Look, we all know the NBA harbors the most drama of any major sports league in the United States. Every tweet, Instagram post, Instagram like, and Snapchat video are analyzed with the same vigor as someone studying for the MCAT.
NBA players have corresponding personas and personalities. Hypothetical discussions with friends rage on for hours and hours. We refer to the players by their first name as if we know them personally. There’s essentially a game within the game. Speculation is only fueled by social media platforms and a host of pundits offering their perspectives.
In essence, this is the current climate of the NBA.
If you think the drama surrounding the sport is bad now, just wait until this upcoming summer. There’s a real chance this offseason will be the craziest the NBA has seen to date.
Let us first start with the ever-churning coaching carousel. As it currently stands, there are six vacancies (Hornets, Magic, Knicks, Bucks, Grizzlies, Suns) available. Based upon how the playoffs turn out, we could be looking at an increase in open jobs. Would anyone be surprised if Portland opted to part ways with Terry Stotts? If OKC gets embarrassed by Utah in the first round, will Billy Donovan get canned?
A who’s who of former players/coaches have been associated with potentially taking over for Jeff Hornacek in New York. It includes current Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Mike Woodson, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, and the guy who sells popcorn in section 108.
Of the available jobs, Milwaukee and Phoenix appear to be the most attractive options. The allure of coaching Giannis Antetokounmpo could be too much for someone — such as Villanova head coach Jay Wright — to pass up. Phoenix could be in line to draft a future perennial All-Star in DeAndre Ayton (though the franchise could just as easily turn him into a bust).
From there, we’ve got a ton of personnel storylines to suss through. With Portland being bounced early yet again from postseason play, one has to wonder whether the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum experience has run its course. McCollum could fetch Portland some much-needed help in its frontcourt. In the event Toronto wins the series, would Washington think to break up the John Wall-Bradley Beal pairing?
San Antonio traditionally is the most un-dramatic franchise in the league — though Kawhi Leonard’s bizarre absence has shattered that glass ceiling with a thunderous crack. Leonard is a free agent at the conclusion of next season. There’s been little traction on a potential contract extension. San Antonio can offer him a 5-year/$215 million deal — far more than any other franchise.
With that said, would the Spurs be willing to ship Leonard out during this offseason if the relationship truly is unable to be salvaged? There are a number of teams (Lakers, Celtics) salivating at the thought of using their trade capital to nab the elite wing.
Toronto could be facing a major recalibration should the Raptors embarrassingly bow out in the first round after a stellar regular season. Golden State likely would tinker — majorly or light — should it not reach the finals for a fourth-straight year.
It’s a wildly fascinating landscape which largely is predicated upon postseason success (or the lack thereof).
With all due respect to coaching carousels and potential augmenting of deeply-rooted iterations, the free agent class is where we see the most clout.
The fortunes of a franchise can literally be altered in the free agency period. Of course, this year is no exception — with LeBron James as the shiny object every team is pining for. His decision will cause monumental ripples not only for other free agents, but other teams as well.
If he were to leave Cleveland, the Cavs would be facing a major rebuilding process. Should LeBron trust the process and head to Philadelphia, the 76ers suddenly would become the next “super team” (and one with a major shot to win the title). Magic Johnson and the allure of Los Angeles has been widely speculated about for years. While LeBron owns multiple homes in Los Angeles, does he really want to play in Kobe’s shadow?
Then there’s Houston — where a banana boat reunion with Chris Paul and potentially Carmelo Anthony could feasibly occur. This potential move could completely change the trajectory of the NBA.
LeBron’s free agent journey on its own would normally command all the press clippings. However, there are other narratives nearly as compelling. Paul George very well could leave OKC — which would then leave the Thunder searching for answers on whether to rebuild around Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams… or trade their cornerstones away and start from scratch.
The Lakers would love nothing more than to pair George with its young core and an additional superstar. Boogie Cousins will be on the market as well. Coming off of a ruptured Achilles, his market could be much shallower than previously thought. A contender could (in theory) sign Cousins for a discounted price while he rehabilitates his injury.
Players will be secretly meeting with personnel from other franchises — as well as their fellow peers in order to formulate plans for the future. Should Cleveland have a swift exit from the playoffs, LeBron would be afforded the time to be very methodical and thorough with his future plans. The same can be said for George and any other major free agent not currently featuring in the playoffs.
Without question, the next few months figure to be utterly bonkers.
Image Sources: Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports, Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports, Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports