NBA Teams Work to Complete the Puzzle
Durant to the Nets, Davis to the Lakers
July 4, 2019
NBA Free Agency is like putting a puzzle together. For the thirty NBA teams, it can just be finding that missing piece. Or there can be many missing pieces. Or maybe, the puzzle needs to be completely redesigned.
In the first 24 hours of NBA free agency, there are teams that fit all those descriptions. For the causal NBA fan and even a diehard NBA fan, some teams will look completely different.
In the Western Conference of the NBA, where the Lakers and Clippers call home, the changes start at the top. The Golden State Warriors lost forward Kevin Durant to free agency. Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Warriors turned around and traded for all-star guard D'Angelo Russell, a restricted free agent. The Nets signed free agent guard Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtics and former Clipper center DeAndre Jordan. The Nets will look like a completely different team next season.
The Warriors have won five straight Western Conference titles, as well as three NBA titles in the past five seasons. They will have a different look next season, with Russell and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.
Klay Thompson, their star shooting guard, will be lost for a good portion of the 2019-2020 season with a knee injury suffered in the NBA finals. The move to acquire Russell gives the Warriors a shot at going to the NBA finals for a sixth straight season.
Standing in their way will be several Western Conference teams, starting with the Lakers. The Lakers have superstar LeBron James and recently acquired superstar Anthony Davis. The Lakers have taken a different route to solving their puzzle, trading away their entire roster to clear enough salary cap space to sign a third superstar.
With about $33 million in salary cap space, the Lakers immediate target is free agent Kawhi Leonard, who recently led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA Championship. If Leonard decides to join the Lakers, they would be the prohibitive favorites to win the 2020 NBA Championship.
They would end up filling the rest of the roster with free agents, paying NBA minimum wages in the hope that good players will join with the opportunity to win an NBA Championship. They would resemble a team full of mercenaries. But Leonard is also interested in the Clippers and could return to the Raptors as well.
Most teams put their puzzle together through the draft, adding key players in trades or free agency. The Warriors won their championships with a core of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, all players acquired through the draft.
The current Celtics roster has nine players on rookie contracts. They are trying to develop young talent in the same way the Warriors did. The Lakers will go into the 2019-2020 season with two rookie contracts, Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker.
The Clippers have built their roster through the draft and trades. They need one superstar to get to the next level, to fill out their puzzle. Leonard would change the future for the Clippers, otherwise, the Clippers will just be another good team in the Western Conference.
The Clippers went 48-34 last season in the Western Conference, which earned them the 8th and last seed in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, 48-34 was good enough for the 5th seed. The Western Conference is very competitive.
The New Orleans Pelicans, thanks to the Anthony Davis trade with the Lakers, are putting together a team that should be very good for the next five to ten years. Getting Zion Williamson in the draft lottery with the #1 pick overall was fortunate. Williamson is already being projected to be the next LeBron James.
With the players and draft picks acquired from the Lakers, the Pelicans will have six young players on rookie contracts, along with two future 1st round picks from the Lakers and all-star guard Jrue Holiday.
The Pelicans also signed free agent sharpshooter J.J. Reddick to a $26.5 million, two-year contract and acquired veteran power forward Derrick Favors in a trade with the Utah Jazz. The Jazz upgraded their point guard position with the acquisition of Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies.
Conley averaged 21 points and six assists per game for Memphis last season. The Jazz also added free agent forward Bojan Bogdanovic from the Indiana Pacers. Both the Jazz and the Pelicans will be much improved next season, and along with Portland, Denver and Sacramento, will make the western conference very competitive.
Ultimately, Leonard holds the key to completing the puzzle for both the Lakers and Clippers. His decision on which team to play for could dramatically shift the balance of power next season in the Western Conference.