Ben Galli files all his stories just before last call on his phone. Follow him @ bengalli33
So could anyone have predicted this mildly f'ing insane NBA offseason? Since LeBron made the decision in 2012 (a date I remember more than most important things) the NBA offseason action has escalated each year in size, scope, and drama. And it's FANtastic!
Here's a brief as I can make it rundown off all that transpired between June 12th when the Finals ended and today, Opening Night Eve.
June 19 - Sixers trade for the 1st pick in the draft, the symbolic conclusion to The Process.
June 22 - Lonzo Ball is spoken into existence as a Laker, the 2nd pick of the NBA Draft.
June 22 - Timberwolves trade the Bulls for Jimmy Butler, who reunites with his old coach.
June 28 - Knicks fire Phil "The Pill" Jackson, the biggest victory of Melo's Knicks career.
June 28 - Rockets trade half their depth for Chris "Point God" Paul of the L.A. Clippers.
July 6 - Thunder get Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
July 14 - Celtics sign Gordon Hayward, a skilled small forward from Indiana who's last college game was a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Title game. Sound familiar?
July 25 - Cavs sign one time wunderkind Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP (and youngest winner of that award ever).
August 22 - Cavs trade Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isiaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, plus a 2018 1st round pick which could end up being number 1 by virtue of the Nets being the Nets.
September 19 - Kevin Durant admits to using a "fake" twitter account to defend Kevin Durant on social media. Wait, what?
September 23 - Thunder trade Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott (plus a 2nd rounder) to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony.
September 29 - Russell Westbrook signs the largest contract in NBA history on Kevin Durant's birthday.
The biggest stories of the summer centered around the unexpected redistribution of 5 superstars. Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City, Chris Paul to Houston, and Kyrie Irving to Boston (sorry Gordon Hayward). All of these teams are now contenders, with the Wolves being more of the dark horse variety.
But discussion of the 2017 season, at least at the onset, is going to be just like the discussion last year was. Can anyone stop Golden State and the Cavs from meeting in the Finals for the 4th consecutive year? The answer, like the past 3 years, is probably not. Both teams improved but unfortunately for Cavs fans, the Warriors probably had a better offseason. Cleveland lost too much when they traded Kyrie Irving for a hobbled Isaiah Thomas who is still recovering from a hip injury and may not play until the All-Star break.
This is the deepest team the Cavs have had in any of the LeBron seasons but the Warriors didn't lose anyone of note and added arguably better bench options in Nick Young, Omri Casspi, and Jordan Bell, their draft pick. The Cavs signed Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Jeff Green, sticking 100% to their strict philosophy of never signing young players with upside in favor of past their prime veterans pining for their glory days.
Cedi Osman, a young Turk the Cavs drafted in 2015 is on the roster and qualifies as an asset with upside but he's not actually the game changer the Cavs need to really challenge Golden State. He'll become a fan favorite but the biggest asset the Cavs own is that 1st round pick they got from Boston (who had Brooklyn's pick) for next year. If they can move that pick this year for someone like a Boogie Cousins and not lose their new big 3, they could be in business.
But at the same time, conventional wisdom and respect for the long term vision would tell the Cavs to keep that pick. It looks doubtful that they'll have LeBron James next year so they can look forward to possibly the 1st pick of the 2018 draft or losing that pick in an effort to keep LeBron by going all in on 2017 with no guarantee that would even work.
Even if the Cavs did get someone of Cousins' caliber for that pick, that still may not be enough to truly strike fear into Golden State. Jae Crowder can't change the entire culture by himself and with the decision to start Dwyane Wade over J.R. Smith, the majority of the Cavs starters are liabilities on defense. Kevin Love, starting at center, is going to struggle simply from the physical toll of taking on the other team's big man night in, night out. The Cavs going small ball will help but I think he'll cede minutes to Tristan Thompson which isn't a bad thing in the long run.
The Cavs have rightfully learned what the Spurs had years ago. The regular season can leave you battered and bruised and it's better to have your best players fresh and so clean for the playoff run. Home court advantage doesn't matter anymore in LeBron's Eastern Conference. But it's also not 2012 when a team comprised of James, Wade, Rose, and Love would be considered on par or better than the current Warriors.
Unfortunately, Derrick Rose is probably never going to regain his once indomitable form. His basic stats looked okay last year but he didn't shoot well, pass well, or defend well. Wade probably can't be effective for more than 30 minutes a game at age 35. When you're hoping Jeff Green can regain some of his old form and be formidable off the bench, then you, dear sir or madam or fool, have my utmost sympathetic pity.
