Does Anyone Know Exactly What the Lakers are Doing?
The Lakers owned the offseason for a short while after signing LeBron James. The expectation was that once LeBron signed with the Lakers, either Kawhi, Paul George, and/or DeMarcus Cousins would follow suit. What transpired the next 24 hours was discouraging: they got none of those names. But they did get…Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. What the heck are they doing? Their starting unit could look like Ball, KCP, LeBron, Ingram, and McGee, with Rondo, Kuzma, Hart, and Stephenson coming off the bench. Ew. In the West they could fall anywhere from a 3 to 8 seed, with 3 seed being optimistic because they do have LeBron. That would change if they manage to trade for Kawhi Leonard, which they should try to make happen after seeing what happened with PG (we will get to that later). Of course, all these signings are only one-year deals so this money will roll off the books for 2019 free agency at which point they will go after big names. Are they really going to wait an entire season before they try to make a run at Golden State? We will find out.
Paul George Doesn’t Want to Play with LeBron
On the eve of Free Agency, Paul George attended a house party hosted by Russell Westbrook to announce his decision to stay in OKC. The Lakers flubbed their chance to trade for him last summer, and now miss out on the hometown kid who had publicly said he wanted to play for them (could the same happen with Kawhi?). It seems Paul would rather play with Russ over LeBron. Jim Jackson tried to make sense of the decision on Fox Sports Radio:
“If we crack a dent in the armor of Golden State, it’s because I stayed here. If we do it in LA, it’s LeBron James.”@jimjackson419: Paul George can get the credit in Oklahoma City that he never would’ve received in Los Angeles
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) July 1, 2018
Is the goal to only crack a dent in GS armor? No, it should be to defeat them. But before OKC can think about that, they need to crack a dent in the armor of the Utah Jazz because in last year’s playoffs they barely managed to give the Jazz a love tap.
Sam Presti has Balls
Sam Presti is not scared to dish out cash, that is clear. This week Presti brought back Paul George, Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton, and added Nerlens Noel (nobody wants him). OKC’s payroll is now at or above $160 million, $58.2 million over the cap and $36.3 million over the luxury tax limit. OKC is a repeating luxury tax payer, so their total payroll will be just over $300 million this year. That’s insane. Give Presti some credit for going all-in unlike many other GMs — but was now the time to do it? OKC is going to pay over $300M to bring back the same team that lost in the first round of the playoffs to a team led by a rookie. The Thunder will be making hefty luxury tax payments the next three years to lose in the first or second round of the playoffs. Maybe Presti should have waited until the (arguably) best basketball team of all-time wasn’t around.
Pacers Improve Shooting/Scoring Depth
The Pacers signed Doug McDermott for 3 years, $22M and Tyreke Evans for 1 year, $12M. McDermott, a career 40.3% three point shooter, finally gets a chance to settle in with a franchise after playing for 4 teams in his first 4 years, and Evans, who averaged 19.4 ppg and shot 39.9% from three last year, looks like a one-year rental for Indiana. They both will provide much-needed scoring, shooting, and playmaking to the bench unit. Evans will upgrade the role Lance Stephenson played last year and will fit well as another playmaker alongside Oladipo, and should help relieve the pressure off Oladipo when he’s doubled. The Pacers clearly got better: Aaron Holiday > Joe Young; Doug McDermott > Glenn Robinson III; Tyreke Evans > Lance Stephenson. It’s hard to tell at this point exactly how much better they got, but at least LeBron is out of the East.
Biggest Winner of the Week
I could argue that every team in the East won with LeBron James now in the West, or that the Warriors won by signing Boogie Cousins with a mid-level exception. The first would be too obvious, and Cousins comes with too many question marks. So my winner is the dark horse of the West: The Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets are a team that missed the playoffs by a game after losing on the last day of the season, and would have been a playoff team had Paul Millsap not missed 44 games. The Nuggets solidified their future core by extending center Nikola Jokic, re-signing wing Will Barton, and could have gotten the steal of the draft in Michael Porter Jr. Jamal Murray (21), Gary Harris (23), Barton (27), Jokic (23), and Porter (20) compose a young roster with a promising future, plus the veteran Millsap is likely to stick around for two more years. The Nuggets also traded away Wilson Chandler’s bloated contract of $12.8M to reduce their luxury tax penalty, and they’ll likely try to get rid of the Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, and Mason Plumlee contracts in a similar fashion. If they don’t succeed, Faried and Arthur’s contracts will expire after the season, which will put the Nuggets back under the luxury tax threshold. Look out for the Nuggets this year and years to come.
Biggest Loser of the Week
This is easy: The Cleveland Cavaliers. After losing the best player in the game (and maybe of all time) in LeBron James, the Cavs and are now stuck with the choices of 1) tanking, or 2) trying to win 30+ games with Kevin Love, George Hill, and Collin Sexton. The Cavs should explore the trade market for every player on their roster except Sexton. Which will be tough since the only player with much trade value is Love. Buyouts should be considered for George Hill, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, and Kyle Korver, all of whom are under contract through 2020. Gain as many assets through trade and get rid of the (many) bad contracts. Good luck Cleveland.
Top 5 Free Agents Still Available
- Clint Capela
- Marcus Smart
- Jabari Parker
- Zach LaVine
- Isaiah Thomas