I mean, where should I really even start?
The Toronto Raptors are world champs. The Warriors are down and out (at least for the 2019-20 season). The #LakeShow will finally see AD. The NBA Draft is this week.
Don’t look away, either, because free agency — the real NBA season — is less than two weeks away. After a regular season that was highly overshadowed by the this coming free agent period (due to the quality of free agents available) and the Warriors’ reign over the league, 2019-20 looks more wide open than any year in recent memory. Let’s take a look at how the NBA world has been turned on its head in less than a week’s time:
‘That’s a Rap’
Congrats to the Toronto Raptors on taking down the Golden State Warriors and ushering in a new era (well, sort of). Kawhi Leonard showed that the formula of building a deep, well-rounded team that matches up around his superstar skill set is still an effective method to winning.
Masai Ujiri absolutely, 1000% won the trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio and brought the “Klaw” and Danny Green up north. And for people to even question it at the time seems so laughable.
I’ll admit, there’s got to be some hesitation when you trade for a guy who’s coming off of playing nine games the year prior. But let’s be real here: prior to the 2017-18 season, we would never have even put DeRozan and Leonard in the same breath.
DeRozan is an All-Star, a Toronto Raptors legend and one of the top 20 players in the NBA. But he’s no Kawhi Leonard. Leonard’s the best two-way player in the world; his elite defensive prowess and “play at my own pace” game on O give him legit credence to possibly holding the title of “best player on the planet.”
And his legacy is cemented forever. Two titles, two NBA Finals MVPs and ending two of the league’s modern dynasties (three, even, if you include him jettisoning the Spurs) in LeBron’s Miami Heat and now Curry’s Warriors. He could leave Toronto and it would be totally OK. I’m sure Raps fans wouldn’t love it, but the “Fun Guy” did his job. He brought them a title and no matter what, they’ve got to let him make his decision and be at peace with it.
Now I’m not putting any asterisk by it, but we must acknowledge the Warriors injures were just too much to overcome too. And as crazy as it is, the Dubs are about as vulnerable as any championship contender in the league.
‘It’s a Dub’
Order has finally been restored to the force. After ruling the league for the last five seasons, Golden State looks to be in the toughest position this dynasty has ever faced.
It’s one thing to have an injured Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson trying to bounce back from respective achilles and ACL injuries. It’s a whole different dilemma when both stars are entering free agency come July 1. Throw the Boogie Cousins conundrum as well and it leaves the Warriors at a crossroad.
Thompson needs to be the priority for several reasons — he’s younger, he’s coming off an injury that is much easier to come back from (he could possibly be ready for next year’s playoff run) and he’s very much considered to want to be there, having been one of the founding members of this three-championship run, Thompson is on the pantheon of Warrior’s greats. Being from Cali and being drafted by the Dubs, it makes too much sense for him to stay at home.
KD’s decision is another discussion. No player in NBA playoff history had been playing at the level he was when he got hurt and he showed the heart of a true warrior by rushing back from his calf strain.
Even after tearing his achilles, I feel like the power is in his hands.
Does he sign a long-term deal and stick with a team he’s already won with? Or maybe sign a multi-year deal to build his legacy in a new city? Take the biggest cash offer? Or maybe another short deal so he can cash in after that?
If I were him, long-term would be the best option. His stock will never be as high as it is now and that’s even considering that he’ll sit all of the 2019-20 season. The Warriors give him the best chance to sit and rest without having to feel pressured to come back too soon (they already failed with this once, they wouldn’t make this mistake again). But a struggling franchise (insert the New York Knickerbockers) could do the same, eat the lost year by hopefully securing a high draft spot and bring Durant back with one of the top tier prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Cousins may have to wait things and see how the first two dominoes fall. He most likely won’t get max contract money, but he could find himself getting a decent deal on several fronts.
Though he never made it back to 100% in his year with Golden State, Boogie still showed flashes of the All-NBA big man he once was. But you could tell he was a guy battling back from his second major injury in a year and a half. I think he could re-sign with the Warriors and become a contributor to their core (especially if KD leaves). I could also see him going somewhere on a one- or two-year deal, where he’s got the possibility to earn a long-term contract after.
I think it’s really got to be based on his health. If he can keep progressing and get himself fully healthy, I’d love to see him get a shot on a contending team that is much more suited for his game. The Warriors had the luxury of being a talented team that could bring him along slowly, but he just never seemed like a natural fit in their offense. Defensively, too, he’s a guy that can play against other bigs but he can be a mismatch when Golden State and other teams want to go small.
