The National Basketball Association has never been known as the league of parity, especially compared to the other major sports as two teams own nearly half of the sport’s championships. Therefore, given the NBA’s track record of being dominated by hallmark franchises and generational superstars, it should come as no surprise that one team is in the midst of a dynasty. However, since Kevin Durant’s defection to the Golden State Warriors, the NBA is in a state that has not been seen in any sport since the Yankees of the 1920s ran baseball and the Celtics stretch in the 1960s. Since Golden State is such a favorite, the league is becoming boring to many fans as we just saw them sweep arguably the greatest player of all time. According to many reports and from the source himself, Kevin Durant is likely to remain in the Bay Area, but let’s take a look in a hypothetical world in which the Summer of 2018 could make the NBA a free-for-all where there would be no boring basketball in May and June. All these moves aren’t extremely likely, but they are not 2K level insane.
1. Kevin Durant Elects to Leave Golden State
This is the most important move of all and really the linchpin to a competitive and entertaining NBA. As all NBA fans know, and try to forget, the 2014 MVP announced his next chapter would be in Northern California joining a team that had just broke the NBA record for wins in a season. I’m not going to get too far into the decision, we all know it was weak, and the rings he won were not earned nor carry the same value as championships of the past. Durant is clearly a man who hears his criticism, and maybe the fact that he did what he set out to do with the Warriors will provoke him to leave to prove he is capable of winning it all without the help of three other future Hall of Famers. For this scenario, let’s have KD opt-in to his one year option and force a sign-and-trade with his hometown team the Washington Wizards. Pundits such as Stephen A. Smith and Nick Wright have floated this idea even though Durant did not even take a meeting with them when he held visits in the Hamptons for his free agency in 2016. Anyway, to make the salaries match, Washington would ship Otto Porter Jr. to Golden State where he would have no problem filling the Harrison Barnes role from before Durant’s arrival. If this move were to happen, Golden State would still be a title contender loaded with versatile players and 3 All-Stars; however, they would not be the unbeatable force they are now with Durant. Additionally, a new contender would emerge in the East as Durant would be the leader of his hometown team flanked by an All-Star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. This is obviously the most important move as Kevin Durant playing anywhere other than Golden State makes the league far more interesting, but other marquee free agents could alter the landscape as well.
2. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard Join Forces in LA
To the anger and disappointment of many Celtics fans, this needs to be said: The NBA is better when the Lakers are good. LeBron going to Los Angeles has been discussed all year, but with the idea of Paul George as his sidekick. Frankly, George just is not as good a player as Leonard and the Purple and Gold cannot pass up an opportunity to pair LeBron with another top 5 player in the league. Kawhi’s mysterious situation with the Spurs has been followed throughout the year, and if tensions are as high as they appear to be with Kawhi neglecting to support his team during a Playoff run, he could be on his way out the door. Reports have said that Gregg Popovich does not want to deal Kawhi within the Western Conference, but Kawhi has all the leverage as many teams will not deal for a player with only one year left of team control without any commitment. Assuming Kawhi wants the bright lights of Hollywood, the Lakers could offer Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma to the Spurs which as good a package as San Antonio could hope for if it’s looking for young players to rebuild. This would also lead to the departures of Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Isaiah Thomas, all of whom were viewed as placeholders for a rebuilding season. After the ink is dried on these moves, a new elite duo is born that could rival Kobe and Shaq in Laker lore.
3. Paul George Trusts the Process
Sorry, Russ. Paul George failing to go home to the Lakers does not ensure him staying in Oklahoma City as he bolts for Philadelphia. Many were excited to see how the “OK3” would fare after Sam Presti’s bold offseason, but after a disappointing season that concluded with a loss to the Utah Jazz in the First Round, it’s not hard to predict how the team would do if the band got back together. For this scenario, we’re trying to make a league with as many competitive teams as possible, and the addition of George in Philadelphia would dovetail Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid perfectly. In essence, George is an All-Star version of Robert Covington with an elite offensive game that complements Ben Simmons skills perfectly. While LeBron is the best player in the world, George is an ideal fit in Philadelphia that would expedite the process and add a veteran presence to an elite young core.
