This summer is one of the most, if not THE most, anticipated free agency season the NBA has ever seen. We knew all about the players who would be available, but the storylines and seemingly endless content being put out really drove the excitement.
What would it take for Kawhi to remain in Toronto long term? Did Kyrie actually tell KD “two max slots” in the tunnel at All-star game weekend? How the heck do the Sixers keep this team together? Who gets Zion? What are the Pelicans going to do with Anthony Davis? What about Klay and Kemba and all the other guys who will get a max deal or close to it? All of these were questions we didn’t know the answer to little more than a month ago.
There was a tinge of excitement heading into this summer because all of these questions led us to believe that the league would look different next year. We just didn’t know how.
But the NBA changing and adapting isn’t new, even though it may feel that way. In fact, this hyper-changing NBA landscape started about ten years ago.
One of the biggest changes that has come is simply how the league covered by the media. Thanks in large part to both the wild growth of social media and “The Decision” (when LeBron went to Miami) it was clear basketball could become a 365 day-a-year sport. And it has.
Off-court bickering. Mid-season rumors about next year’s free agents. Front office incompetencies. Basketball prodigies who have been thought to be future all-star NBA players since their mid-teens like Luka and Zion. League pass. All are a part of everyday media coverage in the NBA now that it’s more than just the score of a basketball game.
Now fans can be thoroughly educated on all things NBA if they just take the time to dive in. There are countless podcasters and sports writers both on a national and local level to where anyone can find the information they want about a team and/or a player. And with players being so active on social media don’t think it gets lost on them either. Players will interact with fans and sports media personalities from their personal social media accounts frequently, especially if it’s in response to criticism. The Information output of the NBA is as big as ever and the output leading up to this free agency, in particular, was MASSIVE.
On top of that, the last few years have really bloomed into what’s now dubbed the “Player Empowerment Era”. It basically means that players have more say in the way teams deal with them than ever before.
The most recent notable example is Anthony Davis. He didn’t want to play in New Orleans so he made that known and forced his way out. Jimmy Butler has done it more than once. Kristaps Porzingis did it in New York. Kyrie Irving did it in Cleveland. Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. And that’s just scratching the surface. I have my own thoughts and feelings as to whether or not the Player Empowerment Era is a good thing, but its impact on the league is undeniable.
Paul George, it’s noted, also recently requested a trade from OKC, but since that was handled in house it had a much different feel than any of the trade demands listed above. Trades done in private don’t earn a nickname like “Player Empowerment”. It’s the ones made public that have really fueled the narrative fire.
On top of that, in the last 10 or 12 years really, since the ’08 Celtics which featured Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, to be a title contender you probably had to have at least three superstars. The Heat, Cavs, Celtics, Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and Rockets are the only teams who have had true Championship hopes in the last decade.
The beginning of player empowerment was the big three in Boston. Its Pinnacle was LeBron leaving Cleveland in “The Decision”. Its crux was last summer with Anthony Davis.
Why Does All That Matter?
Well, it just so happens that this free agency period was defined by speculation about where the top players would go and who they could possibly join. And it started as soon as the season began. It’s been a full year of looking to the future.
Kyrie was supposed to re-sign with Boston. KD and Draymond fought and a video surfaced of Durant saying what looked like “and that’s why I’m out”. Durant and Irving were both supposed to go to the Knicks but then ended up together in Brooklyn. A move that also sent DeAngelo Russell to Golden State in Durant’s place.
What was Anthony Davis going to do now after the Lakers’ embarrassing try for him last season? Well, he ended up getting traded there any way for a hefty trade package that included solid, young players and a few drafts picks. Now the Pelicans have the bones of a solid NBA team for a decade.
Philly decided to part ways with Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick only to say hello to their new starting forward, Al Horford. Jimmy is now in Miami where, honestly, he fits perfectly.
Utah got Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovich, Jeff Green and Ed Davis and are now the favorites in the West. Or maybe were, until the Clippers swooped in with the surprise of the summer and landed BOTH Kawhi Leonard and, in a monster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul George.
And speaking of OKC, they also swapped Westbrook for Chris Paul and a few picks with the Houston Rockets!
Talk about unexpected.
And that’s what makes this free agency period and next season so exciting; newness and opportunity.
That’s what the league has lacked for quite some time.
The super-team had its heyday, and we’ll see more of them form in the future, but the league has never looked this good. There are double digit teams with a legitimate chance of winning the finals this year while there have been basically seven teams (listed previously) all of the past 12 years combined.
The monotony of expecting a certain team to win the title every year, and usually that team doing it, really wears on people. That’s part of the dislike for Golden State. They’re the latest in a line of expected finals winners and rooting for the underdogs gained ground as the years went on.
The build-up of anticipating where all of these players would go only for most of those expectations to be shattered AND for a truly competitive season/playoffs in 19-20 is really, furiously exciting!
And on top of that, there are teams not at the top who have intriguing possibilities too. The Suns, Hawks, Kings, Pelicans and Mavs all are probably out of the playoffs this year but will be fun to watch and see how they can develop. They all have multiple young players who have really shown promise the last few seasons.
The possible scenarios for how this season shakes out are almost limitless, and that’s what has made this past month of the NBA so dang exciting. No matter what the outlook is on a team this season, there is something to root for the NBA. And that’s a feeling we haven’t had in a LONG time.