By Kevin White
THE NBA IS BACK — but did it ever really leave? This summer saw the Association finally hit year-round status, with an exciting offseason that saw many big-name players switching teams. The offseason has changed the shape of the league, and to look forward, let’s look back at the 10 most significant moves of the offseason.
(Quick rundown of the rules: if players were traded for one another, then they count in the same move; e.g. Oladipo to the Pacers and Paul George to the Thunder is the same move. Also, we’re only looking at trades and free agent signings, not the draft.)
10. Nick Young signs with the Golden State Warriors.
There’s a 10 percent chance this causes the Warriors to implode. The other 90 percent is we get to see NBA Champion Nick Young, which should rival NBA Champion JR Smith.
9. Dwight Howard traded to the Charlotte Hornets.
Howard is still a serviceable basketball player, but has not been a very good teammate. His return home to Atlanta was a failure. If he can redeem himself the Hornets, with Kemba and rookie Malik Monk, he could make noise in a weak Eastern Conference. More likely is a first-round exit with Howard pouting at lack of touches.
8. Dwyane Wade to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Wade has looked old over the past three or four years, leaving his prime the same time LeBron left Miami. Being back with his old running mate could help Wade’s career, and he provides the Cavs more offensive firepower. However, the defensive pairing of Wade and Isaiah Thomas or Derrick Rose in the Cavs backcourt will, to put it politely, not end well.
7. Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets.
Millsap has been a very good player throughout his career, and his signing with the Nuggets adds veteran leadership to a young, exciting team. A frontcourt with both Millsap and Nikola Jokic is a dangerous combo. The Nuggets nearly made the playoffs last season, and should manage to squeeze in among a loaded Western Conference.
6. Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Tom Thibodeau absolutely robbed his former employer, the Chicago Bulls, by trading for Jimmy Butler. Butler adds a level of defense that the T’wolves desperately need. The Wolves were many people’s pick last season to make the playoffs and make some noise. Jimmy Butler was an eight-seed when his running mates were washed up Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Now he has two under-24 first-overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns with which to work. The Wolves’ postseason drought should end this season.
5. Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Carmelo had his relationship with the New York Knicks sour, and eventually approved a trade. Joining reigning MVP Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City gives Carmelo the most talented teammate he has had since Allen Iverson in Denver. If Carmelo can learn to be a third option, the Thunder could be a threat to the Warriors. Senior Gabe Vergez (Berkeley, California) thinks after the trade for Anthony, “the Thunder are probably the second best team in the West,” and that Anthony moving into a lessened role will be good for both him and the team.
4. Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics.
Out of all the free-agent signings and trades that occurred this offseason, Hayward made the smartest one. He moves from an ultra-competitive Western Conference to a barren East, joining his college coach. Hayward was the most coveted free agent heading into free agency, and provides another option to the Celtics.
3. Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sam Presti was a busy general manager this offseason. George is a top-15 player, bringing a great two-way play to the team. If George can accept being a second-fiddle to Westbrook, which shouldn’t be hard, the Thunder will have provided the necessary help for Westbrook to succeed. The Thunder should improve from last year, and will be a tough beat for the Warriors
2. Chris Paul traded to the Houston Rockets.
In Paul, the Rockets get one of the best point guards of all time, and a second all-NBA guard to complement James Harden. Houston will have an All-Star guard on the court at all times this season. Neither Paul, Harden, nor head coach Mike D’Antoni have shown the ability to advance in the playoffs, and there remains a question of whether Paul will fit in the system. Houston gave a lot to the LA Clippers for Paul, and the Clippers may make some noise with Pat Beverley and Lou Williams joining the team.
1. Kyrie Irving traded to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and the Brooklyn Nets 1st Round Pick — this trade was a doozy.
Danny Ainge finally used the assets he had hoarded and sprung for a discontent Irving. The Cavaliers gain a contract year with Thomas, who has been outwardly angry at the Celtics organization for disloyalty. Crowder adds depth and defense to the team, and the Cavs have a high draft pick to start a quick rebuild if LeBron James leaves after this season. Sophomore Destin Newfont (Barnardsville, North Carolina), host of the Puget Sound Sports Hour on KUPS, identifies the pick as the most important part: “[The Cavaliers] can swap it for an extra piece to help them compete.” As for the Celtics, they upgrade at the point guard position, and free up space for highly-drafted Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the wing. These two teams will likely match up in the playoffs, and the animosity should be high.
Finals Prediction: The West has gotten better, both the Thunder and Rockets may compete with the Warriors, the Warriors have brought everyone of importance back and should still make the Finals. In the East, the Celtics have improved greatly, and this may be the first season in seven years that LeBron doesn’t make the finals. Warriors over Celtics in six.