But onto some other thoughts about this upcoming season after a summer of such drama and a plethora of story lines that it could rival Game of Thrones (or Dynasty for the old folks in the back).
The Timberwolves will finally do what people thought they would do last year. I was surprised that a defensive minded coach like Tom Thibodeau of the Wolves would want to get rid of Ricky Rubio who's an incredible facilitator and strong defender with inconsistent offense but picking up Jimmy Butler should easily overcome that. Butler might be the most underrated and least known superstar in the NBA but he's a leader and team player that should unite a Minnesota team with a lot of potential. Butler will gain his due this year playing for a coach he loves.
The Chris Paul-James Harden dynamic in Houston will be interesting. Mainly because Houston gave up so much depth to get the best true point guard in the game, a position interestingly enough that Harden excelled at last year as the MVP runner up. But both these guys are unselfish and used to playing with players that want the ball so that should work out fine. The question is will the rest of the Rockets make up for the players lost in the trade for Paul (a total of 5 solid contributors)(okay 4 and Kyle Wiltjer). It can only remain to be seen.
Will Melo ruin the Thunder? Melo's like the guy you always love hearing stories about but when he comes over to hang out, everyone's on pins and needles hoping nothing goes wrong. It was exciting when the Thunder came out of nowhere to land Paul George as it gave everyone's favorite anti-hero Russell Westbrook a formidable partner in crime. Adding Carmelo Anthony just under a month ago gave the Thunder the NBA's strongest Big 3 and got people to talking.
But when the ball goes into Melo, it seldom comes out. Can Anthony play team ball when he's got teammates better than he is and will he give effort on defense? He'll need to for OKC to be ultra successful but I don't see the motivation for him unless he just wants to make his detractors eat it. This is a 1 year stop for Melo and much to Westbrook's chagrin, the same can be said for George.
You know what? Eff it. I'm going to write this into existence. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to make the playoffs this year in the West or at the least be in the running. You're going to see a Poor Man's Version of Jason Kidd, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green and it's gonna be Showtime 2.0 or as I just thought of calling it ZoTime. Ball can lead and Brandon Ingram can make the jump and Julius Randle is finally back from nagging injuries in a system where versatility will be endorsed.
Kyrie, Kyrie, Kyrie. You got what you wanted. Better be careful about boat parties though, this isn't Lake Erie anymore. Have you ever seen "The Perfect Storm"? The world just might end a few miles off the coast of Boston in the Atlantic Ocean. And snarking at Cleveland after leaving just seemed extra villainy. Like, are these guys being handed scripts from the WWE?
Boston will be very interesting this year and are a lot better after gaining Hayward and Irving. I'm excited to see how quickly rookie Jayson Tatum can contribute especially on the offensive end. They've lost some role players but Brad Stevens is definitely up to the task of finding what works. Kudos to Danny Ainge (perhaps the most hated player in the NBA until Bill Laimbeer showed up) for the moves but it won't be enough to stop LeBron in vengeance mode. Can't wait until Kyrie and LeBron square up on some one on one shit.
Oh by the way, the Celtics open the season Tuesday night at 8pm in Cleveland. (they're playing the Cavs)
The Contenders (these teams have a chance to win the East, anyone below them has none)
Playoffs?! (these teams should be in the playoff mix all year)
Tank or Die (I kinda like the Ewing Theory with the Knicks but I'd be surprised if any of these teams made the playoffs)
11. New York
The Contenders (these are all teams with a shot at the West but mainly if Golden State gets hurt)
1. Golden State
2. San Antonio
4. Oklahoma City
Playoffs?! (The West actually got a lot better than the East this year, it's gonna be a bloodbath out there)
7. New Orleans
8. Los Angeles Lakers
12. Los Angeles Clippers
Tank or Die (no surprises here)
MVP - LeBron James
Rookie of the Year - Lonzo Ball
Coach of the Year - Tom Thibodeau
6th Man of the Year - J.R. Smith
Most Improved Player - Brandon Ingram
Warriors over Cavs in 6 - It took a lot to make this even 6 games. The Cavs are different than last year but it will take a lot and I mean a lot of things to come together for them to fare better against Golden State. However, the loss in the Finals will not be as difficult to take as the loss of LeBron James soon after.