The last time we were here, the Golden State Warriors won their second NBA title and third and four years. That was two months ago. Since then, LeBron James is now a Los Angeles Laker, Kawhi Leonard is now a Toronto Raptor, Carmelo Anthony is probably going to be a Houston Rocket, and we’ve seen arguably the most one-year contracts handed out in one free agency period. Oh, and the Warriors? They now have DeMarcus Cousins. This is the NBA’s new world order, and we all need to get used to it.
We all need to get used to seeing James in the purple and gold over the next three, possibly four seasons. The Lakers have made some questionable signings—Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee, and Michael Beasley—to supplement his arrival, but all four are signed to one-year contracts, essentially making them stop-gaps for next season’s free agency bonanza where the Lakers are poised to really pounce on the one guy they think is already on his way.
Unfortunately for the Lake Show, that one guy—Leonard—just got traded to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl, and a first-round pick. The Lakers still think that Kawhi’s only using Toronto as a stopover on his road to Hollywood, but they also thought they had Paul George in their back pocket, only to see him stay in Oklahoma City for the next three seasons.
Speaking of the Thunder, the team shipped out Anthony to the Atlanta Hawks and got Dennis Schroder in return. The dynamics between Westbrook and Schroeder will be interesting, but from a production standpoint, OKC found itself a new playmaker to play alongside Brodie and PG. The Hawks, meanwhile, inexplicably signed off on this deal and even agreed to pay Carmelo his full $27.9 million salary in what amounts to the dumbest buyout in league history.
With Melo now a free agent, the Rockets are odds-on favorites to sign him, though it’s still a question on whether he makes Houston better in light of the departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Even Clint Capela remains unsigned, though it’s likely that he’ll sign a one-year qualifying offer that will, in turn, make him an unrestricted free agent next year.
Houston’s division rivals have all made significant changes to their rosters, too. The San Antonio Spurs didn’t get the haul they expected from shipping Leonard out, but they did get an All-Star in DeRozan, a promising prospect in Poetl, and a first rounder that turns into two second rounders next season. It’s not nothing, but it’s not anything to get excited about, either.
The Dallas Mavericks finally got DeAndre Jordan three years after they thought they did. The Memphis Grizzlies pried Kyle Anderson away from the Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans somehow pulled off the classic addition-by-subtraction strategy by adding Julius Randle—a better fit next to Anthony Davis—and subtracting Cousins.
Over in the East, James’ departure immediately opens up the conference. The Raptors, presumably with a healthy and engaged Leonard, will be one of the favorites to win the conference, alongside the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Celtics’ roster remains largely intact, but they are getting back both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to a team that came within a game of making it to the NBA Finals. They even resigned Marcus Smart to a four-year deal after there were strong hints that both sides were far apart on an extension. The Celtics are the classic case of a team that’s going to be a lot better next season by not doing anything meaningful in the offseason.
The Sixers are in that boat, too, even though they lost both Marco Bellinelli and Irsan Ilyasova to other teams. J.J. Redick is back for another year, and the team’s core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and T.J. McConnell are back for another deep run in the playoffs. If the Sixers get better, much of that improvement rests on the shoulders of Markelle Fultz, the enigmatic second-year player who spent most of his rookie year in the sidelines with one of the most bizarre injuries you’ll ever see.
The rest of the East had its share of off-court drama. Dwight Howard is now a Washington Wizard and Jabari Parker is now a Chicago Bull. Speaking of the Bulls, the team somehow found another gem in the draft with Wendell Carter. The same goes for the New York Knicks and its own potential steal-of-the-draft, Kevin Knox. The Indiana Pacers also got better with the addition of Tyreke Evans.
Giannis Antetokounmpo should ascend to the throne as the conference’s best player with James now taking over Hollywood and Leonard’s health still a question mark. Even woe-be-gone franchises like the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets made news by shipping out disgruntled veterans and bringing in fresh faces in hopes of turning their franchises around.
The East is as wide-open as it’s ever been, a sentiment that hasn’t been mentioned, maybe even uttered, in the last eight years. All the same, the West is packed to the brim with contenders, would-be contenders, upstarts, and dark horses. In the span of two months, the whole topography of the NBA has changed.
And yet, the same dark cloud still hovers all of the land, proving that as all things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s still the Golden State Warriors’ world. The rest of us the league are just living in it.