As the Golden State Warriors lifted the Larry O’Brien the Bay Area, and band wagon fans around the world, exploded with excitement. For many fans watching, regardless of team affiliation, and almost depressing feeling of inevitability was finally realized. Around this time last year the hushed rumors of a Kevin Durant-fueled steroid boost to a Warriors team coming off a 73-9 season, seemed almost to far-fetched to be real life. One year, one ring, and one Finals MVP later, Kevin Durant accomplished his goal of turning the NBA upside and changing the balance of power for what seems to be years to come. Teams this summer are well aware of the strength of the two Juggernauts who just completed their third straight head-to-head final’s match up. The goal of the other 28 teams in the Association, is to reduce the gap between themselves and ensure that there is not a Warriors-Cavs Part 4 in June 2018.
NBA Free Agency officially begins this weekend, and to this point there are several Superstar talents rumored to be on the move, who could very well shift the balance of power in the NBA for a second straight summer. While there are numerous teams, with various trade rumors, swirling around league news sources this time of year, for the purpose of this blog we’ll be dealing with rumors surrounding a three contenders and one superstar in Indiana.
Chris Paul leaves LA, to run Houston with James Harden.
In a Western Conference that has been dominating by the “Splash Brothers” in Oracle, Houston seems to be combating that dynamic duo, with a pretty elite back court pairing of their own. James Harden led the Houston Rockets to a 50 win season and a Western Conference Finals birth during the 2016-17 season, and very well might have added an MVP to that hall without the Triple Double heroics of one Russell Westbrook. Adding Chris Paul, almost universally considered one of the top Point Guards and play makers in the league today, and maybe ever, would seem to help those Rockets shrink the gap between themselves and the defending champions. There are legitimate fit concerns, giving the ball dominance of each member of this new play making back court, but the Rockets seem to be ignoring those doubters and counting on the duos chemistry to guide the franchise for at least the next season. Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets had this to say on the aggressiveness of Houston, and the state of the modern NBA. “… It’s a weapons race in the NBA, and you’re either in the weapons race or on the sidelines. We felt with Harden in his prime, Chris Paul in his prime, this gives us a real shot to chase the juggernaut teams that are out there and puts us right there with them” (ESPN).
Power shift brewing in the East?
While the sting of coming up second to the Golden State Warriors for the second time in three years will certainly linger, by all accounts the Cavs should come into this off-season feeling optimistic. They’ve consistently showed they’re a cut about the rest of the Eastern Conference, and in the last three years are the only team to actually beat the dreaded Warriors in a playoff series. But that victory was before Durant took his talents to the Bay, and while they flipped the switch against the East this post season, there were times when they looked like they didn’t belong on the same floor as the Warriors. The Cavs were in need of a roster shakeup this off season if they hoped to seriously contend with these same Warriors and make their trilogy of finals a four-part special. Things have not gone the way the Cavs, or their fans, would have hoped since that loss in the finals. Dan Gilbert, team owner, fired GM David Griffin days before the draft whilst the team was in the midst of trade talks with the Chicago Bulls about Jimmy Butler. The next GM will have a steep road ahead of them, with little cap flexibility, and rumored displeasure from Akron’s favorite son and franchise corner-stone Lebron James. Combined with pressure from Lebron to maximize his prime and win now, the Cavs future does not look as bright as it did a mere week or two ago. Despite the lack of a GM, the Cavs have been in constant trade talks with the Indiana Pacers about their all-star forward Paul George. Without adding a significant piece this free agency period, the Cavs could be in for a disappointing end to the 2017-18 season, and another possible Lebron departure.
Boston makes a move, to set up another move?
There aren’t many seasons in which a number one-seeded team, with 50+ wins, would need to cut the distance between themselves and the previous year’s number two seed. However, the Cavaliers made short work of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and Bean Town has the resources to perhaps surpass Lebron and his dominance over the East during this near-decade long run to the finals he’s been on. Enter the Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward, pictured above. To the casual NBA follower, Hayward and his abilities may be unknown or unappreciated. To this Celtics team, Hayward could be a building block to an Eastern Conference beast for years to come. Hayward is a quality wing player, able to slot at the 2 or 3 depending on need, with shooting touch and two playing capability. On top of all of this Hayward actually played, and thrived, under current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during his college career at Butler. Hayward seems to be taking the idea of playing in Boston very seriously, as Lachlan Marr reported on the Celtics SBNation blog, that the sides would be meeting Sunday after the start of free agency. This is of course assuming Hayward’s first visit to the Miami Heat on Saturday does not lead to a deal. Adding an all-star caliber player improves a team that was already good enough to be the top seed in the East one year ago. Boston’s plan may also hinge upon being able to trade for Paul George, after their attempts to pry Jimmy Butler from Chicago were not enough, sound familiar Cleveland fans? George’s predicament is quite unique, and could be a power shift depending on where he lands or if he is even traded at all.
The trade that could change it all
With Jimmy Butler being traded from the Bulls to the Minnesota Timberwolves, teams looking to participate in the “weapons race” and compete with the Warriors were left with one superstar talent to inquire about. All of the three teams on this list and blog post have expressed serious interest in the all star, despite the rental status George has set for himself. It was reported by several NBA league sources that George had grown tired of the Pacers muddling in middle of the pack status, and would most likely leave when he is set to become a free agent at the end of the upcoming season. George was also rumored to have a preference to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. While this reports swirled around for several months, George himself informed the Pacers of his intentions rather recently, and speculation of the Pacers dealing George sky rocketed. Given that he is set to become a free agent after this year, teams are taking a gamble that George will be nothing more than a glorified rental for their franchise. Despite thee very real concerns, George’s talent has kept the phone ringing for the Pacers. George is long, athletic wing with an ability to play off the ball, and a defensive presence important in a modern NBA where Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant all wear the same blue and gold. Where George ends up playing this season, and even next season, will continue to be a major talking point in NBA circles.
The Wrap Up
The Golden State Warriors are, talent wise, still the cream of the crop in today’s NBA. This fact is a key reason so many teams are looking to be very aggressive this free agency period, and why each of these teams mentioned here will be measuring themselves comparatively to the Bay Area team. The saga of Paul George, the future of Lebron James, and the balance of power in the NBA will be determined by the events that ensue in the coming weeks of NBA free agency. Free Agency officially begins July 1, with the time period for teams to sign free agents beginning July 6.