By: Gordon Lyons
The NBA offseason is usually a time for players to relax, travel the world, and take time off to prepare for the upcoming season. The NBA Finals wrap up in mid-June, free agency in July makes headlines for around a week or so, and then the rest of the summer is generally quiet on the news front. Not this offseason. Looking back on the history of the NBA, this NBA offseason is definitely in the conversation for most newsworthy. Let’s provide a brief recap while incorporating a 2017-2018 NBA season preview.
The first major domino to fall occurred before free agency began. Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster deal that saw the Rockets send 7 players and other considerations back to the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul will team with James Harden to form one of the best backcourts in the league. Will Houston have enough to compete with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference? They gave up one of the best on-ball defenders in Patrick Beverley, a gritty guard who no guard in the league wants to see matched up against. They sacrificed much-needed depth by trading away quality role players in Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell. But no one can deny the abilities of Paul and Harden. And in Mike D’Antoni’s spread offensive system, there should be plenty of 3-pointer looks available for their plethora of shooters. At the end of the day, how they match up defensively in trying to slow down the Warriors 4-headed juggernaut of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will be the key to knocking off the reigning champs.
The Thunder certainly took the league by storm this offseason by completing not 1, but 2 blockbuster trades. When they acquired Paul George, they added a much needed perimeter player to their roster. George is a superstar and one of the best 2-way players in the league. They acquired him for a bargain by only conceding Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. If acquiring Paul George wasn’t enough, the Thunder shocked the league by nabbing Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. There has been a lot of hate for Anthony this offseason (most notably being ranked 64th best player in the league by ESPN – a mindboggling ranking, but that is another story). Melo will be motivated by the haters and reinvigorated playing for a winning team. He won’t be facing the constant double teams he endured while a member of the Knicks. Expect him to have a great season and silence the haters. Can the Thunder put it all together and compete for a championship? With George, Anthony, and Russell Westbrook leading the show, they certainly have the star power to compete with the beasts in the Western Conference. The major concerns for them are shooting and depth. The lack of 3-point shooting off the bench may come back to bite them in the long run. And losing valuable role players such as Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson, Enes Kanter, and Sabonis will put a strain on some players’ minutes. But make no mistake – this will be a fun team to watch and a team to be reckoned with.
The fundamental basketball San Antonio Spurs had arguably the most underrated free agent singing in Rudy Gay. Yes, he is injury prone. Yes, he is getting up there in age. But the dude can still ball and is a perfect complement to the Spurs and their stud Kawhi Leonard. And the Spurs bring back a gritty cast that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green, savvy veterans Patty Mills, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, and their leader Gregg Popovich. Remember, this is the same team that was up 23 points in the 3rd quarter against the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals last year before Leonard was forced out of the series with an ankle injury. They will be back and in contention once again.
And look out for the T-Wolves to make a jump in the standings this year. Jimmy Butler was acquired, Andrew Wiggins is signed for the future, and Karl-Anthony Towns is ready to dominate this year again. Jeff Teague provides a steady point guard presence and Tibs is reunited to coach with Butler. They are a dangerous, young team and one that should be taken seriously this year.
It would be remiss not to mentioning the reigning champs and their offseason. The Warriors had a low-key offseason, but honestly could they have made that much noise? Their roster as it is currently constructed has very few holes. They resigned Andre Iguodala, who is an extremely underrated player. They went out and convinced Nick Young and Omri Casspi to join the quest for another championship ring. And they’re bringing back one of the greatest teams in recent history to try and repeat. The Warriors enter the season as favorites to win the championship, and it will take great efforts from other teams to knock them off.
Although the Western Conference certainly had more headlines this offseason, the Eastern Conference still had noteworthy moves made. The biggest headline has to be the Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics. When Irving asked to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics were not a team likely to acquire him. Why would the Cavs trade their superstar to a conference rival? But sure enough, the Cavs shipped off the unhappy Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn Nets’ 1st round pick in 2018, and a 2nd round pick in 2020.
For the Celtics, acquiring a superstar like Irving in his prime is an incredible feat. He is one of the best one-on-one players in the game and a crafty and efficient finisher at the rim. He will continue to enhance his game in Boston under the tutelage of Brad Stevens. The Celtics had previously signed Gordon Hayward in the offseason, which is not generating as much hype as the Irving trade, but still a wonderful move for the organization. Hayward is coming off a career season in which he really took his game to the next level. He gives the Celtics another perimeter player to add to their arsenal. However, there is no denying the fact that the Celtics gave up a lot in this trade. But they needed to do something big to close their gap with the Cavs, and they sure did. Irving, Hayward, and Al Horford will form their version of the ‘Big Three’ to try and dethrone LeBron James and the Cavs from their Eastern Conference supremacy. And how perfect that the Celtics open the season at the Cavs.
Which brings us to the off-season review for the Cavaliers. Cleveland was forced to trade Irving, and boy did they get a good haul for him. Given the circumstances and his public desire to be traded, to be able to obtain what they did was a coup. Isaiah Thomas is one of the best offensive players in the league who, if he returns to full health from his hip injury, will fill right in and replace Irving’s scoring. Jae Crowder is the young, versatile perimeter defender they desperately needed. And obtaining Brooklyn’s first round pick (likely lottery bound and potentially top-5) is a tremendous asset. They can either keep the pick and make a selection from the draft this year (which is one of the deepest in a long time) or dangle the pick in trade discussions this year to add a star to further solidify their roster and convince LeBron James to stay long-term in Cleveland. Without Thomas for at least the first half of the season, look for Kevin Love to get back to his old self and put up his Minnesota-like numbers. Adding D-Wade, D-Rose, and Jeff Green to LeBron’s supporting cast makes the Cavs deeper and more dangerous this year in their quest to regain a championship.
Rounding out the East is the Washington Wizards, and on-the-rise team with tremendous guard play in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall has quietly averaged 10+ assists the past 3 years, and Beal can shoot it with the best of them. They gave Boston lots of trouble in the playoffs last year, and they will look to build on that momentum this year as hunt for the 1 seed in the East.
This was hands down one of the more exciting and noteworthy offseasons in recent history. The NBA season this year is going to be exciting and fun to watch every night. There are more teams who made significant moves to try and reach the top of the league. Big-time names switched teams either through trades or free agency. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the NBA, you will not be disappointed in watching some of the games this year. October 17th is sure to provide the first of many nights of exciting basketball. Let the games begin.