A rollercoaster of a free agency
Is it over yet? (head peeks out from under bed) Are they done? Has the dust finally settled?
Well shucks, I wish I could answer that question, but NBA free agency has long been one of the craziest sporting events of the year. Within the course of a few days, the entire league was flipped on its head, and we are now faced with more parity than seemingly ever-before. All-Star duos have flocked to every corner of the county, and other teams have done their part to remain competitive. If your team had any chance, and I mean the slightest, .001 percent chance that the Heat had to nab the first overall pick in this years’ Draft, then odds are they went out and improved their team. And heck, why wouldn’t you? With this much parity and the two dominant parties from last year (Warriors and Raptors) both crippled, the NBA is open for business and it has darn near 30 customers (sorry Wizards, Cavs, etc). That being said, let’s take a look at the biggest moves this offseason and how they affect the teams involved.
Kevin Durant for D’Angelo Russell
Brooklyn: This is really a package deal, as the Nets were never going to just grab one of their new KD-Kyrie tandem; it was always both or neither. Because of that, you have to assess both moves together. For Brooklyn, they pick up the two guys that will represent their franchise as stars for the foreseeable future, and undoubtedly propel the team towards the top of the severely-weakened Eastern Conference. Given their large cap space coming into this summer, these moves were never really in doubt, and for Brooklyn they were really no-brainers. All they had to give up from their young, talented team was point guard D’Angelo Russell, who…
Golden State: ...ended up here (?) Yeah, I’m not sure either. Well, I am sure that Russell was sent to the Warriors as a fail-safe when they realized Durant was Brooklyn-bound, but what I’m stuck scratching my head over is how exactly DLo fits into the Dubs’ future. Sure, it’ll be fun to watch him and Steph run free in the backcourt as the two terrorize opponents from deep and off the dribble, but once Klay Thompson returns from injury (ahead of schedule, of course) things get real crowded in the Bay. GM Bob Myers has said the Warriors “didn't acquire Russell just to trade him” but that narrative does not line up with the reality that a trio of Steph, DLo and Klay cannot coexist. Maybe if Klay grows two inches...but barring another re-inventing of the NBA wheel by Golden State, expect Russell to be shipped out by the Trade Deadline for a healthy haul and expect Klay and Steph to be up to old, pre-KD hijinks.
Westbrook lands in Houston
Houston: I mean talent-wise, this move is off the charts. The Rockets pick up a second triple-double threat all while maintaining their roster, save for the man Westbrook is replacing. Obviously there will be a bit of tension as both gravitate towards running the point and stuffing the box score, but head coach Mike D’Antoni is no stranger to working out controversy: remember when they got that Chris Paul guy a few years back? Go on Youtube and search Harden and Westbook playing together, and within a few highlights you’ll remember how great these two were back in OKC. Sure, they’re missing a third star like they had in Durant, but the chemistry is there and points towards the Rockets being a fun, ball-moving offense.
Oklahoma City: And then the other side of this deal, which really could work out in a number of ways for the Thunder. The two first rounders from Houston are nice, though the first pick swap (in 2021) won't be worth anything most likely (as the Rockets are sure to have the better team and therefore lower pick). Then there’s Chris Paul, who sure is one talented fellow, just not a talented enough fellow to warrant his making $38.5 million. Because of this albatross of a contract, it may not be easy to move Paul. However, he is still one of the league’s premier point guards and lots of teams could use him, so the Thunder are likely to find a dance partner with some valuable (and tradeable) assets. This represents the split in this trade for OKC: should they find a team to take on Paul’s contract and relinquish controllable assets (or, God-forbid, more draft picks) then the Westbrook trade will be a huge victory seen as the cherry on top of the rebuild effort this offseason. However, should they find Paul’s contract (or age, 34 next season) to be restrictive in trade talks, they’d be forced to settle for either a lesser return or the daunting task of absorbing a bloated contract from another team (I’m looking at you, Charlotte). As a result, the Westbrook trade is seen as a bit of a failure and a setback to an otherwise glorious rebuild, one that could come back to bite them in the butt. Won’t it be fun seeing which way this goes!
