This year marked one of the craziest off-seasons of star player movement I can ever recall in the NBA. Now that all the major pieces have settled into place we can begin to speculate which moves made sense, which moves seem questionable, and which moves were downright head-scratchers that make no sense.
The big domino was of course the reigning NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard.
After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first ever NBA Championship in just his first year with the team, Leonard was clearly the “King of Canada.” The whole country loved him. The team could pay him as much or more than any other team could offer. I also feel his best chance to win a title next year would have been to sign an extension and stay with the Raptors. Yet as we know, that didn’t happen. Kawhi is now the face of the L.A. Clippers. Truth is, I get it. He was drafted by the Spurs and won a championship. He was traded to the Raptors and won a championship. This was the first time in his career he’s had to opportunity to choose where he wanted to play, and presumably, win a championship. He’s from the L.A. area, and word is he’s always wanted to play close to home. Though Canada loved him, he probably didn’t love their taxes or having to deal with the currency exchange. I applaud him for choosing the Clippers over the other team in L.A. Had he gone to the Lakers he would have simply joined a long list of other stars who contributed to championships for the legendary organization. By choosing the Clippers, he’ll attempt to do for that organization what he did for the Raptors. Adding veteran star Paul George via trade makes that task a whole lot easier.
Verdict: The location is right. The money is right. The challenge suits him. I like this move.
Speaking of Los Angeles, the Lakers made a big splash this summer too.
AD….”The Brow”….Big Anthony Davis. It took him a year, but LeBron James got the running mate he was seeking. The question for Davis is…..why? I know he hasn’t had any fun playing for the New Orleans Pelicans. I get that. But this off-season the Pelicans won the grand prize. They won the 1st pick in the draft and used it to draft the biggest apparent sure-thing since…….LeBron James. Zion Williamson clearly looks like the real deal. Most believe he’ll be an absolute superstar and perhaps the best player of his generation. So why didn’t Davis want to stay and play with this young stud? I don’t have the answer, but I do have a guess. I don’t think Davis wants to be the face of an organization. Even if he’s the best player on his team, I think he’s a guy who wants to go ball and let someone else deal with the limelight. Even with Zion, and the attention he’s sure to attract, Davis would still have been viewed as the #1 in The Big Easy. In L.A., he’ll never have to worry about that. Even if LeBron’s skills and numbers diminish over the next few years, as long as “King James” is on the court, LeBron will always command the limelight he so craves.
Verdict: I would have liked to see him stay in Orleans and play with Zion, but if it’s what he wants, so be it. Not a bad move.
Next we move on to two superstars heading to the same place. Turns out it’s Act 3 for both of these guys, but their ways or reasons for getting there may or may not be the same. Let’s start with Kyrie Irving. He seemed happy with the Cavs and then he wasn’t. Despite winning a championship and playing in three straight finals, he demanded and was granted a trade out of Cleveland. Next was Boston. Despite missing most of his first season there due to injuries he seemed happy, and then he wasn’t. After year two with Celts he bailed via free agency to the Brooklyn Nets. Will 3rd time be the charm for Kyrie, or will he once again be happy until he isn’t?
Verdict: He’s a talented guy. If he finally finds the happiness he apparently couldn’t in Cleveland and Boston, then good for him. Personally, I’m skeptical he will. Regardless, I’m quite certain the Nets are more excited about the other guy they signed this off-season.
Yes. KD. Kevin Durant. I recall shopping at my local grocer when my brother Jeff texted me to tell me KD just signed with Golden State. I couldn’t believe it. I was pissed. I didn’t want KD to join the Warriors. I wanted him to beat the Warriors! I guess he didn’t believe that was possible in Oklahoma City. Hence, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. He surely did, and it surely worked. Durant’s presence in Oakland helped add two more championship banners for the Warriors. Could they have won those without Durant? Possibly. Was KD the biggest reason they won those two titles? Absolutely. So why leave? Why now? Why Brooklyn? Before I attempt to explain the latter, I’ll apply my two cents on the former.
We found out midseason last year that KD had a heated run-in with teammate Draymond Green. I can’t say I’m surprised. Green is a big personality. He’s not the easiest guy to get along with. The story eventually blew over, and not much more was made of it until the NBA season ended. I believe there was more to it than what was brought to light. I have no proof, but it could have even been a “choose me or him” ultimatum from Durant. I believe he no longer wanted to play with Green. Problem is, despite Durant being so instrumental in two thirds of this team’s three titles, Draymond was there in the beginning. He was there with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when the thing first took off. He was a part of this group’s first title prior to KD being a Warrior. That fact coupled with the noise surrounding whether or not the team needed KD once they started winning in the playoffs this year without him, and I think Durant just wanted out. He suddenly felt like an outsider. Thing is, he was. He was a hired gun brought in to strengthen what was already a championship-winning team. Perhaps his sensitive nature got the best of him, and he just wanted to go looking for love. Will he find that love in the Big Apple?
That’s right. KD is off to New York. No, not the Knicks, but the Nets. Remembering what the Knicks were in the ’90s I never thought I’d see the day where playing for the Nets would clearly be a better option than NYK. Sadly, it is.
Verdict: If he wanted the big market, he got it. If he wants to be the undisputed #1 on his team, in all due respect to Kyrie Irving, KD’s now got that too. He’s likely going to miss the entire upcoming season due to injury. How will he bounce back? Lest we forget, he’s not a spring chicken. The man played for the Seattle Supersonics. Yes, the same Sonics team that moved to OKC a long time ago. Add to this, what will the Kyrie Irving happiness meter look like after one year on Brooklyn? KD may not love this situation. I don’t love it either.
Other notable moves:
Kemba Walker: Charlotte Hornets to Boston Celtics. Kemba summed it up best in a recent interview. He simply said, and I’ll indirectly quote, he wanted to play for a winning organization. Verdict: Mission accomplished. I like this move for Kemba and the Celtics.
Jimmy Butler: Philadelphia 76ers to Miami Heat. In case you weren’t paying attention to last season’s playoffs, the only team that nearly knocked off the eventual world champion Toronto Raptors was the 76ers. Sure the Bucks and Warriors were in it with the Raptors early, but once Toronto took control of those respective series they put ’em both away. The Sixers gave Toronto everything they could handle. Save for a magical game-winning shot by Leonard and who knows? Maybe the Sixers would’ve have gone on to win the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals.
Verdict: Unless Pat Riley offered Butler way more cash than Philly (and I don’t think that was the case), what the hell? Sure, had Jimmy stayed, they wouldn’t have had the money to sign Al Horford, but Philly still had Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris. Miami? You ain’t gonna find LeBron, D Wade, and Bosh down there anymore.
I hope Jimmy enjoys the money and the nightlife, because he left a very good basketball team to go join a stinker in South Beach!
Russell Westbrook: Traded from OKC to Houston. Verdict: I don’t think it necessarily makes Houston any better, but I sure think it makes them more interesting. Now they’ve got two stars whose shooting percentage drops off in the post season and who are both pretty useless in an offensive set if the ball’s not in their respective hands. Enjoy yourself Coach D’antoni!
Mike Conley: Traded from Memphis to Utah. Verdict: Love it. One of the most underrated move of the off-season. Utah is for real.
All and all, it’s the four “Big Twos” fans will be watching. I wouldn’t rule out teams such as Milwaukee, Denver, or Utah hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June of 2020. But if I had to choose the Big Two I like the best from this group, I’ll take Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers. Now if linear time was no matter, I’ll take the Big Two of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen! 🙂