A lot happened during the 2018 NBA Offseason. Drama tends to take over the whole process and it normally starts with a single domino in order for all hell to break loose. It was so intense, that Free Agency was unable to make it to midnight on July 1st as Paul George’s news of staying with the Oklahoma City Thunder broke just before the clock hit 12:00. It escalated from there as the next big piece to fall was the announcement of LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers just hours after Paul George. There were some other key signings in between LBJ and PG, a big one being Trevor Ariza leaving the Houston Rockets in order to play with the Phoenix Suns. The offseason was just getting warmed up when DeMarcus Cousins broke the internet by announcing his signing with the Golden State Warriors, further cementing them as the super villains of the 2018-2019 season. More consequential signings ensued, followed by a huge heartbreaking trade. Needless to say, there’s a lot to analyze – so let’s get started.
The Houston Rockets weren’t major players in free agency, but had significant consequences to their team. Chris Paul announced he was staying with the Rockets right after Paul George’s bomb and got a max contract, which became good news for them, but then Trevor Ariza chucked the deuces and all of a sudden the team was in trouble. Ariza was a major weapon on that team, he normally defended the opponent’s best player – the prime example of the coveted three and D player in this era of basketball. The Rockets also lost Luc Mbah a Moute to free agency, another player that compared to Ariza in terms of defensive ability being able to guard wing players and even some of the games’ big men. Anything can happen in the league, but expect a decline for the Rockets.
(Projection: 3rd Seed in the Western Conference, and 2nd round exit in the playoffs)
What an offseason for the Toronto Raptors, and what a roller coaster of emotions. The team had a consistently good player capable of providing the team with regular season success that the organization had never reached before – a player that embraced Toronto, and loved playing there, making the city and the country his home. DeMar DeRozan was everything the Raptors wanted, but frustration had amounted when they failed to attain playoff success, each time either losing early in the playoffs or not being able to get past LeBron James. An opportunity presented itself for the organization, and a tough decision had to be made – go on knowing that the team had peaked, or go all-in for a big time player? The Raptors chose the latter. The Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Even if you see this trade as a one year rental, this trade had to be made or otherwise Masai Ujiri could’ve lived regretting the decision not to pull the trigger.
There has been much discussion from so called experts about the Toronto Raptors’ place in the Eastern Conference, and most of these experts are failing to make any sense of this situation. Make no mistake about it – the Toronto Raptors are runaway favorites to be Eastern Conference Champions if Kawhi is healthy. Their defense has to be rated the best in the league with the addition of San Antonio’s best defensive weapons. Either Kawhi or Danny can wreck havoc on the defensive end guarding virtually any wing in the league ranging from Kevin Durant to LeBron James. Gregg Popovich used Danny Green to cover Kevin Durant when Kawhi Leonrd went down in the 2016-2017 playoffs, knowing his defensive capbilities. That’s not all they have, Kyle Lowry is an excellent defender and OG Anunoby promises to be outstanding on that end of the floor. They’ve also added a more efficient offensive player in Leonard and a coveted 3 and D player in Green. The Raptors improved dramatically and will be an extremely dangerous team next season.
(Projection: 1st seed in the Eastern Conference, and NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors)
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder received great news as Free Agency hadn’t even officially started. Paul George announced at Russell Westbrook’s house party that he was staying in Oklahoma City for another 4 years before the clock struck midnight. The Thunder kept Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton, and brought in Nerlens Noel – all excellent signings. However, a cloud loomed over OKC, and that was the fate of Carmelo Anthony. What would happen to his massive contract? Would Carmelo opt in? Which wasn’t a real question, Carmelo’s career is dropping quicker than the elevator from Disney’s Tower of Terror, and he knew there was no way he would get $29 million anywhere else, so he opted in. Luckily for the Thunder, Sam Presti is their General Manager and he worked some magic in order to trade Melo over to the Atlanta Hawks (and his massive salary) in exchange for Guard Dennis Schroder. The act of getting rid of Melo alone massively improve their team, but they also added a great talent in Schroder who should compliment Westbrook nicely as a combo guard off the bench – similar to Reggie Jackson’s role back in the day. The main problem with the Thunder’s team remains perimeter shooting, this has been a real problem for them over the years as they’ve never been able to obtain efficient shooters, or if they do, like in the case of Anthony Morrow, they become unplayable because of their lack of defensive ability.
(Projection: 5th Seed in the Western Conference, and 2nd round exit in the playoffs)
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers made the biggest splash by signing the best player in the world. That’s it. The rest of their offseason has been a head-scratching festival. I’m not even sure they’re taking this whole process seriously, as I also don’t think LeBron James cares too much about who they’re signing. He abandoned JR Smith in order to be surrounded by Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and Michael Beasley. It has definitely been some interesting signings, but it’s difficult to see how they realistically improved that team. There’s no way they can compete with the Golden State Warriors with a roster of mainly outcasts and a bunch of young talented unproven players. It’s also difficult to see that team making the playoffs in the Western Conference, as there are clearly eight other teams that stand better than them to start the season. Unless they pull off a trade during the season that nets them Kawhi Leonard, we will see LeBron James miss the playoffs for the first time in a while.
(Projection: 10th Seed in the Western Conference) (Teams ahead of Lakers in no particular order: Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Trailblazers, Spurs, Pelicans)
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs were placed in a tough situation with all the drama surrounding Kawhi Leonard and his eventual request for a trade from the organization. The Spurs could have tried to make amends in the hopes that Leonard changed his mind before his impending free agency, but signs of that happening were nowhere to be found and something had to be done. They struck a deal, as we had mentioned some paragraphs above, and they acquired DeMar DeRozan. They clearly lost the trade, but the Spurs can’t look at this situation as a winning or losing endeavor – they succeeded in getting something in exchange for Leonard. The moment he asked to be traded was the moment the damage had been done, all they had to do was damage control and they did it. There’s no denying the San Antonio Spurs, they will find a way to be in playoff contention, the organization is too good, and the coaching too great to simply fall off from competition all-together.
(Projection: 8th Seed in the Western Conference, and 1st round playoff exit)