The New NBA Landscape
At long last, the final major domino has fallen in the NBA offseason. And as I look out on the new NBA, I see a league with parity not seen in a decade. The era of the super team is over for now. A dynasty is now in shambles looking towards an unknown future. A new power is threatening to rise in the East to contest the new guard. And now, two teams that share a city look to compete over the West. Ladies and Gentleman, let the countdown to next season begin. But first, let’s take a look at the major takeaways from this offseason.
Kawhi and the Clippers Power Move: The Kawhi Leonard saga came to a stunning end with the two-time NBA Finals MVP opting to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. And as an added bonus, Paul George will be joining him in his quest to put the Clippers over the top. The only words I can use to describe this is “boss move”. How else will you describe killing three birds with one stone? The first bird is Kawhi getting to his preferred destination and being the unquestioned leader on his team. Playing on a Lakers super team would’ve been historic, but LeBron James would’ve gotten the lion’s share of the credit in the end. The second bird is getting that elusive second all-star to join Kawhi on the Clippers. It looked like a pipe dream once Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant were off the table. However, everything fell into place for the Clippers and Kawhi. The third bird was doing considerable damage to the Lakers. Allow me to walk you through my theory. Given the results, it would seem as if Kawhi and the Clippers were working in unison throughout this entire process. Think about it carefully. Why else would Kawhi delay his free agency decision for so long? The Raptors and Lakers choices offered very obvious returns. In Toronto, Kawhi would have a chance to run it back with the defending champions and work towards becoming an all-time icon North of the border. The Lakers offered a return home and a potential super team the likes this league has never seen before. The Clippers looked like they were done once potential second stars were swiped off the market. What if Kawhi had already decided on the Clippers, but began making phone calls himself to get another superstar? It’s reported a similar call was already made to KD, but the two players couldn’t agree on the location. Eventually, Kawhi found his man in Paul George. Kawhi then relayed the information to the Clippers and the trade was made. What does this have to do with the Lakers? Everything. The Lakers are known for their lust for star power. They will chase it to the ends of the earth. Sometimes they get their guy, and other times they end up with Deng and Mozgov. Look around at the free-agent market now. The Lakers are left with the proverbial bottom of the barrel free agents to fill a roster around LeBron and Anthony Davis. All that time they spent chasing Kawhi would’ve been better served elsewhere. Instead, a 48-win Clippers team adds two all-stars at the cost of draft picks and Danilo Gallinari. Getting Danny Green is good for the Lakers, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to put together a team deep enough to deal with this new Clippers squad. What Kawhi and the Clippers have done is nothing short of brilliant.
The Thorough Borough: Another hostile takeover took place in New York City. Knicks fans around the world had big dreams coming into this offseason. They thought it was destiny that the Knicks would win the draft lottery and hit a couple of home runs in free agency. The pairing of Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving would lead the Knicks from the doldrums of irrelevance. Instead, the Knicks proved once and for all that they’re the Mecca of Mediocrity. They struck out completely on all three players. And to make matters worse, KD and Kyrie opted to join the Brooklyn Nets. In 2020, the Nets should be better immediately. They were already a playoff team with D’Angelo Russell leading the way. Kyrie should be a quick upgrade. And then in 2021, we’ll see how KD is able to return from his achilles injury. Fortunately for the all-time forward, his game was always based more on skill than athleticism. The odds of him coming back to full strength are better than most. Hopefully, we can see the old KD again. For now, the Nets are a shadow that looms over the East. For now, look for Milwaukee and Philly to duke it out for the crown.
Hand of the King: LeBron James foray into Hollywood didn’t go as planned in year one. Injuries, drama, and a poorly constructed roster ruined the King’s red carpet debut at Staples Center. In year two, he’ll be playing next to Anthony Davis. Before the Kawhi domino fell, the Lakers looked to be clear favorites in the West. While they’ll be better, the roster around their two stars will leave a lot to be desired. Best case, Kyle Kuzma becomes an all-star caliber to round out a new Lakers triumvirate. Also, Danny Green can’t be the only good role player they land. Expect the desperate Lakers to target any and everyone to round out a championship roster. At age 34, LeBron James is coming down the other side of the mountain. Whether he gets to the bottom with more than three rings will be an interesting story moving forward.
Philly Remix… Again: It’s kind of amazing how the Philadelphia 76ers manage to remake and remix their roster from year to year. Last season, they acquired Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler to pair with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. This year, they’ve allowed Jimmy Butler to go to Miami and add Al Horford into the mix. Horford can still offer leadership, spot-up shooting, and excellent passing for his position. How the pieces will fit together remains to be seen. For a team that was a few bounces away from a potential championship, the only direction they can move in is forward. Otherwise, Brent Brown may not be able to avoid execution again.
Silent Thunder: With the trade of Paul George, it has become very clear that the Oklahoma City Thunder are in rebuild mode. And with that known, one has to wonder how long Russell Westbrook will remain a member of that organization. The Thunder once held the talent that could’ve produced a dynasty in the NBA. It’s a shame to see what they’ve become. It’s also a shame to see another all-star caliber forward leave Westbrook for greener pastures. Again, one has to wonder how much longer the franchise guard will remain in OKC.
Die-Nasty: The Golden State Warriors were the gold standard of the NBA over the last five years. Their overwhelming array of all-star talent, their style of play, and their success drew the envy of an entire league. Now, they’re left with more questions than answers. KD is gone, Andre Iguodala is gone, Shaun Livingston is gone, and Klay Thompson will be out for most of next season. As the Warriors move into their new palace in San Francisco, they’re facing their new reality head-on. D’Angelo Russell will be an interesting fit offensively. He can pass and shoot at an all-star level, but he fit into the Warriors system remains to be seen. Defensively, those two can expect a police escort to arenas around the league. While many see this as just a down year for the Warriors, this could be a signal towards decline. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson are starting to creep towards 30 and beyond. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors will try to sustain themselves moving forward. With the prices they’re charging for tickets to their new arena, competitive basketball is the only acceptable recompense.
The Sleeper: Some transactions have already gone by the wayside in this era of instant headlines. One such move is the trade of Mike Conley Jr. to the Utah Jazz. In addition, the Jazz was also able to obtain Bojan Bogdanovic. The Jazz now could argue that they sport the most well-rounded starting lineup in the West. They will be a team to watch moving forward
I could go on all night about the new NBA landscape. And please note that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The 2020 NBA season is shaping up to be a special one indeed.