Russell should head back to Lakers

Sorry, D-Lo, but you can’t stay with Brooklyn now that Kyrie Irving has taken your spot. Ignore the idea that you two can play together and go be a starting point guard somewhere else — like the Lakers! Despite making the All-Star team last season, you’re probably better-suited to be the third-best player on a championship level team. And that’s exactly what a return to the Lakers, who traded you in 2017, can offer.

Though there’s still some skepticism out there in the NBA about the quality of shots you like to take, it’s probably not a fluke that you shot a career-best 37% from the 3-point line last season on a career-high 7.8 attempts per game. Probably.

One thing about playing with James is that guards typically get high-quality looks, so if the improvement in your shooting is real, you’re going to be poised for even bigger things next season. And if the Lakers can’t get Leonard or Butler, you’re a heck of a backup option. And this time, Nick Young won’t be around. 

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