My mother used to tell me to never stay all the way until the end of a party because nothing good ever happens.
There will be people who go to a party dressed in their finest and sit there until the lights come on trying to get someone to take home even long after the people they were originally looking at are gone and everyone that remains is either: drunk, not dancing, about to fight, or all three.
The NBA is not much different as far as the art of building a franchise and chasing a championship. There are 30 teams in the NBA and we get three-to-five teams we see as true championship contenders every year.
For championship teams, you want to maximize your moves and operate as if you know that you are only two-to-three years or one injury/player loss away from being very good instead of great.
For anyone else, it should be a constant balance of what is realistic in the short term, while having enough self-awareness to move forward if it is necessary.
Self-awareness in today’s NBA should be “Can we make the Warriors sweat?” If the answer is no, then the choice needs to be made for seeking help via free agency, a trade or by tanking depending on who you are.
Years of playoff shortcomings for franchises that are just outside of the “elite” bubble should have all of them at the point of making moves while their main pieces still have value. The Toronto Raptors were the first to “leave the party.”
Before Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan got either injured or too old the Raptors brass traded longtime fan favorite DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard.
Whether people agree with how the Raptors handled the trade or not, DeMar is in a very positive situation with San Antonio and Toronto gets a year to either convince Leonard to stay, plus they have a bunch of free cap space to throw at someone else in next year’s free agency if Leonard does leave.
I took a look at some other teams that might want to consider jumping ship before its too late based on how this season goes.
Portland Trail Blazers:
Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum have been electric during their time in Portland but the success has not followed them to the playoffs.
Widely regarded as the best backcourt outside of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State, the Portland Trail Blazers have lost 10 straight playoff games and lack the depth outside of Lillard, McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic (no one else averaged double figures) to get over the hump and truly challenge for a Western Conference Finals appearance.
A trade should be inevitable.
I hope John Wall has been training in the woods like Ryu to complete this look because, despite his claims, the Washington Wizards are and have been a second-tier team in the Eastern Conference.
During years marred by locker room issues and injuries, the Wizards have always been a lock for the playoffs but lacked the punch to bother the Raptors, Cavaliers, and Celtics during the tenure of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Dwight Howard is a new addition this year and he had moments last season that convinced me that the much-maligned big man is an upgrade over Marcin Gortat.
With LeBron James gone, the Wiz should look to make moves while they still can if they can’t make a dent this year. With Boston and Toronto looking like the favorites and the likes of Indiana, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee not far behind, one has to wonder what their front office plans to do if there is another playoff flop this year.
The Bucks have been in the conversation for the Eastern elite for the past few seasons thanks to matchup nightmare Giannis Antetokounmpo.
GIANNIS WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TO THAT MAN?!?!?!?!!!!!!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) April 22, 2018
However, their lack of production alongside the Greek Freak has led to disappointing finishes and they have somewhat settled into being a good, but not great, second-tier team in the East.
Quietly, they get my vote for one of the best offseasons in the NBA. Jabari Parker is back home in Chicago and though he is talented the Bucks didn’t give him the role he desired in last season’s playoffs.
The Milwaukee front office will continue their plans to surround their centerpiece with complimentary parts similar to what LeBron James’ teams have done.
The addition of Brook Lopez will give them their best offensive big man in years which will add a dimension on offense outside of Giannis.
The Bucks also brought back a familiar face in stretch big Ersan Ilyasova, who spent his first seven seasons in Milwaukee before most recently being a Philadelphia 76er.
Milwaukee will now have a much more open space for their stud to navigate and I will be looking forward to seeing if Antetekounmpo’s assist numbers go up at all this season with an increased chance to drive-and-kick.
That being said, I explored Giannis’s 2020 free agency in April and though players may preach loyalty, winning is a motivating factor and player mobility has never been greater in the NBA.
With LeBron James absent, many franchises are feeling like the Eastern Conference will be the most competitive and wide open it has been in years. The Bucks have the star power, youth, and depth to make a serious push for a Conference Finals appearance. The future outlook on the franchise might very well depend on it.