Will the NBA survive the takeover by its stars?by J.W. Miller on 07/15/19
By the end of this week, we will be talking about the NFL and can finally put behind us the most tumultuous, exhilarating, frustrating and confusing NBA off-season in history. Saints rookies report to training camp on Thursday, which means the end of our annual hibernation is finally over and we can turn our attention to what might be Drew Brees’ last best chance to get back to a Super Bowl. But before we take a big swig of that joy juice, we need to gargle with something strong that will get that NBA taste out of our mouths.
The above adjectives about the NBA’s recent chaos didn’t just fall out of my Thesaurus. They represent the emotions that have persisted after a handful of stars took it upon themselves to create several super teams designed to win the 2020 NBA championship. Tumultuous? No doubt for most teams, their fans, innocent bystanders and the sycophantic NBA media who were egging it all on. Exhilarating? Sure, for the fans and observers of teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and Rockets who added all-star performers and millions of dollars to their payrolls. Certainly confusing for the Celtics, Knicks and Heat who added some pieces, lost others but failed to entice multiple targets to join in the fun. And frustrating definitely for teams like the Pelicans, Thunder and even the champion Raptors who lost all-star players and are now downshifting to the Regroup gear.
The NBA is under siege by its own stars, and things might never be the same again. Ask NBA owners and most club executives who are trying to pick up the pieces of a league they once controlled. LeBron James introduced this system in 2010 when he and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade to form a so-called super team in Miami and they won two titles. James, in fact, strongly believed that he and Davis could convince Kawhi Leonard to join them with the Lakers. But by taking the hint from LeBron, Leonard has taken the NBA to a potential crossroads. The manner in which he persuaded Paul George to push for a trade out of Oklahoma City, despite two seasons and a player option for a third left on his contract, has raised the volume on a divisive debate about stars recruiting stars and the control top players seem increasingly intent on asserting.
Are Leonard, LeBron and Kevin Durant, who packaged himself and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn, too powerful? Free agency has taken a back seat to forced trades in the star acquisition department. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? That question will be answered in time, maybe if James and Anthony Davis don’t produce a title with the Lakers next season? James will be a year older and Davis has been sidelined by nagging injuries over the years. What happens with the other tenant in the building when Leonard and George don’t give the Clippers the keys to the arena? Can Durant and Irving actually make the woebegone Nets title-worthy? Can James Harden and Russell Westbrook co-exist in Houston long enough to outshine the other western teams?
Meanwhile, some pretty good teams are laying in the weeds despite losing significant players. The Warriors won without Durant and have quietly restocked the depth behind Steph Curry and Draymond Green, although Klay Thompson’s injury might be more hurtful than Durant’s defection. The Raptors won more than 50 games without Leonard, but can the confidence of a championship and their blue-collar system again carry them deep into the playoffs? The Bucks had the league’s best record during a season when star Giannis Antetokounmpo says he was playing at only 60 percent of his potential.
At the more familiar end of the standings, a number of thriving small-market teams are generating their own buzz. The Jazz, Pacers and the Pelicans appear poised to make jumps in the wake of their smart off-season maneuvers. Although it’s been a wild ride for the locals, the Davis trade generated possibly two veteran starters in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball plus a raft of first-round draft choices. Hoops boss David Griffin has done a remarkable job of creating a team from whole cloth that will, at least for 2019-20, be built around former all-star guard Jrue Holliday.
Griffin was touched by moonlight when the Pelicans won the draft lottery and selected Zion Williamson, and then he parlayed the No. 4 pick from the Lakers into guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and center Jaxon Hayes who had some dazzling moments in the NBA summer league. Add free agent shooter J.J. Redick from the Sixers, and Griffin has the nucleus that can only be supplemented by the assets of future first-round draft picks. Just not this year.
But we don’t have to worry about the Pelicans for a while. Not when Brees and the Saints are about to either dazzle us or tease us over the next few months. In any case, that's my last word on the NBA for a while. Consider our attention officially shifted!