July 1st, 2017 signaled the start of a landmark event on the NBA calendar, Free Agency. This year’s edition of Free Agency has featured a myriad of attention-seeking moves chief of which have been the Chris Paul and Paul George trades, as well as the Gordon Hayward edition of “My Next Chapter”; a nostalgia trip and reunion with a former coach, Brad Stevens. Free Agency has delivered more surprises and shockwaves than the most recent edition of the playoffs could considering everyone not clad in Golden State Warrior colors has, by signing coveted free agents, attempted to match the Warriors’ dominance. These efforts have provoked a lot of thought for basketball fans to muse on; these musings include the following:
1. Golden State just got a lot better
The NBA’s biggest villains just got a whole lot scarier; the additions of Nick Young, Andre Iguodala, Zaza Pachulia, and Omri Casspi just made the NBA’s “Death Star” a lot harder to fathom defeating. Young connected on an incredible 40.4 percent of his three-point attempts last season, Casspi made 34.9 percent of his tries from beyond the arc, Iguodala marshaled the bench unit, and Pachulia made the most awful play of the 2016–17 playoffs. It is, at this point, safe to say that the Oakland franchise has put together the “Splash family” by assembling all this talent.
2. Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to expedite their journey to greatness
By trading two players and a protected first-round pick in this year’s draft for Bulls swingman and former Thibodeau protege Jimmy Butler, the Wolves got a lot stronger. Butler, a proven All-Star, and potent NBA swingman will add versatility to the Wolves’ offense and much-needed defensive savvy. Jeff Teague, a replacement for pass-first point guard Ricky Rubio, Taj Gibson, a solid role player, as well as Jamal Crawford, a perennial contender for the Sixth Man of the Year Award all complement the new franchise core whose constituents are the aforementioned Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. These additions make sense not only because most of the players acquired by the Minnesota franchise are proven contributors but also because they make the path along which the franchise is treading a lot clearer to make out. The only concern is the lack of three-point shooting which, in this “run and gun” NBA is a real deterrent.
3. Pat Riley never runs out of ways to surprise the Heat faithful
Acquiring LeBron James seven years ago, Dion Waiters last year and trading for Goran Dragic in 2015 are all examples the fascinating decisions made by the NBA’s Vito Corleone. Resigning Waiters and James Johnson, linchpins in the “2016–17 Heat Renaissance”, was a good move but adding Kelly Olynyk to the Miami Heat roster is polemic at best. Besides bearing a striking semblance with a member of a dated rock band, Olynyk is a three-point shooting forward with average rebounding prowess. Sure, he is an upgrade on Josh McRoberts and Luke Babbitt, but he is, in my opinion, not enough to get the Heat over the LeBron James hurdle in the much weaker Eastern Conference.
4. The Eastern Conference just got a lot weaker
The Western Conference has, for the past eighteen years, dominated the league by winning twelve championships. Deryl Morey, R.C Buford, Bob Myers, and Sam Presti headline the list of General Managers in the NBA for their smart, decisive approaches to situations. These individuals all work for franchises based in the superior Western Conference. The mystique of playing in the Western Conference is made a lot more pleasurable by managers like the ones mentioned. Evidence of the strength of the pull factor of this top-tier management is the mass exodus of Eastern Conference All-Star talent. Paul George, Paul Millsap, and Jimmy Butler have joined the Thunder, Nuggets, and Timberwolves respectively. Contrast this with the presence of General Managers in the East willing to offer fourth-year Small Forward Otto Porter a max-deal and the deduction is simple: the West will continue to reign supreme for the foreseeable future.
5. Danny Ainge has put his money on Father Time
Danny Ainge, Celtics General Manager, is either the most patient person on the planet or just patient enough to see out a LeBron James decline. It seems as if the man behind the Brooklyn Raid of 2013 has stagnated in his quest for supremacy. The Celtics have, over the course of eight months, gone from being contenders for the signatures of coveted players Paul George and Jimmy Butler to being Miami’s and Utah’s rivals for the services of Gordon Hayward, a one-time All-Star. Mr. Hayward is a definite talent but a much better fit for the Celtics’ competitors. The Boston team has a frontcourt logjam and has sacrificed its defensive spine, Avery Bradley to accommodate Hayward’s contract. The fruition of Ainge’s ambiguous plan of stockpiling assets like nuclear weapons will come when LeBron’s deterioration aligns itself with the rise to superstardom of Jason Tatum and Jalen Brown. It is, at least for Ainge, starting to look like a longshot.
6. There might be life after Chris Paul
Jerry West, builder of great Lakers teams and the Oakland juggernaut, just might add some gloss to a Clippers front office desperately in need of some. The Los Angeles Clippers, have been able to retain Blake Griffin and acquire through a lucrative trade, assets Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a first-round pick in next year’s draft. Simply put, the players acquired via the Chris Paul trade are capable of providing quality output, another thing the franchise desires.
7. The Los Angeles Lakers are scheming
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are the Tango and Cash of the NBA. Johnson and Pelinka engineered a trade for Brook Lopez by letting go of D’Angello Russell and an overpaid Timofey Mozgov. By doing so, the wonder-duo have shrunk the Lakers’ wage bill and made the Los Angeles team a believable Free Agent destination. Johnson’s primary intention for running for the position of Head of Basketball operations was to bring back to the organization, a semblance of success. Provided the Free Agency Market maintains the stability Johnson envisions it to have, the Lakers’ future looks bright.
8. Cleveland needs a General Manager, soon
As popular as LeBron James is, he is not a true-blue General Manager. LeBron does not sit through long meetings, draft ingenious trade strategies with long-term value, frequently assess the salary cap and devise plans to circumvent it or hire and fire coaches. He is a basketball player who at times uses his influence to bend situations to suit the franchise for which he plays. James does not handle the semantics of the logistics of the deals conducted which is a role in the jurisdiction of a General Manager. The sooner owner Dan Gilbert can realize that he lacks the acumen to administer his team, the faster the Cavaliers can recover from their Free Agency slumber. Jose Calderon is not a marquee player and certainly not what the organization needs; LeBron needs a lot more to be able to stand up to the Warriors.