Geyer: Free agency shaping league in way not seen since pre-Warriors
Ellen Geyer | Tuesday, July 2, 2019
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
With the start of July, the floodgates of NBA free agency have been opened. With names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson all becoming unrestricted free agents, the contract frenzy has been thrilling — and it’s only been two days.
KD, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan to the Nets. Jimmy Butler to the Heat. D’Angelo Russell to the Warriors and Andre Iguodala to the Grizzlies. And that’s not even a fraction of it.
This summer’s free agency seems to be moving in a direction it hasn’t gone since the start of the Warriors-era: It’s breaking up Super Teams.
Yes, at first glance, it may seem like the Nets are becoming a Super Team of their own. But keep in mind Kevin Durant won’t be able to play for the majority of the 2019-2020 season. And as we saw in Cleveland from 2011-2014, Kyrie can’t succeed without a power forward, a LeBron-esq player who can carry the load. DeAndre Jordan won’t be that player — he’s not elite enough. KD will be there in 2020-2021, but until then, the Nets, albeit improved, still won’t have a shot at the NBA title.
And isn’t that the point of building a Super Team? To win an NBA title?
The only other contender as a 2019 free agency-built Super Team would be the new look Lakers, but that depends heavily on how the next few weeks go. Yes, as we saw in Cleveland, LeBron can carry the majority of the load. But he needs a little bit of help. In 2016, it was a whole cast of characters – Kyrie, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson among them. But when Kyrie left and the wheels fell off, Love seemed to be no longer interested and J.R. couldn’t be bothered to know the score of Game 1 of the NBA Finals (yes, 2017 still hurts).
In Los Angeles, LeBron was hurt for pretty much the first time in his career. But even when he was healthy, he couldn’t get started much with the lackluster shooters and underperforming rookies around him. Anthony Davis finding himself in a Lakers uniform certainly changes the game plenty, but there’s only so much the two of them can do without an outside shooter — and that’s why the next few weeks will be so vital. If LA can land a player like Kawhi? Game over.
But for the time being, the Super Team era remains broken by the Raptors.
Yes, Toronto won the title. But they’re not a Super Team. And that’s what was so glorious about the 2019 Finals — they finally gave the power back to the gritty, sixth-man franchises. At the end of the day, the Raptors didn’t win because they had more sheer talent. They won because they had unrelenting guys like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet — guys who stepped up when the stage was the biggest and the lights were the brightest. They broke what seemed to be an unbreakable system.
That’s why this free agency has been so interesting. The Warriors have lost two of their key pieces to other franchises — Durant and Iguodala. Thompson will be sidelined for the majority of the upcoming season with his ACL tear. We somehow find ourselves tasked with a question that hasn’t crossed our minds since 2014: Will the Golden State Warriors even make the NBA finals? Is it possible that they could face a rebuilding year?
The things a finals loss can do to you.
As for my beloved Cavaliers, it seems they’ll be on the outside looking in for yet another season. With John Beilein in his first professional season, he’ll have quite the learning curve awaiting him. Whether Cleveland will try a two-guard offense or trade Collin Sexton remains a mystery, but regardless, the Cavs don’t know how to run plays and the guys left from the LeBron era won’t be particularly motivated to work hard since they know they have no shot without their humble, No. 23-clad leader.
Regardless, this year’s free agency has shaken up the league in a way that hasn’t been seen since the pre-Warriors era. With so many questions and almost as many players floating around, the 2019-2020 season will certainly be an interesting one.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.