By: Taylor Summers
“It’s a weapons race in the NBA. You’re either in the weapons race or on the sidelines.” – Daryl Morey
So remember that one time I said Paul George would dictate the summer NBA madness? Yeah, me neither. 🙂
The NBA Draft has come and go, offering a plethora of trades involving key players and draft picks. And now, the Free Agency period, a.k.a. “Christmas in July”, is less than 24 hours away. But take a look at the big names that have already switched teams prior to the July 1st 12:01 AM EST official start time:
D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets
Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets
Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets
As I alluded to in my last article, the Dwight Howard move barely clipped the radar, due to his decline in health and production over the past few years. (Russell is only a two-year player who has caused more dysfunction off the court than on, including the infamous debacle involving Nick “Swaggy P” Young.) But Butler and Paul are game-changers, two of the most competitive two-way players in the league. The Rockets and Timberwolves are aiming for the Golden Democracy of the Warriors out west, and they’re just getting started.
Minnesota hit the jackpot. With the addition of Butler to compliment Andrew Wiggins on the wing and Karl Anthony-Towns down low, the Wolves have a nice young core of players to build around. Plus, they only had to give up Zach Lavine (the two-time Dunk Contest champion recovering from an ACL injury), Kris Dunn (a point guard they drafted in the lottery last year), and the 7th overall pick (which they flipped for Chicago’s 16th pick, only moving nine spots down). Perhaps these young players the Bulls received can blossom in the Windy City, but for the time being the Timberwolves won this trade.
There is also continued speculation that they are looking to move Ricky Rubio, too. (His name came up at the trade deadline last season to be flipped for Detroit’s Reggie Jackson.) He has been a productive player when healthy (averaging 10.3 points and 8.5 assists over his six-year career), but he can’t shoot. With the evolving landscape of the league, along with the fact that none of Minnesota’s three best players are “pure shooters”, he becomes somewhat of a liability.
For potential replacements, Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague, or Patty Mills would all be great fits. Any of these three point guards would spread the floor better than Rubio and provide more shooting in coach Tom Thibodeau’s offense. Rubio is on a trade-friendly contract, too, so their front office could offer a sign-and-trade deal to allow for more cap space to sign one of these players.
As for the Rockets, wow. Many thought Chris Paul would re-sign with the Clippers, or even consider joining the Spurs, so this came as a surprise. However, the relationship between coach Doc Rivers, along with the egregious handling of the direction of the team (including a turned down Carmelo Anthony trade involving Austin Rivers, Doc’s son who plays on the team) played a big factor in his departure. Now Blake Griffin, also a free agent, has already scheduled meetings with Phoenix and others. The Clippers, after a revival over the past six seasons, look to be entering full rebuild mode after too many early playoff exits.
But back to Houston. With Paul joining James Harden, they arguably have the most talented starting back court. But the biggest issue that comes up, how will they coexist? Both players are two of the most ball-dominant guards in the league, having very high usage rates. Perhaps Harden can transition to being more off-the-ball, similar to how he was used in his early OKC days. But Paul is a vocal, demanding floor general, one that pounds the ball into the ground, barking orders in the half-court sets. It will be interesting how his style will blend with Harden and Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense. Sacrifices will have to be made — just look back at the Warriors pulled off. But Harden has been recruiting for a player of Paul’s caliber for awhile, so it seems that he’s willing to alleviate some of that pressure in order to win.
And the crazy thing is, the Rockets are far from done assembling their roster for next season. Daryl Morey is an aggressive general manager, and now that they’ve acquired Paul, he wants more bullets in the chamber. And one of those is another Paul.
I didn’t list the Rockets as a possible suitor to Paul George previously, and after they gutted a good chunk to the Clippers, it would seem even less likely. But Houston still has Eric Gordon, the newly-crowned Sixth Man of the Year, Trevor Ariza (an older but still solid two-way wing player), and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson to dangle in the Pacers direction. That’s not to say Indiana would bite on a deal involving any of these players, but with Chris Paul now on board, it certainly becomes a more viable destination for George if he wants to be a part of a new super team.
A lot of teams in the league have been implementing long-term plans, a.k.a punting on the next two to three years and allow the Warriors dynasty to crumble before making any serious moves to contend for a championship. But the Timberwolves, holding the NBA’s longest playoff drought since 2004, and the Rockets, fresh off of obtaining a player-of-a-generation type player in Paul, do not fall into that category. They are filling up their arsenals, refusing to sit on the sidelines any longer.
Rally the troops and buckle up. The 4th of July fireworks have already begin!