We are just weeks away from one of the most high-stakes offseasons in recent memory. Typically it takes a move from LeBron James to shift the balance of the NBA, but with players like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, and more (Bradley Beal?) on the verge of changing teams, we could see a completely new league very shortly.
We have grown accustomed to the idea of the “superteam” ever since Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors. Even prior to that, the Big 3 in Miami with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh changed the standard of attaining success in the modern NBA.
Players have gained more agency in their decision-making than ever before, and are quick to go to whichever situation offers them the best circumstances.
In 2010, LeBron was chasing his first championship, a chance to prove he could win. In 2014, the mission was to win a ring for Cleveland.
In 2016, Durant was looking for his first championship as well.
However, we should be considering the dynamics of those possibly on the move this summer.
Most of the top players in this year’s free agency class (Durant, Leonard, Irving) have all won a title.
Is the lure of winning, and forming a team that must win at all costs, as alluring as it was in years past for players like James and a younger KD?
A winning environment is always ideal, but Durant and James were in situations where winning at all costs had to be the mandate.
We can’t know what the desires of each player will be just yet, but just look at Kawhi Leonard: it’s been rumored all season he wants to go to the Clippers to be closer to home. That does not mean winning isn’t a priority, and if this season is any indication, any team with him on it has a great shot of a title, but would he chose the Clippers, even if another star did not join him, over a guarantee of playing with LeBron James, and possibly getting a third star with the Lakers? It might be a more certain path to winning, but is the stress worth it?
Kevin Durant is said to be going to the Knicks no matter what, even if Kyrie Irving allegedly wants to go to the Nets. Would KD still go to New York even if it meant playing with just Kemba Walker (a great player, but no Kyrie)? It would be a step back compared to Golden State, and the challenge of carrying his own team to a title could save his legacy, but a title would not be a foregone conclusion.
My point is this: we could be on the verge of a league with as much parity as we’ve seen in a decade. There have been 4 teams to make the NBA Finals since 2013, and each Finals has included at least two of the following players: LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kawhi Leonard.
My ideal offseason is one where the balance of the NBA swings back to some uncertainty. I want to see good teams, but I also want to see some suspense, a feeling of competition. This year’s NBA Finals feels suspenseful for the first time since 2016, which is fun, but even entering this stage I would like to see a postseason where teams in each conference could hold their heads up high and genuinely say they have a chance to win it all. We saw a glimpse of this in the Eastern Conference, but could we see it in the Western Conference in 2020?
Here’s what would have to happen.
Kevin Durant to the New York Knicks
Kevin Durnat will have the biggest say in changing the balance of the NBA. Him leaving the Golden State Warriors automatically brings them down from the historic force they have been since he joined the team to just a great team. It immediately makes the Western Conference more interesting and competitive, and brings a star to the Eastern Conference all at the same time.
Durant to the Knicks would make them a playoff contender at minimum, possibly filling the void LeBron left in the conference when he departed a year ago.
But he would need some help…
Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers
I’m kind of torn here. I love what this Raptors team has become, and even if they do not beat the Warriors in this year’s Finals (they very well could though), I think it would be great if Leonard stayed. However, Uncle Dennis seems to have other plans for his nephew.
Kawhi joining the current Clippers roster would be a massive upgrade, and immediately make the team a top 4-seed in the conference. They would surround him with Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montrezl Harrell, and Danilo Gallinari, a team that took the Warriors (with KD) to 6 games this year. They would have enough cap space to bring back Patrick Beverly, they could attempt to clear cap space to add a second star, or they could trade young pieces and the picks they got from the Tobias Harris trade to land another star. The possibilities are endless.
Kyrie Irving stays in Boston
With Kyrie Irving comes a storm of uncertainty. To some, that could mean absolutely nothing, but to others that could mean… well, it could mean everything is on the table.
We have heard he could go to the Lakers, Knicks, and Nets, all within the past month or so, with what seemed like absolute certainty. However, the only thing that has changed is his flavor of the week (at least according to the media); don’t give it any credence just yet.
Kyrie staying in Boston would still be his best option for a winning future in which he could lead his own team. Maybe his priorities have changed, but it’s a fact. The Celtics have better assets than the Nets and Lakers, but do those assets pull in a better player than Kevin Durant in New York? Would Kyrie want to play with this player in Boston? Would that player stay in Boston?
All fair questions, but in terms of an ideal offseason, I say yes… and we all know who that ideal player is.
Anthony Davis is traded to the Boston Celtics
Okay, some of you might be calling me a Celtics homer, but hear me out. With the news of Pelicans GM David Griffin taking offers on Davis, we know he will be traded this offseason. What team can make the best offer?
Hate the Celtics all you want, but their offer* still tops all others (unless maybe the Nuggets). Danny Ainge knows this. If priority number 1 is to keep Kyrie Irving (which it should be), Ainge’s pitch will include a path to getting Davis.
If Ainge is bold enough, he would agree to the framework of a deal prior to free agency. Then Kyrie would be presented with the following: teaming up with the KD and the Knicks (a historically unstable franchise), AD and the Celtics (a more well-run franchise), the clown show that is the Lakers with LeBron, or the Nets with a young roster similar to the one he played with in Boston (but no veterans like Al Horford).
I might be getting ahead of myself, but I know which option seems more ideal, and a Kyrie/AD duo would make the Celtics one of the top teams in the East.