4. DeMarcus Cousins Resigns With New Orleans and Makes a Full Recovery
It took every last bit of restraint to not put: “Pelicans Trade Anthony Davis to the Celtics.” However, because this is about this ideal scenario for the league, I refrained from doing so because it would make the league unfair. Since Kevin Durant has already left the Warriors in this universe, the Celtics as currently constructed are more than capable of winning a championship, assuming health. Now looking at the Pelicans, the team went on a run after Boogie went down with a torn Achilles leading many to think the team was better with Anthony Davis alone at center instead of the Twin Towers. While the modern NBA is all about defensive versatility and switching, talent trumps all, and the ability to have two of the top 12 players in the NBA cannot be discarded. Along with the breakout emergence of Jrue Holiday this postseason, a healthy DeMarcus Cousins could wreak havoc on the NBA as most teams lineups get smaller and smaller. If Cousins takes a slight discount and allows New Orleans to retain Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, the Pelicans could be a force in this new and improved NBA.
5. Toronto and Minnesota Swap Stars
One rumor that was floated around earlier this season was DeMar DeRozan for Andrew Wiggins. I’m not sure how validity it holds, but boy would it be interesting. Toronto has been stuck on a hamster wheel as a good regular season team that gets its doors blown off by LeBron every year in the Playoffs, and even if LeBron leaves the East, Boston and Philadelphia look to have already surpassed them. In this move, Toronto will be betting on Canada native Andrew Wiggins to live up to his number one pick expectations as he enters the first year of his max extension. For the Timberwolves, one of the better teams in the Western Conference before Jimmy Butler got injured, DeRozan would provide more consistency on offense and defense and help fit the timeline of a team ready to win now. If Karl-Anthony Towns makes the leap from stat-stuffer to the truly transcendent player he looks like he could be, then the Wolves could be a dark horse to win the West with a KD-less Warriors.
6. Giannis Gets Help as the Cavs Press the Reset Button
LeBron has already deserted Cleveland for the second time, and the only valuable assets left are the 8th pick and Kevin Love. This time around Cleveland takes the long-view approach to rebuilding and ships Kevin Love to Milwaukee in a sign-and-trade for Jabari Parker. Coming off two ACL surgeries, Parker is a risk, but he is a young player with great potential that can lead a core with the future lottery picks the Cavs will accrue over the next couple of seasons as they wait for the deals of JR Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and Tristan Thompson to expire. For the Bucks, they will be acquiring a proven All-Star still in his prime while his value is at a low point. The Bucks pulled the trigger for Eric (Drew) Bledsoe early in 2017 and adding Love will make for an interesting season in Milwaukee as Giannis Antetokounmpo develops into a superstar. Due to Parker’s injury, Milwaukee will likely have to add their first-round pick in this year’s draft to entice the Cavaliers. Moreover, since Milwaukee already dealt its pick next year in the Bledsoe trade it will have to wait 30 days after the draft to trade the selected player. This is the same situation as when Cleveland traded Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love in 2014 as teams cannot go two consecutive drafts without a first-round selection due to the Stepien Rule.
7. Portland Acquires DeAndre Jordan
Many reputable NBA insiders such as Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst have floated the idea of breaking up Portland’s dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum which still could happen, just not this offseason. DeAndre Jordan was expected to opt out of his $24 million option, but with the market so depressed and such few teams having cap space, Jordan would be wise to opt-in and test free agency in 2019. The Clippers, now run by Jerry West, desire to be competitive, but that just does not make sense for the franchise at this point. The team already traded Blake Griffin’s albatross contract and lost Chris Paul last offseason. Additionally, the team’s first-round pick goes to the Celtics if it lands outside the lottery, so that provides even more incentive to rebuild. In this scenario, Portland offloads the brutal contracts of Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard while sweetening the deal with their first-round pick, 24th overall, and promising center Zach Collins who was selected 10th overall last year. This deal provides Los Angeles with a clear path to rebuild as it would have three first-round selections in this year’s loaded draft, while Portland would have another year to see how Lillard and McCollum can progress with an All-Star big replacing Jusuf Nurkic and covering up lapses on defense.
