Sport

NBA – Despite the many high-profile trades, no clear favourite for title

BY MARK ARCHER
Contributor

Friday, July 12, 2019

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The 2019 NBA free agency period has been very active and eventful, if nothing else, and may go on record as the largest move of 'big-name' players in the history of the league. Although there was no shortage of deals (and rumours of deals) over the past few weeks, players couldn't officially sign contracts with teams until July 6 when the moratorium period ended.

Perhaps the most anticipated deal of them all, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has agreed to join the Los Angeles Clippers, who have also traded for Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Shortly after those two deals went down, the floodgates of free agency opened back up and there was a burst of activity, which included the Los Angeles Lakers adding players like Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and re-signing Rajon Rondo to their roster.

The Lakers after failing to woo Kawhi in their direction have further bolstered their team by re-signing JaVale McGee and adding Quinn Cook, who spent the past two seasons with the Golden State Warriors.

With two marquee free agents already departing from their current teams, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who are both taking their talents to the Brooklyn Nets, Jimmy Butler will be relocating from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Miami Heat, while Al Horford left the Boston Celtics for Philadelphia.

The Jimmy Butler trade is part of a four-team deal involving Philadelphia, Miami, the Portland Trail Blazers and LA Clippers, which also includes Meyers Leonard going to Miami.

Josh Richardson heads to Philadelphia while Hassan Whiteside leaves Miami for Portland.

Additionally, there is a second tier of star free agents who will be intensely pursued, including a few established veterans.

After revitalising his career and helping the Warriors win three titles, Shaun Livingston's time as a Golden State Warrior is now closed.

The Warriors have waived the veteran and he is expected to become a target for a number of suitors. Former NBA players Monta Ellis and Amar'e Stoudemire are seeking a path back into the league and will be holding private workouts in Las Vegas on Monday night — The Lakers, Warriors and New York Knicks are expected to be among 12 teams in attendance.

In what shouldn't come as a major surprise following the trade of Paul George to the Clippers, the OKC Thunder have been giving indications that they are open to the idea of trading Russell Westbrook and the Miami Heat have reportedly expressed their interest in the All-Star point guard.

Other interesting signings include sharp-shooter Seth Curry moving to the Dallas Mavericks, Robin Lopez joins his brother Brook on the Milwaukee Bucks squad, Ricky Rubio is moving from the Utah Jazz to a new home with the Phoenix Suns, and J J Reddick is set to be a part of the New Orleans Pelicans next season.

This has been a dizzying, league-altering offseason and the power structure of the NBA has certainly changed.

The Warriors made three straight NBA Finals with Durant, winning two titles in that run, but lost him anyway.

The Celtics made every effort to surround Irving with veteran leadership and vibrant talent but that wasn't enough, and the ties couldn't bind.

The Toronto Raptors did everything right (even won a championship) but Leonard still left for sunny California and OKC, who were celebrating a new four-year contract with Paul George last summer, just traded him at his request. These are four of the best organisations in the NBA, led by four of the league's best executives and they all just lost their best players in the span of a few days.

This, apparently, is the new NBA, where it isn't about loyalty (a quaint concept that benefited the team), where players stayed just for the salary or because the team is winning. Where even championships and max contracts sometimes aren't enough to satisfy the current crop of players.

Leonard just became the first NBA superstar to leave his team immediately after winning a title and Durant departed just a year after being crowned Finals MVP.

Jimmy Butler just left a contender in Philadelphia to join a non-contender in Miami (and for less money).

In today's NBA, no single force binds a team and a player.

There is, however, a silver lining in the twists and turns of this All-Star rotation: the end (for now) of the 'super team' era.

For the first time in many years, there's no clear favourite in either conference. No team has four All-Stars (as the Warriors did) or three (as the Cavaliers, Heat and Celtics previously had). Of course, the Warriors still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but Thompson will miss most or all of this coming season while recovering from ACL surgery, and Green is in the final year of his contract.

There is a refreshing sense of equilibrium across the league because the balance has been altered. A half-dozen teams could realistically contend for the Western Conference title next season and, at least, four teams have a credible chance to win the East (and that isn't including the Nets, who probably won't have Durant's services until 2020-21 as he recovers from a torn Achilles). A fresh sensation will sweep the NBA next season. We will almost certainly see two new teams in the Finals, and a new champion celebrating in the streets.

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