There have been moments in the NBA summer that have included cleverly executed plays, rim-rocking slam dunks and teams desperately trying to play defense in a league increasingly dominated by the other side. No, it's not the annual Las Vegas Summer League we are describing. It's the radical restructuring of the league via trades and free agency. In some ways, the creativity displayed by GMs across the association rivals what we see from their players on the floor.
In less than a week, incredible, nearly impossible deals and free agent moves have completely reshaped the balance of power across the league (even if the West still reigns). There were some clear winners and losers and a few teams like Portland, Golden State and Boston who simply tried to stave off struggles with moves that may or may not pay off.
Did anyone have more fun this week than guys who live for insane trades and salary-cap-bending moves? Unlikely. From a deal that netted OKC five draft picks and the rights to swap two more in the future to reported moves that almost happened (Russell Westbrook for Pascal Siakam), this past week has been an absolute orgasm of frenzy for people who live for this sort of thing.
Tie: Philadelphia 76ers/Brooklyn Nets
Both Philly and Brooklyn headlined the start of free agency with the Nets landing both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, while the Sixers improved an already finals-worth team re-signing Tobias Harris, moving Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson and adding Al Horford. While they may have ultimately been overshadowed by the Kawhi Leonard signing in LA, these were huge moves that help keep the Eastern Conference at least competitive against a continually improving West.
There has been much discussion over the past few years about players dictating their movement so they can pair up with stars on other teams. In many corners, it has been oft criticized with complainers saying that it shifts the balance of power too much. Well, this offseason saw much of the same, but with a unique twist. Instead of three or even four guys winding up together, it was pairing up that ruled the day. From Durant and Irving in Brooklyn to Leonard and Paul George in LA (or Lebron James and Anthony Davis in the "other" LA), it was more about pairs than threesomes, which will no doubt help mitigate the single-team super powers like Golden State.
Talk about dramatic. In what was largely reported to be a three-team race between the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors for the services of Leonard, most completely ignored LA's less marquee franchise. Some outright reported the Clippers were out of the picture. Then, they weren't and when the dust settled, not only had the Clippers signed Leonard, but they added George, a third-place MVP finisher last season, for good measure. Of course, it was necessary to have a second star to go with Leonard if he were to choose the Clippers, but talk about turning the tables on the star-studded Laker franchise. It's going to be a very interesting season at Staples Center.
The beloved Canadian pop star, it was said, was directly involved in Toronto's attempts to keep Leonard. There were even reports he was offering record label deals and all sorts of incentives. Can you see the dramatically shy Leonard rapping? Neither can we. In the end, Drake's efforts fell short and the Raptors are left to wonder what if? Of course, they can use the tears they cried over Leonard's departure to polish their championship trophy.
Tie: Houston Rockets/LA Lakers
It's hard to feel too bad for a pair of teams sporting four future Hall of Famers, one of which added perhaps the best big man in the NBA earlier this summer. But, the Rockets lost out on Butler and have whiffed on most attempts to improve an otherwise solid roster so far. And the Lakers are being overshadowed by the Clippers, something no one ever thought would be said. They will both still be contenders this season, but what could have been blockbuster offseasons for both teams have, thus far, turned out to be somewhat disappointing.
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For anyone who thought the Rockets lost Butler to Miami, just look at the Heat's roster. Clearly, Butler, tired of playing second and third fiddle in Chicago, Minnesota and Philly, wanted to be the man on any team he chose. He got his wish, but at what cost. He is probably one of the 20 or 25 best players in the NBA, but is he the kind of transcendent talent that can hoist an entire franchise on his shoulders? Probably not, but he and Miami are about to find out.
New York Knicks
Watching the Knicks clear the decks over the course of last season including trading Kristaps Porzingis to make room for the anticipated arrival of two or three max salary players only to see them miss on everybody in free agency was only slightly more enjoyable for non-Knicks fans than it was seeing NBA commentator Stephen A. Smith go full meltdown on Twitter afterward.