SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA’s annual game of musical chairs is underway — also known as free agency — and it’s more entertaining than the actual NBA season itself. This year’s theme: When the inmates run the asylum.
Remember when teams traded players? Now the players are trading teams.
Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis (with an assist from LeBron James) and, to a lesser extent, grumpy Kyrie Irving took charge and decided among themselves where they want to play and with whom they will play. Whatever they did had a domino effect on the landing spots for hundreds of other free agents.
Free agency turned into a mad dash for cash. According to ESPN, $2.9 billion was spent on free-agent contracts in the first 24 hours and most of it occurred in the first 90 minutes. The net result was that the distribution of talent shifted dramatically in a matter of hours, and somehow when the dust settled, the NBA was left with something approaching parity, a rare occurrence in the Super Team Era.
There’s just one caveat: If Leonard chooses to sign with the Lakers, the previous statement is null and void. The NBA will be at the mercy of a Super Team again. Otherwise, eight to 10 teams will have legitimate hopes for a championship run, instead of the usual two or three.
• The Utah Jazz, who picked up Mike Conley — the answer to their years-long search for a point guard — and Bojan Bogdanovic, a great frontline scorer and defender. Put them on the floor with Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles, and on paper you have the best Jazz team since the Stockton-Malone era. It was a brilliant free-agent season for the Jazz.
• The 76ers, who lost two of their best players, JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, but made excellent signings in Al Horford and Josh Richardson that actually might make the team better.
• The Celtics, who lost Horford and locker-room killer Irving, but, like the Sixers, actually seem to have come out ahead by replacing them with Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter.
• The Nets, a terrible franchise, look like a future contender after securing Irving and Durant, although the latter likely will not play for a year while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
• The Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA last year, lost Malcolm Brogdon but added shooter Wes Matthews.
• The Lakers picked up James’ latest sidekick, Anthony Davis, after six months of trying. Let’s hope, for the sake of parity, they don’t win the Leonard Sweepstakes, as well.
Unlike football, which has many more players, the fortunes of a basketball team can change dramatically with one or two new players, and there was no shortage of movement in the league. The league hit the reset button.
Just look at the rosters of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. Sixteen of 25 players have changed teams since then, and nearly a dozen have changed teams two to four times during that short time. Of the nine players who are still playing for the same team, three of them are on the great Warriors team.
In this latest reshuffling of players, some of the moves made no sense. Durant had everything he wanted with the Warriors: Two rings, two Finals MVP trophies, a big role in a dynasty, a supporting cast for which James would trade half the Lakers roster, plus his mother. This is what he wanted when he signed on with the Warriors.
Now he’s moving to Brooklyn. He’s doing what Yoko did to the Beatles, breaking up a dynasty. He dumped it all to move to one of the worst NBA franchises. Why did he do it? So he could play with his buddies, one of them being Irving, whom teams should shun like the plague given his disruptive behavior.
You can get dizzy trying to follow this.
Like Durant, Leonard had everything he could want in Toronto. He just won a championship ring and an NBA Finals MVP trophy. He could run for prime minister of Canada based on what he did in his single season with the Raptors. He might throw it all away. He’s courting the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors.
It would make no sense if he signs with the Lakers. He has already proven he can win a championship without a super sidekick, so why does he need James? If he joins the Lakers, he’ll just be padding James’ legacy, not his own (players are all about “legacies” these days). It doesn’t make sense for James either, relying on a player who won a championship without him. Who is the real sidekick here?
Anyway, after a flurry of player moves the past few days, the NBA will be a much different place next season.