HEAT­ING UP

NBA’s off­sea­son in­trigue al­ready boil­ing over

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

Base­ball’s hot-stove league is a tin can over a camp­fire com­pared to the NBA’s mi­crowave since the play­offs ended. The ti­tle chase has mor­phed seam­lessly into the off-sea­son, faster than Cava­liers owner Dan Gil­bert sul­lied his team’s three-year run.

One mo­ment, LeBron James & Co. were cel­e­brat­ing their third con­sec­u­tive trip to the NBA Fi­nals. The next mo­ment, gen­eral man­ager David Griffin was re­warded with un­em­ploy­ment in­stead of the pro­mo­tion and siz­able raise that sane own­ers would’ve of­fered.

On the left coast, Jerry “The Logo” West has re­turned to Los An­ge­les, this time with the hap­less Clip­pers in­stead of the iconic Lak­ers. West’s close re­la­tion­ship with James has fu­eled spec­u­la­tion that the world’s best player might not wear pur­ple and gold if he takes his tal­ents to Hol­ly­wood.

Hav­ing ac­com­plished his mis­sion by win­ning a ti­tle for the homies — and with a bur­geon­ing en­ter­tain­ment em­pire in L.A., where he owns a house — James wouldn’t have to ex­plain leav­ing Cleve­land a sec­ond time.

Every team in the East gladly would cover mov­ing ex­penses, too. His re­lo­ca­tion process would be much quicker than his ag­ing process, which has con­fer­ence con­tenders on hold un­til fur­ther no­tice.

The league tilts west­ward, but vir­tu­ally all the drama in this 10-day off­sea­son has oc­curred on the right side of the Mis­sis­sippi.

Bos­ton and Philadel­phia have swapped Top 3 slots in Thurs­day’s draft. Chicago and In­di­ana have learned su­per­stars are stay­ing (Dwyane Wade) and leav­ing (Paul Ge­orge), re­spec­tively. New York has in­di­cated Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks’ pre­sumed build­ing block, could be on the trad­ing block.

The ma­neu­ver­ing has cre­ated in­trigue af­ter a sea­son that lacked sus­pense. There still isn’t much to won­der about in the West; bar­ring sig­nif­i­cant in­juries, the Golden State War­riors next sea­son should ap­pear in their fourth con­sec­u­tive NBA Fi­nals. If they make it five in a row in 2019, only the Celtics (10 straight) would rank higher.

That’s the beauty of this chaotic off-sea­son. We’re fit­ting the War­riors for ad­di­tional cham­pi­onship rings while gorg­ing on op­po­nents’ ef­forts to play spoiler. It’s no great mys­tery why the lat­ter holds ap­peal. The race for No. 2 has more twists and turns than the

War­riors’ sprint to an­other pa­rade.

As long as James stays put, the Cavs are fa­vorites to rep­re­sent the East. They’re in the run­ning to add Ge­orge or All-Star Jimmy But­ler. But if Cleve­land trades Kevin Love, it will miss his dou­ble-dou­bles. The ques­tion is whether an up­grade on de­fense is enough to com­pen­sate for a de­fi­ciency on the boards.

The other ques­tion re­gards the per­son call­ing the shots. A rookie GM like ru­mored can­di­date Chauncey Billups (who as a broad­caster sug­gested trad­ing Love for Carmelo Anthony) might in­flict more dam­age than the King can re­pair.

Philly could add po­ten­tial No. 1 pick Markelle Futz to the young core of Ben Sim­mons, Joel Em­bid and Dario Saric. It’s too early to pro­nounce for­mer GM Sam Hinkie a mas­ter­mind for build­ing a team that to­taled 66 wins the last three sea­sons. But that won’t stop smug Six­ers fans from chant­ing “Trust the Process” dur­ing Thurs­day’s pro­ceed­ings.

Hinkie didn’t prove any­thing new. Los­ing has al­ways led to high draft picks, be­fore and af­ter the lottery was in­sti­tuted. The Los An­ge­les Clip­pers picked first, sec­ond, third and fourth in the draft from 1998-2001.

They reached the play­offs once in the 10 sea­sons that fol­lowed.

Turns out that load­ing up on top picks is use­less when you choose, say, Michael Olowokandi at No.1 over­all in a 1998 draft that in­cludes Vince Carter, Dirk Now­itzki and Paul Pierce. While I un­der­stand the logic of land­ing in the lottery op­posed to be­ing a sev­enth- or eight-seeded play­off team, there’s no guar­an­tee that tank­ing will lead to ti­tles.

But hold­ing the draft so soon af­ter the ti­tle chase ends gives the NBA mo­men­tum that other leagues don’t gen­er­ate.

Then the ac­tion moves quickly to July 1, when teams can be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing with free agents and reach ver­bal agree­ments.

Be­tween the draft picks, trade ru­mors and po­ten­tial free-agent sign­ings, the NBA’s foot­print in sports fans’ minds doesn’t de­crease once the sea­son is over. In an era like this, where one team is clearly dom­i­nant, the buzz about prospec­tive moves can be more in­ter­est­ing than the re­cently con­cluded play­offs.

At least fans in for­lorn out­posts can con­vince them­selves that their teams are mak­ing strides.

Com­pet­ing on pa­per and in the­ory is much eas­ier than beat­ing the War­riors or Cavs on the court. Bos­ton will be dan­ger­ous again, per­haps with But­ler, Gor­don Hay­ward and re­in­force­ments from the draft. The Six­ers be­lieve they’ve got­ten closer in one week af­ter be­ing left in the dust for seven months.

But that’s why the NBA off­sea­son starts in a mi­crowave in­stead of wait­ing for a stove to heat up.

Dreams need to cook quickly be­fore the body gets cold.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

The New York Knicks have in­di­cated that for­ward Kristaps Porzingis, once a team build­ing block, could be avail­able in a trade.

New Los An­ge­les Clip­pers con­sul­tant Jerry West’s close re­la­tion­ship with Cleve­land Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James has fu­eled spec­u­la­tion that James may want to play on the West Coast in the fu­ture.

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