LBJ in LA
Historically, kings sought to expand their empires. With the Eastern Conference conquered, LeBron James now has his sights set on the bright lights of Los Angeles. His decision did not catch the NBA world by total surprise. Reports of his media company, Uninterrupted, forming partnerships in Hollywood and his sons’ enrollment in the Los Angeles School District hinted at the King’s intentions to join the rebuilding Lakers. There was additional speculation that James would take advantage of the Lakers’ sizeable cap space—enough for two max contracts—to join forces with more star power. But, when Paul George re-upped in Oklahoma City and the Lakers elected not to acquire Kawhi Leonard, James still chose the Lakers. Now, he finds himself leading a group of veterans like Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo in addition to the Lakers’ promising young core.
Kawhi goes North
The blockbuster trade of the summer came when the San Antonio Spurs dealt two-way phenom Kawhi Leonard and sharpshooter Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for all-star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick. Leonard requested a trade away from San Antonio in the offseason after tensions surfaced between him and the Spurs organization over the diagnosis and treatment of a quadricep injury he suffered during the season. It seemed that he hoped to land in Los Angeles, but neither the Lakers nor the Clippers met the Spurs’ asking price. So, the Raptors stepped in: After another disappointing postseason, Toronto shook up their roster and traded DeRozan—the face of their organization—for Leonard. But the question still remains as to whether the Raptors can convince Leonard to end his California dreaming and stay up north after this season.
The strong get stronger
Already-superstar-studded, the Golden State Warriors struck gold when DeMarcus Cousins, an elite centre rehabilitating a torn Achilles tendon, was met in free agency with a frigid market. Reports suggested that several teams had the opportunity to present Cousins with an offer; however, concerns over his character and injury—one from which NBA greats like Dominique Wilkins and Kobe Bryant could never fully recover—caused every team but the Warriors to pass. This allowed the Warriors, who entered the offseason with minimal cap space, to sign Cousins on a one-year deal worth just $5.3 million. If Cousins returns to pre-injury form, this could be an absolute steal for Golden State in its quest for a third-straight championship.
Houston takes a step backward
The Houston Rockets were one win away from the NBA Finals last season. But, when LeBron joined the Western Conference and the Warriors picked up Cousins, the Rockets saw their path to redemption narrow. A strong offseason was crucial: Successful re-signings of both Chris Paul and Clint Capela, plus the addition of Carmelo Anthony, highlighted Houston’s efforts. Every rose has its thorn, however, and defensive-minded wings Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute departed since the Rockets had reached the salary cap’s limits with Paul and Capela’s contracts. Without the same depth as in last season’s excellent campaign, Houston may struggle to return to the heights it reached a year ago.
New in Town
As the youngest player to ever lead his team to a EuroLeague championship while winning MVP and Finals MVP, Luka Dončić is one of the most intriguing draftees the NBA has ever seen. The 6’6” Slovenian point-forward has drawn comparisons to the likes of Larry Bird for his shooting, passing, and basketball IQ. The Dallas Mavericks made a last-minute trade on draft night for Dončić, sending their fifth overall pick and a future first-rounder to Atlanta. The Hawks used that fifth selection to acquire Trae Young, the player who some believe will become the next Steph Curry. Young led the NCAA in both points and assists per game; however, struggles late in his freshman season have caused concern as to how his skills will translate to the NBA.