The paradigm shifting NBA free agency many expected has now come to pass. However, it has not followed the path most had predicted. It has been a tumultuous first few days of free agency, and with the draft firmly in the rear-view mirror, we can begin to take stock of a summer that will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the league.
The Warriors have solidified the one position that might have been considered a weakness
LeBron James, despite having migrated to the Los Angeles Lakers in search of a sustained avenue to titles, has not managed to create the superteam his supporters (myself included) envisioned. This shows a willingness that has rarely been present in James to play a waiting game, perhaps understanding that given the other enormous move that has taken place in the last few days, any organisation he may have joined would be best waiting at least a year to attempt to maximise their ability contend.
Speaking of other earth-shattering moves, All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins decided to join the current champions, the Golden State Warriors, on a one year deal worth far less than would usually be accorded to a player of his track record. The effect of this is quite clear- the Warriors have solidified the one position that might have been considered a weakness, and have filled it with arguably the best player at that position. Cousins is injured, yes, and will likely be out for some of the year, but even if he is limited when he does return to the court, he will be able to cement the remaining (and almost invisible) cracks in the Warrior’s foundation. He can spread the floor and pass to fit in with their current system, and his rebounding dominance should prevent some of the issues the squad faced during their last playoff run.
The Warriors have pencilled in their names on the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third year running
It is not only that the uber-rich got richer, it is that their competitors got poorer. The Houston Rockets, the only team truly able to push the Warriors to the brink last season, lost a key piece in forward Trevor Ariza, and have no space to truly replace him. In the East, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will recover from health issues and improve organically given their prodigiously young rosters, but neither have been able to add the piece that could take them over the top were they to meet last year’s Warriors in the Finals- let alone this year’s potential iteration.
While there is still a season to play, it seems that unless lightning strikes in the form of injuries to a number of the Warriors’ key players (never an eventuality one should wish for) or a quantum leap forward by another team, the Warriors have pencilled in their names on the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third year running.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that franchises regroup and attempt to better themselves down the line
The significance of this is enormous. It may well be the reason that LeBron’s Lakers are unwilling to part with major assets in a deal for former Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Even with Leonard on board- as he might be in a year’s time when he could hit free agency and move to LA for nothing- it seems unlikely that the Lakers, or any team for that matter, would be able to truly challenge Golden State. In that sense, conventional wisdom would dictate that franchises regroup and attempt to better themselves down the line rather than giving everything up to chase a title this year.
All in all, it has been a paradigm-shifting week for the NBA, with the competitive balance of the league being questioned. It has also pushed the all-out arms race a year down the line, when certainly more money and probably more impact players will be available in free agency.