Hear Me Out...The winners and losers of the NBA
June 20, 2019
The NBA has had a BUSY week and there are still moves to be made during this offseason. But for this week's column let's look at the winners and losers in the league in the past week.
WINNER: TORONTO RAPTORS
For the first time ever, the NBA title resides with the Raptors and in Canada. That's awesome. The Raptors brought home the championship by beating an All-Time great dynasty.
Their Finals win is also going to give teams around the league that much more motivation. In a league dominated by dynasties, seeing a team like Toronto finally breakthrough has to be encouraging. Of the league's 73 NBA Finals champions 33 of them have been won by the Celtics (17) or Lakers (16). In fact, of the league's 30 teams only 10 have ever won multiple championships, Bulls (6), Warriors (6), Spurs (5), Pistons (3), Heat (3), 76ers (3), Rockets (2) and Knicks (2).
I do find it unfair that some are trying to lessen the Raptors title because of the injuries the Warriors suffered. There's no doubt that KD and Thompson's injuries had an impact on the series but injuries are a part of the game. The mission is to beat the team in front of you and Toronto did just that.
WINNER: KAWHI LEONARD
I'm still a little conflicted on Kawhi. His postseason run was awesome but I still can't get over how he did the Spurs last season, quitting on them because he wanted to raise his brand. It's just weird that a guy with the personality of drywall wants to be one of the faces of the NBA.
Forcing himself out of San Antonio worked basketball-wise for Kawhi. He's a two-time NBA Finals MVP and now can go anywhere he wants without bringing baggage from last season with him. He can leave Toronto and still be the city's favorite son.
LOSER: AN NBA DYNASTY
When it's your time, it's your time. Last Thursday was a devastating end to the Warriors dynasty. The Warriors are still going to be a good team going forward but I don't think they'll reach the heights they reached the past three seasons (provided that KD is leaving). It's kind of like when the Western Roman Empire fell, the Byzantine Empire still had some flex but didn't have that same punch after the West dropped off.
The Warriors loss shows that all that handwringing last offseason and when KD signed with Golden State was all for not. Dynasties in this era of the NBA, or professional sport across the board, don't last long and when it ends, it ends quickly. The players are too good, the coaches and scouting too smart to let one team run roughshod over the league for longer than a few years. Remember when the Warriors had their lineup of death and everyone was afraid of it? Now every team has a similar lineup and they're just not afraid of them anymore.
But Golden State was a unique dynasty in that they had their core with Steph, Klay, Green and Iggy but got new life when KD joined. That extended their run and had that not happened, all of this would have ended in 2016.
LOSERS: NBA FANS
No Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant next season. That's some tough stuff. Here's to hoping they come back better than ever.
WINNERS: NBA FANS
The West was already going to be an open race next season but with no Klay and no KD, wherever he decides to sign, the championship is more up for grabs than it has been since Jordan's first retirement. Without free agency or the draft being complete, you can already make a case for at 10 teams to win the Larry O'Brien trophy next year.
I feel like teams are going to be playing Tywin's speech to Jamie in season 1 of "Game of Thrones" on a loop in their buildings in preparation of next season, "We can establish a dynasty that will last a thousand years. Or we can collapse into nothing...I need you to become the man you were always meant to be. Not next year, not tomorrow. Now."
The 2019-20 NBA season is going to be wild and I cannot wait.
LOSERS: NBA FINALS GAME 6 REFS
I don't like harping on refs, it's tiresome and we demand that they be perfect from start to finish when it's not humanly possible. All things considered, I was fine with how the crew called Game 6, they were a little whistle happy in the second half but at least they were consistent.
But their worst call, and why I slid them into the loser category, was the final foul of the game. Yes, Iggy fouled Kawhi at the end but read the room! The game was over, it's not necessary to make that call. They dumped all over the Raptors championship celebration because of their terrible situational awareness.
WINNER: MASAI UJIRI
Ujiri might be the biggest winner from the Raptors entire run to champions. First, he's an NBA champion executive. Second, he's going to get PAID. The Raptors were still popping bottles when it was reported the Washington Wizards were going to offer Ujiri their vacant VP spot and pay him $10 million a year. There were even reports the Wizards were offering him a path to ownership as part of the deal. It's all a part of the spoils of war.
Third, and final win, is he's going to inspire plenty of his colleagues around the league to pull the move he made with Kawhi. But many of those GMs and VPs are going to look at the big move and not see the small ones that made the Kawhi trade successful. So we're going to see quite a few dumb GMs and VPs make some truly terrible moves, which he will certainly benefit from.
LOSER: THE DENVER NUGGETS
This might sound weird considering how well the Nuggets sit going forward. They'll certainly be among the contenders next and can make a few moves to improve their roster. Why they are a loser is because they let Masai Ujiri, the architect of the Raptors title team, walk six years ago.
Ujiri was running the show in Denver from 2010-2013 and was even named executive of the year in 2013 but the Nuggets decided not to re-sign him because of money. Well, that and, if you go by what many NBA insiders have said, Denver owner Josh Kroenke didn't like how Ujiri was getting all the credit for the Nuggets success.
