It’s the week of July 4th but in the NBA some of the biggest fireworks have started early.
Free agency kicked off yesterday and true to form the ball got rolling before the 6 pm deadline when news leaked that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would both be Brooklyn bound.
Unless you are a Knicks fan yesterday was a really exciting time in the NBA where parity will be more present than it has been in nearly a decade.
Here are some of my initial thoughts from yesterday and how these moves will shape the NBA storyline going forward.
Kemba Walker is On a Contender!!!
When news reports dropped that Kemba Walker was willing to sign with the Charlotte Hornets for less than the supermax I began to wonder if the NBA should start putting players into the concussion protocol when they make perplexing decisions.
Thankfully, basketball fans will get to see Walker outside of one of the league’s wastelands and on a team that should be in the thick of the playoff hunt for the first time in his career.
Kemba Walker on @notthefakeSVP "I gave that organization every single thing I could give them. Now it's about competing at the highest level & we all know Boston is doing that year in & year out. I want to be part of something special in terms of competing at the highest level"
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) July 1, 2019
The Boston Celtics understandably won’t have the same level of expectations of last years squad, but there is enough talent on the roster to win games and have a promising ceiling if Walker delivers and the organization gets the leap forward from their young talent that they were expecting last season.
Getting a commitment from Walker is a huge rebound for an organization that looked to be stranded in the water after losing two stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. After robbing the Nets a few years ago it appeared that Boston could have possibly been headed towards a rebuild two years after knocking on the door of the NBA finals. With Walker in place, Boston is still relevant and will just need to work on assembling depth around him, particularly in the frontcourt.
A Smarter, More Patient Knicks Franchise
I’m probably in the minority here, but I am thoroughly impressed with the Knicks and their methodical approach to team building these days.
They hung up the phone on the Rockets when they called trying to strap them with Chris Paul’s contract. They also went with R.J. Barrett in the draft instead of taking the high-risk questionable-reward move of getting Darius Garland.
Yesterday, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne dropped the news that owner Jim Dolan was not willing to offer Kevin Durant a max contract.
The Knicks and owner Jim Dolan were not prepared to offer Kevin Durant a full max contract due to concerns over his recovery from the Achilles injury, league sources tell me and @wojespn. Knicks officials are in Los Angeles tonight, meeting with free agents such as Julius Randle.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 30, 2019
That rumbling you hear in the background is the sound of Knicks fans still crying and trying to call out of work. How could you let Kevin Durant go? He’s arguably the best player in the world you should throw the max at him even if he has no knees right?
The Knicks have a lengthy history of caving to public pressure and throwing massive contracts at risky veterans. Granted, Durant is not Stephon Marbury, Derrick Rose or Amare Stoudemire. Durant’s game is more skill based than explosive so there is some reason to believe he will come back and remain effective.
However, the Knicks are more than one star away from being in serious contention. Even in a perfect situation Irving and Durant would likely still need more help in order to threaten for championships. Maxing out Kyrie and rolling the dice on Durant’s recovery would end the rebuild but possibly have New York stuck as a good, but not great team in a league that demands greatness.
Photoshopped dreams of Durant, Irving and Zion Williamson have turned into $135 million worth of Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, and Reggie Bullock. You will see a ton of jokes and memes but the reality is they are all on two-year contracts and keep the Knicks in play for a massive 2021 free agency play. Every contract they inked yesterday is extremely team friendly and should be easy to move in potential trades.
The Knicks have young players with upside, great contracts, and exciting cap flexibility. Congrats to them on resisting the public outcry and playing the long game. That is how you build a contender.
The City Is Under New Management
Brooklyn did it.
I was one of the voices questioning why the Brooklyn Nets would move D’Angelo Russell after his all-star campaign for a more expensive, older Kyrie Irving. With Kevin Durant’s commitment yesterday now everything makes sense.
Durant and Irving not only joined forces but also left money on the table in order to get DeAndre Jordan to join them as well. A big issue in their series against the 76ers in last year’s playoffs was their inability to match up physically with Philadelphia’s massive lineup.
Jordan is being brought in for the same reason Toronto brought in Marc Gasol. He will be a big body that will be able to stand up to Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo down low. You can’t completely stop either player, but Jarett Allen is not enough of a roadblock at this point in his career.
Brooklyn will have to wait a year to get Durant’s services. However, after extending Spencer Dinwiddie mid-season and acquiring Irving they will be in the playoffs this year and should be in title contention for the 2021 season.
They still have some tweaking to do with their roster and need to decide how to attack this season without Durant. Caris Levert was the team’s best player before injury and Dinwiddie would have had a major case for 6th man of the year if he remained healthy. No matter what they do Brooklyn will be formidable.
Durant’s recovery is no sure thing but even if he loses a step he is seven-feet tall and has an unblockable turnaround jumper. Even in a reduced state, he could have a great second-act as a Nowitski-type power forward with even better defense.
Someone give Sean Marks the key to the city.
Pelicans Operating With Surgical Precision
The Pelicans have made all of their big moves already but did some important things yesterday regardless.
Getting JJ Redick on a 2-year contract was a massive get for a roster that is short on shooters and experience. With Redick, they get both in addition to one of the great professionals in the game today.
In Philadelphia Redick was an invaluable part of the rotation as one of the premier pick-and-roll threats in the NBA. He shoots well off the catch both while standing still or drifting. His high accuracy on jump shots will keep defenses stretched and leave the lanes open for the Pelicans’ multiple slashers. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson will both benefit from playing alongside a shooter of this caliber.
It should be noted that the Pels also landed Derrick Favors in a trade that will bring immediate defensive impact to an already strong defensive team. New Orleans should be right alongside Philadelphia and Milwaukee as some of the top defensive teams in the league next season.
D’Angelo to Golden State?!?!
I initially wasn’t sure what to make of the sign-and-trade that will put D’Angelo Russell in a Warriors jersey next season, but after some thought and squinting in the light there can be some sense made of this.
Golden State will not have Klay Thompson this year and lost out on Kevin Durant. That is a massive amount of offensive production that would be tough to replace with only Curry as a viable offensive threat.
This move won’t put the Warriors back in championship contention but it makes their offense viable. Steph Curry excels off the ball and the addition of Russell keeps Golden State with a dynamic offensive backcourt that contains two guys who excel in pick-and-roll. Russell can provide Curry with rest and they can take turns initiating the offense while using the playmaking talents of Draymond Green to exploit mismatches created in PnR situations.
The problem to solve here will be defense. Curry is not a minus defender but he was able to avoid being exposed because he was surrounded by Thompson and the recently departed Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. D’Angelo is no enforcer either. Without as much defensive talent on the roster, the Warriors will need to decide how they are going to handle things on that side of the floor.
With this move, Golden State will likely lose Demarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, and maybe more. There will be plenty of work to do for the rest of the summer as they work to fill the roster and fight for a playoff spot in the re-tooled Western Conference.
Quieter Winners From Yesterday
Utah Jazz – The Jazz may be the best team in the Western Conference right now. Mike Conley is already in as an upgrade at point guard. GM Justin Zanik doubled-down on the trade with a strong performance yesterday that brought in sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic from Indiana. Utah now has a more versatile, dynamic offense and should remain elite defensively. Right now they are my darkhorse finals pick.
Indiana Pacers – Bogdanovic’s departure will be eased with the massive addition of Malcolm Brogdon to the roster. Brogdon and Victor Oladipo should pair well together as both guys can play on or off the ball. Indiana also added TJ Warren on draft night and Jeremy Lamb yesterday. This team is young and exciting and will be one of the bigger, more physical starting lineups in the NBA.