*I see a package centered around Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, plus draft picks, specifically the Memphis Grizzlies first round pick the Celtics possess
Klay Thompson stays in Golden State
Would the Warriors be toast if Kevin Durant left? Not exactly.
If Klay Thompson stays in Golden State, they could build back on their old nucleus of he, Curry, and Draymond Green, one that has previous success and a title to it’s resume. Klay is 29 years old, and might seek a bigger workload and a chance to lead his own team. However, if Durant leaves, he would certainly be able to help fill the void left by the MVP. The Warriors would not be as unstoppable as before, but a team motivated to prove they don’t need KD to win a title on their own would be a fascinating dynamic, and would keep them in the upper tier of the Western Conference (they’re still good without KD, don’t get it twisted).
The Warriors are not going away, not yet anyway.
Jimmy Butler teams up with LeBron
I just cannot see a world where the Lakers truly cannot get a second piece next to LeBron. I know the Lakers are a clown show, but I mean it’s LeBron James.
However, the only player I can see willing to step into the fire is Jimmy Butler. Butler had a good postseason, and the Sixers might offer him a max contract simply due to how much they gave up for him earlier this season, but he would put them in cap hell (assuming they want to keep Tobias Harris as well). It might lead to a day where Ben Simmons would need to be traded if the owner were frugal, but we aren’t going down that road today.
Butler could be a bonafide number two option to James in Los Angeles, and would make the team better than they were this season. I would not call them a contender just yet, but it would be a step in the right direction (and maybe the only premier free agent that would go there to do so).
Bradley Beal is traded to Denver
Remember when I said the Nuggets could make a good offer for Anthony Davis? Well, with Davis to Boston in my ideal offseason, Denver gets the next best thing: Bradley Beal.
During his age 25 season, Beal was selected to his second career All-Star team, and just missed an All-NBA selection. He averaged 25.6 PPG with a FG% of .475 and a 3P% of .351. With the loaded contract of John Wall, and the fact he likely will not play next season, the Wizards are facing a rebuild dead in the eyes. Their best asset is Beal, and the team that could offer one of the more appealing options are the Nuggets.
As listed in this NBC Sports Washington article, a package centered around Gary Harris, Trey Lyles, Monte Morris, and a 2023 second round pick works financially. Would Denver have to add more picks or another young player to finish this deal? Probably, but if they got Beal, it would improve a team that was a game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals. How good would a Nikola Jokic/Bradley Beal duo be moving forward? I say very.
Kemba Walker joins Kevin Durant and the Knicks
Would Kemba Walker leave the tens of millions more that the Hornets could offer for a chance to play with Kevin Durant and have a real chance of winning?
The opportunity would be alluring. Walker would be the second option to Kyrie Irving, but he would be a coup for the Knicks if he came with Durant. Kemba is coming off an All-NBA season, and at the age of 29, he might not have many chances to stay at this level forever. I think it comes down to would he want to become the greatest player in Hornets history, but be in NBA purgatory for the rest of his career.
I would have no issue if he secured the bag, but it would stink to see him never have a chance to win. The Knicks and Durnat present that opportunity, and in an ideal NBA, I would like to see it.
Tobias Harris stays in Philadelphia
In my opinion, Philly would be best served paying Harris instead of Jimmy Butler. They could very well pay both, but if they want any flexibility in the future, Harris should be the choice. Harris will be 27 next season, and better fits the timeline of the Sixers current core of Joel Embiid (25) and Ben Simmons (22).
I see an ideal NBA as the Sixers staying competitive, and Harris staying would help that cause. Should Philly have traded for Butler and Harris? I think we should be talking more about them not taking a gamble on Kawhi, but if they can keep at least one of them, maybe it was worth it, but that remains to be seen.
Khris Middleton stays in Milwaukee
Giannis deserves a good supporting cast in Milwaukee. They had such a great season, and as annoying as they became to me, a competitive Bucks team with Giannis would make for a competitive Eastern Conference.
They won’t be able to keep everyone, and out of Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogden, and Middleton, Khris is the most valuable. Milwaukee would have to not re-sign anyone, renounce the bird rights to all their free agents (restricted and unrestricted) and clear salary in order to add a scoring option as good as Middleton, meaning it’s nearly impossible. I am not sure what other team would present Middleton with a better opportunity (maybe the Mavericks), but I think if the money is right, he should stay.
No chance all of this happens (some of it will… right?), but these moves would absolutely change the balance of the NBA.
The Warriors would take a step back, Denver and the Clippers would become formidable foes, and the Thunder, Rockets, and Trail Blazers would still round out the Western Conference. Oh, and we would finally (right?) be able to see the Lakers in playoff contention. The Warriors should have the edge in this world, but they would lack the depth they have of their pre-Durant years, and maybe another team is ready to lock in and take their throne; it would not be a foregone conclusion.
Out East, you would see the Celtics, Bucks, Sixers and Knicks at the top of the conference. Each team might have it’s flaws, but it would make for a compelling fight to win the conference. Boston might have the best duo in the East, while the Sixers would be motivated to get over the hump after having been so close to beating Toronto in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Milwaukee would still have Giannis, and a team with KD and a viable second scorer like Kemba Walker would make them a contender in this conference. Indiana would still be lurking with the return of Victor Oladipo, and the if the Nets bring their core from a year ago back, they’ll be in the picture, but after that, a gap emerges.
It’s not perfect, but given the pieces that could (and will) move this summer, these moves would create the most intriguing league we have seen in years.
Unknowns are good. Drama is good. Suspense is good.
Lets hope it happens.
Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)