Either way, it's a bad look for the Nuggets. That's not to say Ujiri would have won all the titles had he stayed in Denver but it's clear that Kroenke messed up. As always, the life lesson here is don't let your pride get in the way of your success, and the NBA lesson is, don't be cheap with top talent.
WINNER: ANTHONY DAVIS
His brand took a huge hit but he got out of New Orleans. All will be forgiven provided that he brings LA another title. Although, I am personally going to have a hard time forgetting how terrible he handled the trade demand fiasco in February. Davis came off so weak during and just meh.
The worst of it was during the Pelicans final game of the season he wore a shirt with the Looney Toons saying "That's all folks!" Then when questioned about the shirt he played dumb and gave the excuse that he doesn't set out his own clothes. It was laughably such a weak move, like really my dude? That's how you want to play it? You don't want to just admit that you're done playing for this franchise?
It was such a weird and soft move that has forever tarnished my opinion of him.
WINNER: THE LAKERS IN THE SHORT TERM
No matter how you feel about LeBron or AD, this duo makes for quite the 1-2 punch. As ESPN's Zach Lowe pointed out, most superstar team-ups require the players to sacrifice aspects of their game in order to succeed. But with LeBron and AD, their games play into one another's strengths.
The move makes the Lakers top-flight contenders for at least the next two seasons. I'd like to say three seasons but there's too much to count on for that, like AD's health (has never played a full 82 games), the eventual LeBron decline (his defense has already fallen off the face of the Earth) and Rob Pelinka's roster construction.
WINNER: THE CELTICS
I'm going the other way with the Celtics. Everyone is writing them off as losers because they missed out on AD and will likely lose Kyrie to free agency. With no AD trade, they get to keep their core roster of young players intact. Since Kyrie is walking, they don't have to worry about his soul-sucking presence in the locker room anymore. It's a win-win for Boston.
Now they can give their younger players more minutes and if those guys bounce back, along with a few small additions here and there, they'll be back in title contention.
LOSER: THE LAKERS FUTURE
If the Lakers don't get a championship out of this LeBron-AD pairing over the next two seasons, this deal is going to be an outright disaster. This offseason for the Lakers might be the last one in which they'll be able to make any major moves. Salary cap wise things are going to be tight and they've also mortgaged their future by sending four first-round picks to the Pelicans. The 2019 pick isn't going to hurt but it's the likely unprotected 2022 pick, unprotected rights to swap 2023 picks and unprotected 2024, with the option to defer to 2025 pick, that are going to hurt the most.
As the Nets can attest to, giving up this many picks does not spell success for the future.
LOSER: LAVAR BALL
Who has less self-awareness LaVar Ball or Bill Cosby?
LaVar Ball, is making the media rounds (Why?) even though everyone is tired of the act. LaVar is claiming he willed his son's, Lonzo Ball, trade to New Orleans into existence. Even though just a few months ago he was claiming Lonzo was not going anywhere near the Pelicans franchise.
Then there's Bill Cosby. Here's his tweet from Father's Day "It's an honor to be called a Father, so let's make today a renewed oath to fulfilling our purpose -strengthening our families and communities."
Good lord Bill Cosby, you are a full-blown rapist. You're the last person who should be dolling out fatherly advice even if you ripped it from a Hallmark card. This would be like reading a book authored by Charles Manson about the sanctity of life and the importance of independent thought.
I think it's obvious, Bill Cosby is the least self-aware person on the planet and a sorry excuse for a human being.
WINNERS: THE PELICANS
NBA history shows that if you get the best player in a trade, you've won said trade. I think this trade is going to buck that trend. The Pelicans are going to draft Zion Williamson and they got promising talent to fill the roster around him. I still like Lonzo Ball (even though his dad is a dope), I believe in Brandon Ingram, if he sticks around Jrue Holiday is an excellent guard, Julius Randal is a good interior scorer and Josh Hart is going to his find touch from 3 again. There's still moves to be made by VP David Griffin to finish this roster but when you include the Laker picks the potential for this team is exciting.
I don't think they're going to make the playoffs in 2020 but the core of a contender is there. I think Zion is up there with LeBron in terms of can't miss superstar. Countless pieces about have pointed out that Zion wasn't being used correctly at Duke, suggesting the best system for him would be a 5-out offense with shooters on the floor, putting the ball in his hands and letting him make the play.
It's still early in the offseason but with how Griffin is already building this team, his plan is pretty clear.
I know it's selfish to declare this but the AD trade means that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka is going to be around for at least another season, and I love that so much.
You might be saying "but Alex he got AD" and that is true. Superstars are the driving force behind this league and when the opportunity comes to get one, you do it. But from all the reports around the league, it's become clear that Pelinka was bidding against himself. He just kept adding picks and standing his ground on keeping Kuzma.
It also helps that AD was adamant about wanting to be in L.A. outside the Lakers, there wasn't a team that was going to gut their roster for a guaranteed one-year rental. This is like with Kawhi or Paul George where they were willing to be pitched to, AD has made clear he's getting to L.A. one way or another.
So the trade, really not that difficult. The hard part now is going to be building a roster around AD and LeBron. And that's what I'm most excited for. I can't wait to see how Pelinka builds this team and then defends each move like he's playing 3-D chess. I really hope he brings in Kyrie, I can't wait to see that blow up in his face.