The NBA season may be over but the landscape of the teams has changed so much over the off-season that the impact will be felt far and wide. And with sports betting in America getting new consideration, the ripples could reach as far as the casino online.
While the Golden State Warriors are even more likely to win their third straight NBA championship, having added one another all-star to the already stacked lineup, other teams are not simply playing dead and waiting for the Golden State storm to pass. They are challenging them directly in an NBA version of an arms race.
It’s worth reviewing some of the most impactful changes that took place in the dramatic off-season.
The King Comes to Los Angeles
By far the biggest news of the free agency period is Lebron James’ decision to switch teams for the third time in his career. King James will play for the Los Angeles Lakers in the coming year, and probably for a few years after that.
It was highly anticipated that James would leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers after leading them to the first NBA Championship in the team’s history. What was surprising, however, was the manner in which James went about choosing his new team.
Eight years earlier, James, who was already considered the best player in the game and the most sought after free agent, made his announcement in a special prime time television broadcast known as The Decision. The ostentatious display left many fans cold and transformed James’ image into that of an arrogant superstar in love with media attention. He has been battling that image ever since.
This year, there was still a great deal of interest in James’ decision but far less of a show. He simply announced on the first day of the free agent period that he would sign a contract with the Lakers. The softer delivery still packed a wallop for the league as James moves from the East Coast to the West Coast.
It remains to be seen how well the Lakers manage to build around their new superstar. So far, they have brought in a number of mid-level players as a support cast for their star and resisted the temptation to trade their young talent for a second established star to pair with James.
MVP Candidate Tells Team He Plans to Leave
One of the biggest stories of the NBA season that just passed was the injury to Kawhi Leonard, a perennial candidate for the top individual award and the MVP of the finals in which his San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat of Lebron James.
Leonard played only nine games all year, citing a slowly healing quad injury he suffered before the season began. As his absence grow longer and longer and eventually precluded his appearance in the playoffs, rumblings began to appear in the media. For Leonard, it was too much and he asked for a trade. And to make it as hard as possible for the team to get real value for their star player, he announced that he had no plans to extend his contract, which runs out next season.
In other words, teams would be asked to give up quality assets in exchange for a player who may or may not have completely recovered from his season-long malady and will probably remain on the team for only a single year.
The Rich Get Much, Much Richer
The Golden State Warriors, a team featuring four all-stars all playing in the prime of their careers, managed to snag yet another top player who was also chosen for the All Star Game last year. Demarcus Cousins stunned the basketball world by signing a relatively cheap one year contract to play for Golden State rather than hold out for a major offer.
Cousins had a monster year last season until he ruptured his Achilles tendon, a major injury that usually takes a toll on a player. He missed the entire second half of the season and will probably miss the first few months of the upcoming season as well. The injury, together with his reputation for conflict with coaches, may have limited his options as a free agent.
At the same time, Cousins, a four time All Star, is considered a top 10 talent in the NBA. His presence as center for the Warriors makes them virtually unbeatable. While critics said the same thing when Kevin Durant chose to join the team two years ago, the truth is that Houston came very close to knocking the champions out in the conference finals.
It remains to be seen how strong his play will be when he returns from a massive injury and how well he will blend with his team-mates. There is always a possibility that he may be one ball-demanding star too many and the fragile balance the team maintained so effectively could collapse.