As the NBA pantheon of bloggers and sportswriters and twitter trolls rushed to publish their freshest takes on how much this meant for Toronto as a franchise, a city, and an entire country; in less than 48 hours (or what I assume is one Canadian night), Toronto lost the NBA spotlight. Just another indication that mainstream America only “fake” cares when it comes to our neighbors and their silly sports.
Great show Canada but no matter how many great comedians you have making it big on sketch comedy shows, you’ll never be bigger than Hollywood. And so it was approximately 43 hours after Toronto started celebrating an amazing and well deserved title, that the King laid down the decree that would alter the NBA’s entire 2019 offseason. So at the risk of losing some words on how the Raptors won their first title of all time and deeper analysis of how the offseason will play out, here are some varied thoughts on the present insanity that is the National Basketball Association.
First, hats, I mean tuques off to Toronto. Just a lot of success stories all around. Masai Ujiri, the President of Basketball Operations fired the eventual coach of the year/winningest coach in franchise history, Dwane Casey, before trading an all time favorite in DeMar Derozan for a Kawhi Leonard that had only played 9 games the previous season coming off a mysterious injury and would most likely not stay more than one year. His moves put Toronto in this position. Kawhi Leonard showed how dominating and clutch he can be, carrying Toronto to an extremely impressive championship run. A lesser team would not have been able to take advantage of Golden State’s various injuries but Fred Van Vleet showed that anyone who sounds like the heir to a vacuum cleaner business can outplay even Steph Curry on a truly world stage.
That was late Thursday night. By Saturday afternoon, the sports world got rocked by news many were hoping for. The Lakers had traded most of their young talent and 3 first round draft picks for Anthony Davis, the 26 year old player with the 3rd highest PER in NBA history (behind MJ and LeBron). This. changed. everything. The Lakers, a southern California reality show as much a dumpster fire as you could imagine, just flipped a switch and turned off months of really, really bad press to become the preeminent NBA title favorite.
First off, it must be said that this trade really does stand out. Both teams seemed to get what they wanted out of them. New Orleans got a historical haul including the 4th pick in this year’s draft and the Lakers did something that’s rarely been done before, trade for a superstar entering his prime. Frankly it’s very reminiscent of when the Lakers traded Milwaukee for Kareem Abdul Jabbar who had the Lakers as one of his “chosen destinations”. For as much potential was sent New Orleans’ way, affording them a wealth of options on how to move forward with Zion Williamson, the Lakers got the one thing better: realized potential.
Most of the draft picks the Pels get will be in the 20’s most likely but if even one slips through, it could have major payoff. A bigger win for Los Angeles was the ability to keep Kyle Kuzma. Some, myself included, would rather have Lonzo but admittedly, Kuzma makes more sense for this Lakers squad. Lonzo’s body and shot unfortunately haven’t yet proven dependable and it was Kuzma who repped the Lakers at the lottery with a ‘Hand of the King’ pin on his lapel. He may have been the only one playing this Lakers version of game of thrones. The lessons with Kobe really paid off.
Besides saving the Lakers future and possibly LeBron’s, this trade along with the tragic Warriors injuries really changes the outlook on the upcoming free agency season. The Lakers look a lot more enticing now with multiple superstars and have an outside shot of landing yet another one while Kevin Durant’s injury forced absence for next year has given pause to both teams and free agents alike on planning their futures. Here’s my outlook:
Kawhi Leonard: aka Saviour of Franchises. At this moment in time, Kawhi Leonard can do no wrong. After a historical playoff performance, Kawhi’s at the top of the world and this year’s free agency list. Obviously, Toronto would love to keep him. But Kawhi is obliged to no one. I think he gone. And I think we’ll see him next in Los Angeles. And for as much financial and career sense it would make for Kawhi to team up with LeBron and AD and win forever with the Lakers, Kawhi seems to be the guy that’ll take the path less chosen. Or simply whichever path he wants to take. I think he becomes the biggest star in Clippers history (sorry Michael Olowokandi).
Kyrie Irving: aka Destroyer of Franchises. Kyrie Irving can take credit for much of the state of the current NBA. It was he who forced a trade out of Cleveland which severely crippled LeBron’s chances at winning more titles there. Cleveland has not recovered. He then brought his whimsical musings and third eye to Boston. Before this season, he reiterated his commitment to resigning with Boston long term but all indications have him strongly considering the Brooklyn Nets with the Lakers as of late making a run for his services. This really puts a crimp in Danny Ainge’s style. Kyrie’s not a guy that can really be figured out because I doubt he would ever tell you who he really is.(that’s deep, yo) With Durant’s injury, a possible team-up in Brooklyn seems unlikely but if I had to guess, Kyrie’s still going to New York’s Clippers.
Kevin Durant: What a tough break for KD. Almost makes everyone want to start rooting for him on his comeback. He ends his Warriors run with a loss, albeit his injury was a large part of that, and doesn’t catch LeBron with 3 rings. His return from a ruptured Achilles tendon may make a lot of people question the wisdom in offering him a max but offer him they will. And that would be the right move. I think Durant, knowing next year is a lost year, is ready to move on from the Bay Area, a successful but tumultuous time in his career. And there will be hope now for a fan base that scarcely believes there’s any left existing. Kevin Durant will sign with the Knicks*.
*Watch for the Clippers as a dark horse.
Klay Thompson: Let’s not waste words on Klay Thompson. Incredible shooter but does anyone really care? He’ll sign with Golden State.
Kemba Walker: Kemba can get a $221 million dollar supermax extension with the Charlotte Hornets or try to sign with a team with a better chance of contending for a championship, or, or go back home to New York. The Lakers have been reported as targeting Kemba and he seems to be a good 3rd option for them after Kawhi and Kyrie (although it’s not likely either sign with the Lakers). But Walker leaves around $80 million on the table if he signs with another team. If Kemba values winning soon, he might come to LA but I think he’s gonna stick with the team he came up on, similar to a Dame Lillard.
Jimmy Butler: For a good amount of time over the last couple years, Jimmy Butler was the aggressive ying to Kyrie’s passive yang approach to terrible leadership. Butler was not doing himself any favors as teams and fans alike began souring on him. His past season in Philadelphia apparently helped smooth that image and Butler will have a few suitors. I think Philly and the Lakers will come calling and I think Dallas may make a surprise offer. I think Butler’s best move is resigning with Philly where they showed promise last year. If the Lakers are desperate for a 3rd superstar, Jimmy Buckets might find himself there but it may be wiser for the Lakers to spend their cap space on several high quality role players.
Cavs Draft - There’s still this Thursday’s NBA Draft which seems like an outdated way of building a contender but remains a very important night for the smaller market have-nots of the NBA. The Cavs didn’t get the luck of the draw this year but are in solid position with the 5th pick. The top 3 are considered set with Zion, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett expected to be selected. The 4th pick will be chosen on behalf of New Orleans via the Lakers trade although it appears they may be shopping that pick to another team as we speak.
I think if they do find a trade partner, Darius Garland (son of former NBAer Winston Garland) is most likely to be the 4th pick. I think if New Orleans keeps the pick, they’re more likely to draft Jarret Culver, the Texas Tech hero. I think if Garland is available, that might be the pick with the best upside for the Cavs. If Garland is taken, I think they’ll take the safer pick in Culver but should strongly consider Duke’s Cam Reddish who disappointed alongside his equally highly touted Duke Big 3 members but has high upside.