What a difference a week makes!
Last Saturday the discussion was all about whether KD could give the on-fumes-but-still-champion Warriors enough of a jolt to recover from the 3-1 hole they’d dug for themselves in the NBA Finals.
Today the whole complexion of the free agency market, and balance of power across the league, has been turned upside down.
As we are all still coming to terms with a 2019-20 NBA season that will likely go on without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson making a single bucket between the two of them, the Lakers swoop in and pick up Anthony Davis without having to give up their best player not named LeBron, Kyle Kuzma (but they did include pretty much everything else that wasn’t nailed down).
Instantly the Lakers take a place at the table of western conference powers, with the offseason only in its infancy. A rested King and a Brow with something to prove? Plus their most talented youngster in Kuzma? This was a serious power move by L.A.
So with the draft still a week away, what are we to make of this deck chair shuffling that’s kicked off the NBA’s always enjoyable offseason?
Stay with us here, because we are going to dig in and figure the whole thing out. Who are the winners and losers heading into the draft as a result of this seismic shift in NBA power, one that’s taken place in only the few short days since the Raptors brought the good people of The North their first NBA title? SportsAttic takes a look:
No surprise that LeBron has found a way to insert himself into the June dialogue. You know watching this postseason had to positively kill him. He pathetically attempted to join the discussion around the fan that shoved Kyle Lowry (kinda like the grounded little kid, nose pressed to the window, while a game of kickball goes on in the street outside), but no one engaged him and he went quiet again.
Well LBJ is back. With no less than an NBA top-5 superstar as his latest wingman keeping him company. Anthony Davis is that big a deal, and keeping Kuzma may be the most important aspect of this deal. That’s a big three. Throw in another year of Rajon Rondo and any capable young point guard apprentice, and the Lakers are one three-point marksman away from becoming the prohibitive favorite for the 2020 title.
And speaking of winners, just when we thought things couldn’t get any better for Kawhi Leonard, the Davis deal happens today and now all of Los Angeles turns toward the Clippers, shouting a collective “your move.”
If the Clippers want to fight for a reasonable share of fan interest and L.A. hoop hype (and they really have no choice), Kawhi’s signing just became a must. He’s been rumored to be leaning in the direction of the Clips already, but talk about a sense of urgency for the “other” NBA team based in L.A.!
The Davis deal makes it necessary for the Clippers to double down. The question now becomes who will be the “second” star to join Kawhi in coming aboard the perennial “second” Los Angeles basketball franchise. The Clippers’ salary cap room is there, but the free agent pickings just got a lot slimmer in the last six days.
The SportsAttic guess? Kemba Walker. Anyone else see a little Kyle Lowry in Kemba? With Kemba riding shotgun for Kawhi, along with the Clips returning crew of no-name, but effective, role players, the Clips could still make things interesting next year in the battle for Los Angeles.
Plus, don’t forget about Jimmy Butler. The injuries to KD and Klay move Butler from afterthought to primary free agent target. He’s not enough of a pure shooter to help LeBron, and too similar in style to become Kawhi’s sidekick, but Butler’s value took a huge leap when Klay Thompson blew up his knee in Game 6, so look for the two-way star to cash in, big time.
Talk about a tough week in Oakland.
Not only did the final hoops game in Oracle Arena history end in elimination for the hometown Dubs, the franchise now faces an existential crisis. Will Golden State stay the course with their carefully crafted image of the evolved, player-friendly place to be, thus succumbing to the pressure and offering max deals to both KD and Klay — their guys — despite the high likelihood both will miss the entire upcoming season?
Or do they go back on their word, pass on the wounded hometown heroes, and go full shift in another direction, choosing to establish a new identity to usher in their shiny, billion dollar, downtown arena? Based on their public commentary about remaining committed to KD and Klay despite their injuries, it would appear Steph Curry better gear up for a lot of triple teams come the fall.
We can certainly add Durant and Thompson to our list of losers, if not financially (although that remains to be seen), then absolutely for the year of painful rehab in their future. My sense is that no team (except perhaps the deep-pocketed Dubs) will pay full, max-contract value for any star who will sit out the first year of their salary cap draining deal. That is bad news for Durant and Thompson for sure, right?
Right… Uhhh, check that. I could see one franchise doing something that dumb.
Hello New York Knickerbockers. Would they really? Of course they would. Bidding against themselves while buying into every smokescreen being sent out from San Francisco to Brooklyn, can’t we all see the Knicks going full on with a max-deal for KD this summer? Somewhere the ghosts of Bob McAdoo, Spencer Haywood, Amare Stoudemire and Antonio McDyess are all doubled over, shrieking in hysterics. Simply because they are the Knicks, they must be added to the list of “losers.”
It is hard to imagine calling a team on the rise, one who is about to add a recognized superstar to their playoff core, a “loser.” So we’ll stick the Brooklyn Nets in the “wild card” category.
This one will be fascinating to watch, as the Nets seem to be on a collision course with Kyrie Irving, casting an enormous shadow of doubt over the positive culture that GM Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson have been brewing in Brooklyn. And for those of you who remember such things, wasn’t it only a year ago that one of the most popular offseason rumors had Irving and Butler packaging themselves together this summer in hopes of teaming up and making a run at a ring? Butler doesn’t seem to be a fit for the Nets, especially should the Nets retain restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell as most expect, but still worth watching as the pieces begin to fall this July.
Lastly, where does all this leave the lone remaining “K?” Yup, Khris Middleton has completely flown under the radar when pundits discuss this summer’s free agent crop, but the guy is solid as they come, and with the two Golden State front-liners now in injury-induced limbo, Middleton, just like Walker and Butler, finds his stock rising at the right time.
Here’s guessing that the Bucks find a way to keep Middleton and reload for another run this fall. Milwaukee didn’t earn the league’s best regular season record by accident, and when they sat 2-0 against the Raptors in the conference semis, many expected them to be the eastern foe facing the Dubs in the finals. So we’ve got to pick one free agent to resign with his old team (besides the lamentable, injury-induced retention about to take place by The Bay), and Middleton is our choice.
Unless, that is, an additional wild card team deludes themselves into thinking they are one free agent away from contending in what appears to be a wide open “Association” in 2019-20 (watch the Heat and the Mavericks in this category — Middleton could be a poor man’s D-Wade down in South Beach, or bring a complementary style to Dallas’s European duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis). Barring such a surprise, look for Middleton and the Greek Freak to pick up where they left off in the east next season.
And now we wait for this Thursday’s draft.
Zion Williamson to the Pelicans is a fait accompli, and we will all learn a lot about just how good Lonzo Ball really is once those two youngsters take the floor together in November. Ja Morant will go at two to the Grizzlies, and make no impact this season (or ever? Bust, anyone?), before the Knicks grab R.J. Barrett with the third pick, a selection so obvious that even the overmatched Knicks front office can’t flub this one.
The fourth pick will be the Pelicans again, in a draft that most feel drops off steeply following the first three selections. Will New Orleans parlay the Lakers’ three first-rounders into success down the road, building around the other worldly talents of Williamson and those other L.A. castoffs received in return for The Brow? That’s why they play the games, of course, but it will be fun to watch.
Just because the Finals are behind us doesn’t mean the intrigue ceases. In fact, this summer could be the most fun we’ve had in an offseason since… well… since KD went off to the Hamptons for the 4th of July and returned a members of the Golden State Warriors.