The NBA trade deadline just shook up the league and set up an intriguing playoff race, especially in the East. Nikola Mirotic is now with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marc Gasol has been traded to the Toronto Raptors, and Tobias Harris is headed to the Philadelphia 76ers.
This was not a boring trade deadline by any means, but it feels like most basketball fans remain consumed by a deal that didn’t happen. That would be the New Orleans Pelicans’ decision to rebuff the Los Angeles Lakers and hang onto Anthony Davis until the offseason.
And with that, the stage is set for another explosive summer across the NBA. For as much fun as the playoffs are going to be this year, the real excitement is going to come during the offseason when so many superstars will be set to change teams.
Count the superstars hitting free agency
Kawhi Leonard is also hitting the market, with the Los Angeles Clippers and incumbent Toronto Raptors preparing to fight over one of the game’s premier two-way forwards. L.A. has made its interest in Leonard super obvious.
Kyrie Irving has already publicly reneged on his preseason promise to re-sign in Boston. Would he really leave the Celtics for the Knicks? What if his rekindled friendship LeBron James leads to a max offer from the Lakers?
Can the 76ers keep both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris? Can someone sign Kemba Walker away from the Hornets? How much interest does DeMarcus Cousins get after a rehab stint with the Warriors? Can the Bucks afford to re-sign both Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe?
With so many teams poised to have major cap space this summer, free agency is going to be bananas. You might as well keep Woj on text alert until August.
Plus ... Anthony Davis is going to get traded
Anthony Davis is the biggest superstar to hit the NBA trade market in decades. By holding onto him until the summer, the Pelicans just started a bidding war that will create major ramifications throughout the rest of the league.
The Celtics are the biggest winner of the Pelicans’ decision to hang onto Davis for now. Will GM Danny Ainge offer Jayson Tatum in a potential trade offer? Will Boston really go all-in for Davis without assurance he’ll sign a long-term deal? And how does the Celtics’ pursuit of Davis impact Irving’s free agency?
We know the Lakers are desperate to land Davis. Los Angeles has already offered every non-LeBron player on the roster, with multiple first round draft picks and salary cap relief to the Pelicans. Is there any chance New Orleans will accept the Lakers’ offer this summer, or will the Pelicans go out of their way to trade Davis anywhere but LA?
You can also expect there to be a mystery team that gets involved. No one expected Leonard to land with the Raptors a year ago at this time. Even if he won’t commit to a long-term deal right away, one year with a player of Anthony Davis’ caliber is enormously valuable.
What do the Lakers do if they don’t get AD?
LeBron James will be heading into his 16th season next year. The Lakers have already blown their first year with LeBron — even if they make the playoffs, it will be as a low seed. If the Pelicans send Davis elsewhere, how will LA respond this summer?
The Lakers could theoretically save their cap space for 2020 free agency, when Davis is expected to hit the open market, but that’s another wasted year with LeBron. Expect Magic Johnson and company to make a big swing if they can’t get Davis. That could mean a max offer to one of this year’s marquee free agents. It could also mean targeting another star on the trade market with the same package the Pelicans rejected.
One thing is for sure: the Lakers are going to do something bold if they can’t get Davis. We just don’t know what yet.
The Zion effect
The NBA draft lottery is being held on Tuesday, May, 14. That’s the day we’ll find out where Zion Williamson will start his professional career.
Williamson has put a massive gap between himself and his peers during his freshman season at Duke. He’s a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. This is a generational talent with an unparalleled combination of strength, agility, and explosiveness, while showing remarkable offensive efficiency, impressive feel for the game, and game-changing ability defensive. Simply put, Williamson is a stud in the making.
If the Knicks land the No. 1 pick, is Durant more likely to sign in New York? Is it possible a team would consider trading the rights to Williamson in a package for Anthony Davis? Landing the No. 1 pick would immediately change the calculus of any team’s rebuild overnight.
The NBA is run by superstars and Williamson will be one. This feels like it could be the most meaningful lottery since 2003.
The hypotheticals will break your brain
Prepare yourself for a superstar tango throughout the NBA this summer. There are so many different possibilities.
The rumors connecting Kevin Durant to the Knicks can’t be ignored. If he lands in New York, does Durant try to recruit Kyrie Irving away from Boston? Would his presence allow the Knicks to cash in their best young talent — led by Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox — along with their top draft pick in an attempt to land Davis on the trade market?
Meanwhile, Boston is trying to convince Irving to re-sign while trading for Davis and convincing him to agree to an extension, as well.
The Clippers might be the biggest sleeper in all of this. Could they land Leonard and Irving? What about Leonard and Jimmy Butler? The Clips also have an impressive collection of assets after the Tobias Harris trade they can package to be a player on the trade market. Don’t count out the Nets, either, who have max cap space and continue to improve.
All the while, the Lakers have to do something. Is there any chance they can convince Klay Thompson to leave the Bay to join LeBron?
Most importantly, how will the Warriors respond if they lose Durant?
The trade deadline was good, but this summer is going to be even better. Superstar movement has never been more en vogue than it is right now. The NBA is better for it.