NBA’s offseason intrigue already boiling over
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.
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.