Paul George is apparently the most valuable player in the NBA (just not the MVP)
Los Angeles: Again, this is a tandem move; the Clips never would’ve gotten George had they failed to sign Kawhi Leonard, so they were never intent on grabbing just one star. That being said, they paid for two stars...ay caramba. Sure, George and Leonard both represent star players in their prime who could both easily compete for league MVP, but I always feel uneasy when it comes to dealing away multiple first round picks. But, again, this is a case of a team adding two stars without really detracting from last year’s roster (save for Danilo Gallinari who was a forward and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who we’ll get to). This move instantly marks the Clippers as title favorites, and puts them into win-now mode RIGHT NOW. Years of consistent winning weren’t enough to steal the show from their lackluster L.A. neighbors, so they’re going big or going him (which coincidentally is where the Lakers also play…)
Oklahoma City: Picks, picks and more picks! Picks abound in OKC! The brightest future in the NBA! Yes, it most certainly is in the future...listen, I would sound stupid if I scoffed at a return of five first rounders, but take a look at the dates on these suckers: 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, 2026 (and a couple of pick swaps). Do some basic math and you’ll realize it’s gonna be a looooong time before OKC reaps the reward of this trade (unless they predictably get impatient in a few years and trade all their remaining picks for a star in a mediocre lunge for relevancy). That being said, spacing this picks out well into the future was probably best for the Thunder, seeing as how the Clippers are going to be towards the top of the standings at least through 2021 (when Leonard and George both hit the open market). By placing these picks in the distant future, the Thunder give them a better chance to be mid-high first rounders rather than less valuable picks that would most likely fall in the high-20s. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the most valuable asset (as of right now) that the Thunder received in this trade. In SGA they get their point guard of the future, and a darn good one at that. SGA already showed in his first NBA season that he can do it all, and with more playing time plus a staff devoted to his development he could easily become an All-Star, if not borderline, in the coming years. He’s no Westbook but he’s also no Ray Felton.
Anthony Davis finally gets his wish granted
Lakers: Yeah yeah, they finally got AD. Whoop-de-doo. Obviously he’s a transcendent talent, makes the Lakers immediately contenders...blah blah blah. I’m more interested in the
Pelicans: Sure, OKC has a bright distant future, but let’s talk about a team that is brimming with young talent right now. That’s right folks, the New Orleans Pelicans actually have a complete roster for the first time since they changed their name. Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram on their own represent a very talented trio of youngsters with plenty of potential and skills, but throw in three first round picks and I have to say N’Orleans won this trade. I mean seriously, they have their team of the future! Lonzo, Jrue Holiday, Ingram, Zion and Jaxson Hayes/Derrick Favors/Jahlil Okafor. And that’s just the starting lineup...should they gell I honestly think this team could compete as soon as next season, but even if not they will certainly be Western Conference mainstays for years to come.
Mike Conley’s run in Memphis comes to a close
Utah: Listen, this was probably the most straightforward trade we saw this offseason. Utah needed a point guard who could run the offense to push them over the top, and Memphis had just drafted point guard of the future Ja Morant. Utah smartly only gave up non-essential (but still valuable) pieces: Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, the 23rd pick in this past Draft (which they traded to OKC) and a future first rounder. Now, Utah has an excellent backcourt with Conley and Donovan Mitchell, and they should be much-improved next year as they finally have the outlines of a decent offense and bring in a guy in Conley who can maintain their heightened level of defense. Good job Utah.
Memphis: We all saw this coming, and the trade was accelerated when Memphis took Morant with the second overall pick. No longer needing Conley (or his monster, aging contract), the Grizzlies were able to pick up two guys who can slot into their rotation next year and a nice lil’ first rounder for the future. Oh, and that 23rd pick which they traded to OKC? In return they got the 21st pick, which they promptly used to select Brandon Clarke, a guy almost everyone believes will be a very good NBA player and also the guy who just won Summer League MVP. So yeah. Good job Memphis as well.
Jimmy Butler takes his talents to South Beach
Miami: Whoo, almost forgot about this trade! I mean honestly it's an easy trade to forget, as you really have to question the Heat's thinking here (unless they though they could also land Westbrook). All Butler does is give them ONE star surrounded by a pretty mediocre roster that just lost its most talented player (Hassan Whiteside) as a part of this trade. Butler probably won't affect their standing too much, so you'd have to think Miami is on the radar for another star (or was just tired of not getting any attention after LeBron left).
Portland: Speaking of Whiteside, he's now a member of the Trail Blazers, which is ... also confusing. Remember, Portland has Jusuf Nurkic, one of the better all-around centers in the NBA right now, so acquiring Whiteside (who also plays center) really makes no sense. Again, you have to look a few steps into the future and assume that one of either Whiteside or Nurkic is going to be on the move, where both could garner a nice return.
Philadelphia: The last piece of this trade puzzle that really matters, the Sixers were able to get young Josh Richardson out of this deal. Richardson, who can play the two or the three (like Butler) has continually improved throughout his NBA career and is seen as one of the better, most solid young players out there. Pretty nice compensation for Philly, and he should fit in very nicely to their starting lineup.
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