The NBA looks completely different after free agency. Players from the East went west and players from the West went east. The trades and free agency maneuvers created new power alignments all over the league.
Bleacher Report said, “this is as wide-open as the NBA felt in years. Perhaps even decades.” AP announced, “There is no favorite.” After years of domination by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors could the league entering an era of parity? It’s far to early to tell but the changes are electrifying.
The blockbuster moves in free agency included Kawhi Leonard’s leaving the Toronto Raptors for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was joined by six-time All-Star Paul George from Oklahoma City. George averaged 28 points a game last season and was third in MVP voting. The new Clippers will combine aggressive defense and a high-flying scoring attack. Most of the new power rankings have the Clippers ranked at the top.
But they will have plenty of competition. Some of the toughest will come from the other side of the Staples Center. LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers added centers Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. These two caused considerable damage as teammates in New Orleans. The Lakers will also include emerging power forward Kyle Kuzma and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo. As a team headed by James, they will feature zesty passing and shut-down defense. Davis can be a dominant play stopper in the post and James can dominate all over the court.
The East was turned on its head by the combination of Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and an injured Kevin Durant joining the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets, already a playoff team, will be a better team in 2020 and a title contender in 2021.
The West continued to churn as Russell Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets, who shipped Chris Paul to Oklahoma City. Can two on-ball players like Westbrook and James Harden co-exist on the Rockets squad? If they can, they will have a dominant offensive assault.
The Thunder will inherit Paul’s massive contract, but also gain draft picks to help rebuild their squad. If the Thunder decide to tear the team down to start over, could they put Steven Adams in play? Celtics fans likely hope so after their front court was decimated by the departures of Aaron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Al Horford.
The Celtics also lost point guard Kyrie Irving to free agency and replaced him with Charlotte Hornet point guard Kemba Walker. Their statistics are similar but Walker’s maturity makes him a substantial upgrade.
Former Florida Gator and Celtic, Al Horford is now with the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers. He wanted a four-year deal which the Celtics would not offer and the Sixers did. Even though the Sixers gave up Jimmy Butler, they are arguably a better team with the addition of Horford and Josh Richardson, from the Heat.
The Celtics’ search for a big man led them to sign the University of Central Florida center, Tacko Fall. Fall, who was undrafted, is 7’7” and boasts and standing reach of 10 feet 2 inches. He played in summer league games for the Celtics and received cheers of “We Want Tacko.” Every time he touched the ball cheers rang out. He was as impressive in blocking shots and rebounding as he was un-impressive in free throws, lateral speed and pass catching.
Fall was competing for time with the Celtics’ 2018 first round draft pick Robert Williams. Williams disappointed the Celtics last year. His footwork, spacing and shooting are still a work in progress.
The Celtics also added big man Enes Kanter. Kanter has averaged 13 points and nearly 10 rebounds for his career and has played primarily as a back-up. He should get first-team minutes with the Celtics who will need everything he has with an undersized front court.
The Celtics seem likely to regress unless Tatum can return to 2017 form and Gordon can light up the score board like he did in Utah.
Pat Riley Turns Up the Heat
Pat Riley pulled multiples rabbits out of his hat by bringing in Jimmy Butler, and moving players out to the Sixers, Grizzlies and Trailblazers. Portland will assume Hassan Whiteside’s massive contract and remove a player that would likely conflict with Butler.
Butler expressed an interest in playing for the Heat when he wanted out of the Minnesota last season. He’s an exceptional swing man at 6’8” and one of the league’s best two-way players. An intense competitor, Butler is known for playing at a high-level and demanding the same of those around him.
Butler normally averages around 20 points a game, while racking up plenty of rebounds and steals. The team will now be built around the four-time All-Star who brings a new level of professionalism to basketball in Florida. Butler is as much of a playmaker as a scorer, having averaged more than more than five assists for the last six years.
The Heat’s two leading scorers from last year are gone. They will be solid defensive squad, but still lack an offensive identity. They are at best an average team that may make the first round of the playoffs.
Magic Make Success Their Friend
The Magic wisely re-signed two of their more productive players from last year. All-Star center Nikola Vucevic re-signed with the team and received a substantive raise from $12 to $25 million a year. Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi declared, “Hallelujah.” Historically, the Magic are known for losing some of the league’s best players in free agency while trading away drafted players like Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris.
The Magic also re-signed their most exciting player, Terrance Ross. While Vucevic is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Ross came off the bench to provide a scoring spark that elevated the Magic. Orlando Magic Daily writer Muhammed Jumani accused Ross of “single-handedly saving the Magic’s season.”
League-wide the teams who made the biggest improvements were the Jazz, Nets, Lakers and Clippers. The biggest losers were the Thunder, for now, and the Hornets, possibly forever.