8. Houston Brings the Band Back Together
Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey has not made his obsession of taking down the Warriors a secret. Even after landing Chris Paul last offseason and coming one quarter away from the NBA Finals, Houston appears to be pushing for LeBron James. Houston appeared to be the biggest threat to Golden State in 2017 pushing them to seven games in the Conference Finals even with Paul missing the final two games of the series. With a more balanced NBA, Houston is still poised to contend by simply resigning their own free agents, most notably Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza. Capela is due for a huge raise, but for a team on the cusp of a title run, luxury tax concerns should not be interfering with keeping the third most important player on the team. Just like the Celtics, as long as the Rockets stay healthy and bring back key pieces, the team should be in the thick of things come May.
9. Michael Jordan Finally Deals Kemba Walker
The Charlotte Hornets are an absolute mess mired in mediocrity with marginal players making twice than what they should. The only valuable asset the team has is Kemba Walker on the final year of his team-friendly deal. Unfortunately for Charlotte and newly hired general manager Mitch Kupchak, the previous administration waited too long holding onto Walker as his value has dipped with only one season of team control left. This offseason, the Denver Nuggets should push all the chips to the middle of the table and pull off a move for Walker. While Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have developed into a great duo, neither is a true point guard who can run an offense like Walker. The team has some bad contracts with Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur likely to exercise their player options, but with Nikola Jokic making under $2 million, the Nuggets have one more year to create a nucleus that can compete. In this deal, the Nuggets move the expiring contract of Kenneth Faried and the 14th overall pick for Walker. The Nuggets missed out on their goal to make the Playoffs on the final day of the regular season in an overtime battle with Minnesota. While it could be expensive, Denver should take advantage of the young players on rookie deals to create a dynamic core going forward. Last year the team signed All-Star Paul Millsap who missed much of last season due to injury, but adding Walker would create one of the best offenses in the NBA. Furthermore, as the bad contracts of Chandler, Arthur, and Mason Plumlee expire, the Nuggets will be able to pay its core players. Defense and luxury tax be damned, this could be one of the best offenses the NBA has seen.
10. Boston Brings Back Their Backbone
Just like Houston, the Boston Celtics had a lead in Game 7 of the Conference Finals without two of its All-Stars, so bringing the band back together seems like the best option for the Green especially with LeBron James going west. The Celtics had the number one defense in the NBA and a lot of the team’s success can be contributed to Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Most NBA fans know the polarizing game of Smart who will brick a three on one end and then sprint back to draw a charge on the other. His importance is well documented, but Aron Baynes was the unsung hero for the Celtics in 2017. He started 67 games and provided toughness in the paint defending opposing centers when other teams went big. Baynes even broke out as a 3 point sniper knocking down 11 of 23 from deep in the Playoffs. If the Celtics are able to get both of them back, the team should be one of the clear front-runners to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. For Smart, he could either bet on himself and take the qualifying offer in hopes for a big payday next offseason, or he could play it safe and take a long-term deal for less money than he hoped for at the start of the season.
Doesn’t the NBA seem a lot more appealing now? After these transactions, there are at least 10 teams with a realistic chance at an NBA Title. The fate of the NBA relies on Kevin Durant; he proved everything he could in Golden State; now he needs to move elsewhere to improve not only himself but also the league as a whole. I will be dropping the list of Starting Lineups in another article to outline the layout of the league after these moves.