For basketball fans, this is one of the most exciting times of the year. It’s a time full of hope, a time for dreaming. The NBA draft is right around the corner, and this year’s crop of prospects is one of the most talented and deepest in a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out — down the road — to be the most complete draft since 2003, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony all came into the league. (Side Note: There’s no way that was 14 frickin years ago, right?! Good lord, I’m getting old).
Every team, during this brief window, has the opportunity to dream of immortality. Of course, eventually the season will begin and realistically only a handful of teams will actually be competitive (and hopefully the Warriors will win the championship again). But until that happens, every team in the league is making move after move trying to claw their way towards relevancy.
You could argue, even, that every move made so far in the off-season somehow spins and revolves around the juggernaut that resides in the Bay Area. That’s true in every off-season, sure. Every team, every year, is only chasing whoever just won the championship. But somehow, the moves this season feel a little more varied, a little weirder. It feels like everyone is looking at the Warriors and thinking, “Crap. How am I supposed to compete over the next four, five years?!”
For example: Would the Cavaliers ever consider renting Paul George for a single year unless they felt he might be that extra piece that gets them past the Warriors next season? He’s already told the world that he intends to sign with his hometown Lakers in 2018, when he hits free agency. If Paul George does not plan on sticking around for more than one season, this seems (on the surface) to be a foolhardy jump.
The Cavs are willing to enter into trade talks for George without any assurances he will commit to a long-term deal in Cleveland, a source familiar with the Cavs' thinking told ESPN. Cleveland is confident its championship culture and overall atmosphere could sway George to want to stay after playing out the 2017-18 season.
That said, there are only two assets the Cavs possess that would likely grab the Pacers' attention in a potential swap (operating under the assumption that LeBron James is untouchable): Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
My two cents: There’s no way in hell the Cavaliers give up on Kyrie Irving. He fits too well with LeBron James (assuming James sticks around for the long term, which is an entirely different conversation). So, that leaves Kevin Love. Love was just embarrassed in the Finals. A healthy Stephen Curry (plus a newly added Kevin Durant) absolutely exposed him defensively, and offensively he could not keep up with the depth and firepower of the Warriors.
Would the Cavaliers trade the 28 year old Love for the 27 year old Paul George without a long term deal in place? I wouldn’t, but hey, I don’t get paid millions for this kind of stuff.
The other big trade that came across the NBA ticker this weekend: Philadelphia and Boston trading the #1 and #3 picks, with Philly sending either the Lakers’ (heavily protected) 2018 first rounder, or the Kings’ 2019 first rounder.
Two thoughts: Instead of betting on a rookie point guard (Markel Fultz) playing alongside the Celtics’ nominal star (Isaiah Thomas) who happens to play the same position, the Celtics opted to trade back, with an eye towards either Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum at #3, plus hoard yet another first round draft pick. Of course, the rumor mill kicked into instant action, as the NBA world wondered if Danny Ainge might actually — finally — swing for the fences and put the myriad draft picks to use, ideally in the form of trading for Jimmy Butler.
But, if the Celtics don’t go all in with a Butler trade, and if they continue to hoard assets and future picks, it speaks volumes about not only LeBron James’ ownership of the Eastern Conference, but also about how talented teams are unwilling to throw down until the Warriors and Cavaliers have chilled the F out.
Consider what that also means for Boston: By moving down, the Celtics would have essentially gained a future asset that will come into its prime around 2023 or so. That’s when LeBron James is 39 and perhaps done ruling the Eastern Conference. In this light, trading down from No. 1 is a future hedge, a tacit acknowledgment that going all in now isn’t wise; that it’s smarter to delay until the king’s throne is a bit less steady.
That doesn’t mean selling off Isaiah and other veterans and giving up for now. It means holding some powder dry so the Celtics can compete with LeBron for a long time and Boston is in position to capitalize when he finally falters. The Celtics can challenge him now. Adding another future pick — the Celtics also have the Nets’ 2018 pick, grace be to Billy King — keeps the challenge alive longer without sacrificing the status quo.
It’s a strange world when the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference is afraid to go all (in by keeping the #1 pick, or by turning that pick into a proven star) because the teams at the top are just too good and they’d rather stash assets and wait until literally the next decade to make their move.
The Warriors are primed to be good for a very long time. It’s no secret, but these players want to stay together. They want to form a deep talented core, like a super-charged version of the Spurs. Andre Iguodala is reportedly close to signing a new deal. Hopefully Shaun Livingston will find a way to stick around. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are already under long term contracts, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are about to get paid.
Joe Lacob and Bob Myers know that this type of team is a once in a generation, heck, once in a lifetime thing. There’s no way they break up this core, especially not with the move to San Francisco — into that shiny, new, self-financed building — looming large on the 2019 horizon. Luxury tax be damned, this team will be together for as long as possible.
With that in mind, it’s been interesting to watch as the other 29 teams in the league scramble around, trying to make sense of this new Warriors-centric reality. This week promises to be full of intrigue, mystery, and excitement. The draft is Thursday. What other madness will transpire between now and then?