The 2019 NBA offseason saw a wild wave of changes, with more than 200 players finding new homes in free agency, whether it was by a signing or a trade. NBA stars were not shy to make moves, as some of the game’s biggest names will now suit up in a different jersey.
These are the 10 most-awaited returns for the 2019-20 NBA season.
10. Marc Gasol returns to Memphis: March 28
Gasol has not actually played a game in Memphis since being traded minutes before the NBA trade deadline last year to the Toronto Raptors. The big man was raised in Memphis from a young age, soon moving from his native Spain after his older brother Pau was drafted into the league. The 7-foot-1 behemoth will return to his old stomping grounds a newly-crowned champion, achieving what had eluded him during his 10-and-a-half seasons with the team.
9. Kristaps Porzingis returns to New York: November 14
Porzingis’ tenure with the Knicks was one clouded with the stench of Phil Jackson’s tenure as president of basketball operations, from his comments on former teammate Carmelo Anthony to how he considered trading him prior to signing a potential extension. Even with Jackson gone, Porzingis could never mend his relationship with a franchise that had shown several cracks in judgment. The 7-foot-3 unicorn was eventually traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a bevy of players and picks.
Most fans will rather resent the team for making that choice, but rest assured Porzingis will have a chip on his shoulder when it comes time to face his old franchise after a year-and-a-half layoff due to an ACL injury.
8. Mike Conley returns to Memphis: November 15
The longtime floor general spent all 12 of his NBA seasons with the Grizzlies, to this day the only player of the Grit ‘N’ Grind era alongside Marc Gasol to be drafted by the team and signed beyond his rookie extension. Conley was long rumored to be shipped away after the franchise turned to rebuilding for good, and the trade came sooner than most expected, giving him a fresh slate with his new team.
The 6-foot-1 star didn’t leave for a big market team, but rather for a better opportunity — so expect a warm welcome for a franchise legend that the city has welcomed throughout the course of his career.
7. Chris Paul returns to Houston: October 28
Paul enjoyed only two seasons playing next to James Harden with the Rockets, but many felt he was detracting from a route the franchise had chosen to take with The Beard as the catalyst. Paul reportedly challenged Mike D’Antoni’s idea of running the team based off of Harden’s isolations and only making use of his services as a primary ball-handler when Harden was off the floor.
Rumors of their tension swirled heavily after a second straight and fourth defeat in the last five years at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the postseason. Despite Rockets officials denying this controversy, Paul was shipped out in exchange for Harden’s old pal Russell Westbrook. Don’t expect a very warm welcome in a city where Harden is king.
6. Paul George returns to Oklahoma City: December 22
George only played in OKC for two seasons since he was traded there by the Indiana Pacers, but his decision to re-sign with the Thunder instead of bolting for the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 2018 inspired some hope in a small market that was still recovering from Kevin Durant’s departure in the summer of 2016. Fast forward one more year and George demanded a trade that would send him to the LA Clippers after two quick postseason exits with Russell Westbrook as his budding partner.
His return won’t be no Durant cupcake-fest, but expect a rebuilding franchise to have something to say after George greased the wheels on a major turnaround for a playoff-bound team. So much for Paul George Day in Oklahoma City.
5. Kemba Walker returns to Charlotte: November 7
Walker spent all eight of his seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, a loyal steed for owner Michael Jordan and the rest of the organization. But when it came time to dole out the big check, the front office fell way shy of that commitment, offering only five years and $160 million for a player that could have made $61 million more as a supermax-eligible talent.
The 6-foot-1 dynamo instead chose to sign with the Celtics for four years and $142 million, taking even less than he was offered by Charlotte in hopes to play with a potential contender. Walker will actually see his former team sooner than he anticipated if he takes part on an Oct. 6 preseason game in the Queen City.
4. Kyrie Irving returns to Boston: November 27
Irving only played two years with the franchise, but only got to appear in the NBA Playoffs in the 2019 postseason, where his play went from admirable to deplorable after coughing up a major first-game win in the second round and proceeding to clank jump shots in what would be a 4-1 defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks — losing four straight games in the process.
Irving ruffled feathers around the locker room, but also wasn’t a fan favorite in his second season due to his wishy-washy approach to free agency and the negative impact he’s believed to have on the rest of the roster, one that never truly jelled as expected. It’s likely Bean Town will have nothing but boos for the shifty All-Star once he makes his return with the Brooklyn Nets.
3. Russell Westbrook to Oklahoma City: January 9
Westbrook’s departure after 11 years with the franchise is one that came as a shock to the entire NBA. After all, it was Brodie himself who chose to put the franchise on his shoulders and won over the OKC faithful by consequently choosing to sign a supermax extension after Kevin Durant bolted for the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
Though time changes and so do circumstances. Westbrook had gone 0-3 in the playoffs in the three years without Durant, with seemingly no route to improve a roster that lacked shooting and consistency. Shortly after Paul George left for the Clippers, Westbrook started to line out his own exit, joining his former partner-in-crime James Harden. OKC will likely be thankful to Russ for sticking with the franchise for 11 years, but seeing him in Rockets red will likely bring some sour feelings.
2. Anthony Davis returns to New Orleans: November 27
Davis strong-armed his way out of The Big Easy in hopes to land with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. His wish came true.
While beloved by the New Orleans faithful, his exit left a tree of sour grapes in the city and the franchise, who condemn the way he went about forcing his trade to the big city. The Pelicans might have lucked out with Zion Williamson to rebuild around, but don’t think the fans will forget the “that’s all folks” shirt he wore in the 2018-19 season finale.
1. Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto: December 11
Many thought Leonard’s stint in The North wouldn’t last unless he led them to an NBA championship. As it turns out, not even good ‘ole Larry O’Brien could keep The Klaw from his hometown of Los Angeles. The two-time NBA champion bolted for the LA Clippers after the franchise secured a trade for Paul George, forming another dynamic duo to compete against LeBron James and Anthony Davis across the hall.
Toronto might be appreciative of what Leonard did by bringing the Raptors their first title since becoming an expansion team 24 years ago, but there’s some surefire resentment coming from a team that did it all to make him happy — including the endless promises of never having to pay for a meal again after blessing them with a chip.