A week has passed since the beginning of the 2019 NBA free agency period, and the dust is finally settling on what was one of the most anticipated moments of the century. Many all-star level players were available either on the open market or by trade, and pretty much everybody except Klay Thompson changed teams (this statement is exaggerated, but not by much). Several teams spent most of the past year clearing the way to sign multiple stars to their teams. The Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, and Nets were the biggest contenders, with other squads throwing their names out there in the trade market. As in regular games, we had winners and losers, but the biggest winner of all was the sports media that now has months worth of information to talk about. Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from the past 168 hours of the basketball off-season.
Los Angeles is now the Epicenter of the NBA
The Lakers made one of the big moves of the off-season before free agency even started, completing a pre-draft trade for PF Anthony Davis. Now that all of the complications of that deal have been sorted, Lebron James has a star to team with. They continued their roster building by pursuing finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but their efforts ultimately fell short, as Leonard ended up signing with…the LA Clippers. This addition occurred simultaneously with a trade for Paul George from Oklahoma City. All of the sudden, two teams in Los Angeles have all-star duos leading the way, and a city that just a few years ago seemed gone from it’s glory days now reigns as the dominant entity of the league.
Neither squad stopped at simply adding All-stars. The Lakers used the cap space they had created for Leonard to add a myriad of free agents, strengthening their bench and wing scoring. The Clippers had already re-signed starting PG Patrick Beverley, and re-signed C Ivica Zubac shortly after the trade for George. Now both teams have strong supporting casts to compliment their duos. Both teams have also given up a substantial amount of draft capital to put their rosters together, but that will not matter for several years. All that matters now is the pursuit of a championship and an inter-city battle that will likely captivate the NBA media all season long, even if other teams are proving just as capable.
The Knicks could have done worse, but not much
Some times things just don’t fall your way, no matter how hard you try to make them happen. For New York the plan was simple; have a horrible season, get the #1 Draft Pick, take Zion Williamson, and sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency (or at least two all-star caliber players). They spent over 12 months working towards that goal, but the draft lottery did not go their way which cost them Williamson. Then all of their top targets ended up signing elsewhere, including Durant and Irving who signed with cross-town rival Brooklyn. The Knicks did recover and sign several solid players with team options that would allow them to test free agency again in 2020. They also came away with a solid prospect and draft consolation price in RJ Barret. Still, adding Barrett, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, and a few other veterans is pretty far off from their original goal.
Nets are favorites, but not alone in the East
As previously mentioned, Brooklyn has had quite the successful off-season. The additions of Durant, Irving, and DeAndre Jordan while only losing D’Angelo Russell certainly has them in a favorable position in the Eastern Conference. Add in the fact that Kawhi left defending champion Toronto and things are wide open, but not a runaway. Philadelphia remains a threat despite losing Jimmy Butler, as they’ve added Al Horford and Josh Richardson to the mix. Milwaukee still has Giannis, and Miami has added Jimmy Butler to a talented group. There is also Boston, who replaced Irving and Horford with Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter and should still be competitive. While they have leapt up the ladder in terms of contention, Brooklyn is not the only team to focus on in the East.
Oklahoma City just needs to go all-in
Perhaps the most shocking move of the past week was when the Thunder traded Paul George to the Clippers. Most questioned why OKC would make such a move, that is until they saw the draft haul received in the deal. They received unprotected first round picks in 2021, 2022, 2024, and 2026, along with a protected 2023 first rounder and the right to swap additional first round choices in 2023 and 2025. That is an incredible return, one that could lead to a massive rebuild. As their roster currently stands, as well as the state of the Western Conference, the Thunder are likely a 6-8 seed playoff team. With little hope of massive improvements, I say why stop the trading at just George. Why not see what you can get for Russell Westbrook and others? If the result is more first round picks and salary cap relief, then going all in on a rebuild would be the route I would take.
State of the Wizards
Of course I couldn’t talk about basketball without talking about my favorite team. The wizards began the off-season with several decisions to make. They began by declining Jabari Parker’s player option, which freed up money to make a few moves. Their two biggest restricted free agents were Bobby Portis and Tomas Satoransky, and Portis walked without a fight while “Sato” was part of a sign and trade to Chicago which yielded minor future draft compensation. A few veterans departed as well, while guard Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas were signed to help fill the void left by John Wall being injured. Washington was able to retain Thomas Bryant, as well as swap Dwight Howard for the potentially more useful CJ Miles. They also helped facilitate some of the biggest trades in the league, which was nice of them. Ultimately, as things stand, the team still has Bradley Beal and John Wall, along with a young core in Bryant, Tony Brown, Rui Hachimura, and the recently acquired Mo Wagner. We shall see if any further moves are made.
Free agency is not finished yet, as players can sign with teams at basically any point from here on out. There are a few significant names still available, including Kelly Oubre, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Kenneth Faried. Players who remain on the market will not be receiving massive paydays, as most of the money has already been spent. Still, there is enough skill available for teams to move the needle a bit, particularly teams trying to sneak in to a lower playoff seed. Many of the squads not mentioned above remained quiet for the week, with the exception of throwing their name in a trade or two. Those that did so may be the top culprits to swoop in on and add some nice talent at a discount. All I know is that if the regular season provides the same amount of entertainment as this, it’s going to be a good year. Thanks for reading, and I will see you next time.