The Dubs may not like it, but they may need to bring Cousins back. A core of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry is definitely good, but may not be dynamic enough to ignore Boogie, with Klay and KD on the shelf or moving on.
In Zion we trust. Every basketball fan in the universe knows that New Orleans Pelicans Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin would be absolutely bonkers to not bring in the dynamite Duke product.
Even after Zion, the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks are a forgone conclusion with their draft picks. Ja Morant looks to be the point guard of the future for the Grizz and RJ Barrett looks to be Gotham’s next savior.
I love both players and I love both fits. Morant has the chance to come in and learn from one of the steadiest floor generals in Mike Conley. A phenomenal passing threat with the athleticism and attacking mentality of a lethal scorer, Morant is one of the best point guard prospects in recent memory.
Barrett may not be the “Dukie” that Knicks’ fans have been clamoring for all season, but he could be a consolation prize. A dominant scorer who can act as your secondary ball handler and has the length to be a viable defensive presence, Barrett has instant All-Star potential. He has the attitude and demeanor that I think could be perfect for New York and could endear him to the fans right away.
Things get so out of whack from there. Now with the Pels holding the Lakers No. 4 pick, things could get interesting. Many say they are still fielding calls to trade the pick, so a team may be willing to move up and help New Orleans add more assets to a stash that has been building up quickly over the last week.
Two of my favorite “other” prospects are Jarrett Culver and Bol Bol.
Culver, the Texas Tech standout, is a guy who continues to grow in his development. A defensive dynamo with the ability to use crafty moves and attack the rim and and streaky jump shot, he could continue his ascension as he makes his way to the pros. Having gone from role player to leading the Red Raiders to the national championship in a year’s span, the sky’s the limit on the two-way potential for the lengthy wing.
Bol is one of the more intriguing prospects in this draft. Talent wise, he might be the most talented big man we’ve seen come out since Joel Embiid. Son of the late two-time NBA block leader Manute Bol, Bol Bol took up after his father’s size but is a much more talented player. Through nine games at Oregon last season, the 7-foot-2 big man averaged 21 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks while shooting 52% from deep.
His freshman season with the Ducks ended prematurely with a foot injury, but his early production and NBA lineage had already drew him in to some scouts. Other scouts, however, are putting a pause here. Lower extremity issues for big men coming out of college has always been a major concern and it does not help when there have been some red flags about character issues.
Bol, Culver, DeAndre Hunter, Darius Garland and Cam Reddish are just some of the names we will here coming off the board Thursday. Things could get more interesting if teams decide to use the draft as a trading floor, similarly to what we see in the NFL. With the NBA as wide open as it’s been in nearly a decade and the forefront of the league’s landscape being up in the air with looming free agency, I expect teams to really “go for it” with some splash moves.
AD in La La Land
The Lakers finally got their big fish. After swapping the six-time All-Star with New Orleans for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, this year’s No. 4 pick and two future firsts, Los Angeles seems to have found the perfect co-star to LeBron James.
I really like the move on both ends. The Lakers add a superstar talent in the middle of his prime, having just turned 26 in March. As LeBron ages (turning 35 next December) AD is the future of the new ‘Showtime.’ LA was also able to hold on to Kyle Kuzma, keeping the most productive player from their previous young core.
The Pels get an influx of young talent, can build their franchise through draft assets and have the flexibility to fill out their roster as one of the deeper teams in the league. Throw in the plan of building around a talent like Zion Williamson and whatever move is made with the No. 4 pick, and things are looking brighter than ever in NOLA.
As for the Lakers, I think they are in a great spot for free agency because they have some options. They could try to add another big fish, with rumors of Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker floating around and other big name free agents like Kawhi, Jimmy Butler and D’Angelo Russell on the docket.
Or they could go the much more economical route — with players like Khris Middleton, J.J. Reddick, Bojan Bogdanovic and Trevor Ariza, the Lakers could target several pieces like these so they are able to fill their roster out more effectively.
I would most definitely suggest the latter of the two options, just to ensure that LA isn’t so reliant on its star players (similarly to what Golden State battled through this season). Deep rosters with one or two star players (insert the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers here) can really got the job done if you have the right guys at the top of the heap leading the team.
In just one week’s time, the Lakers went from laughingstock to relevancy. Man, we’re in for a fun summer.
Respond to reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.