With the Golden State Warriors inching closer to a second NBA title in three years and prepared to put up a perfect 16-0 postseason mark, the summer will likely be filled with teams doing their best to challenge Steve Kerr’s squad next season.
If we were to ask Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, his conclusion is that it will be a daunting task. King James also believes that owners should go out there and be active in free agency in order to upgrade their rosters.
It’s surely going to be an interesting next couple of months around the NBA.
Which players, either on the free-agent market or trade block, could rock the currently lopsided NBA power structure? What moves can teams make to compete with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in their conferences next season? Is it even possible to avoid a fourth consecutive NBA Finals between these two teams?
These are seven moves that would rock the lopsided NBA power structure this summer.
Timberwolves trade for Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade
The Minnesota Timberwolves and head coach Tom Thibodeau have to figure out what core group to keep together with all-everything big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Is Andrew Wiggins ever going to morph into a two-way player, or is he simply nothing more than a one-dimensional scorer?
If the answer to that question is the latter, maybe Minnesota rolls with the improved Zach LaVine as the primary option behind KAT. The issue here is that LaVine himself is coming off a torn ACL. There’s also suggestions that Minnesota is looking to trade Ricky Rubio and remains interested in former MVP Derrick Rose.
Either way, there’s a ton of talent on this roster. Too much for the team continue missing out on the playoffs.
Under this scenario, Minnesota picks up a No. 1 scoring option in Jimmy Butler to team up with youngster Kris Dunn in the backcourt. It also adds a veteran presence in Dwyane Wade, who could help this young squad get over the hump.
In order for this to happen, the Wolves would have to move either LaVine or Wiggins, giving Chicago a choice between the two in the process. At this point, it seems more likely that Chicago would want to add the upside that Wiggins brings to the table from the wing.
On the trade block for some time, Ricky Rubio would be included in this hypothetical trade. He’d give Chicago a potential point guard of the future to team up with Wiggins.
For Minnesota, it almost makes too much sense. Wade, Butler, LaVine and KAT would be a dynamic foursome that could challenge the mighty Warriors at some point here soon.
After all, that has to be the goal of any team looking to make a franchise-altering move. Simply earning a playoff spot only to get swept out by Golden State wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
Chris Paul signs with the Spurs
We saw just how lost the Spurs were without Tony Parker in the Western Conference Finals. Sure the injury to Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 played the biggest role in the team being swept, but Patty Mills and Co. simply could not run an offense in Parker’s stead.
We know San Antonio absolutely loves 2016 first-round pick Dejounte Murray as the team’s point guard of the future. And for good reason. He showed up well in the postseason.
With that said, adding someone of Paul’s ilk to run an offense with Kawhi out on the wing would be an absolute coup for Gregg Popovich and Co. Here’s a guy that’s among the best players in the history of the game at pass distribution. He’s averaged nine-plus assists in each of the past 11 seasons.
With Leonard’s ability to hit the open shot (49 percent shooting, 56 percent uncontested), Paul’s presence would be absolutely huge here. Simply put, if the Spurs are able to give Leonard more open looks, he’ll become even more dominant. This is obviously one of the primary reasons San Antonio has been linked to Paul since the end of its season.
We have no idea how the Western Conference Finals would have played out if Leonard didn’t go down early in the series. While some say it would have been more competitive, Golden State did end up sweeping the Spurs. Does one player make that much of a difference? We’re not too sure. But adding Paul to the mix would be huge in terms of narrowing the gap between the two teams.
Clippers trade Blake Griffin to the Celtics
Let’s be clear here. Griffin is not the same difference maker he was prior to his recent bout with injuries. He’s no longer the explosive freak that set the Western Conference on fire. That time surely has passed.
But the former No. 1 overall pick is still a potential 25-10 guy. He’s also among the best passing big men in the game. Again, that’s important when it comes to a team like the Celtics who need an interior presence to go with Al Horford. It would surely help against the Cavs back east.
More than anything, the only lingering question here is whether Boston would be forced to trade the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft for Griffin.
If that’s the Clippers’ asking price, it might not be worth it for Boston. Instead, the team could roll with Markelle Fultz as a running partner for Isaiah Thomas while being able to potentially add a lesser option and giving up other assets. This is a question general manager Danny Ainge will have to ask himself over the next couple weeks.
If Boston is indeed able to pull the trigger for Griffin without yielding the first pick, it would be in prime position to unseat Cleveland back east.
Having Griffin team up with Horford on the inside would create a mismatch of epic proportions. As we’ve seen in the Finals, Tristan Thompson just isn’t a difference maker for the Cavs. If you now put Horford up against him with Griffin taking on Love, it eliminates any real inside advantage the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs might have on the interior.
A deal of this magnitude would also potentially enable Boston to sell off other assets (namely Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley) for an elite wing defender to go up against James. Again, that would narrow the gap considerably back east and change up the power structure big time.
The time is now for Ainge to use his plus-level assets to take on Cleveland directly. LeBron may have appeared in seven consecutive Finals out of this conference, but his time as a dominant player can’t last forever.
Blazers acquire acquire Kristaps Porzingis
The New York Knicks would be absolutely insane to trade this unicorn. At just 21 years old, Porzingis could very well be the face of basketball in the Big Apple for the next 10-15 years. Here’s a dude that has averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in his first two NBA seasons. The issue here is that New York’s brass, president Phil Jackson included, have already seemingly created a rift with the Latvian native.
And considering New York is among the least-talented teams in the NBA, there’s a scenario in play that it might simply look to blow this whole thing up. Trading malcontent Carmelo Anthony would be a start, but he’s unlikely to bring a franchise-altering return in a trade. That’s where Porzingis and his upside come into play. Simply put, the Knicks could get a king’s ransom for this youngster.
On the other hand, it’s rather obvious that Portland needs more to go with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Despite earning a trip to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, the Blazers have been eliminated by Golden State both times. And it really has not been competitive. Portland is 1-8 in those two series with an average margin of loss standing at 13.3 points. Ouch.
The issue here is that Portland handed out some horrible contracts to role players who have not stepped up. Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless. Meyers Leonard and Al-Farouq Aminu counted a combined $61-plus million against the cap in 2016-17. That’s just not sustainable, and the Blazers know this.
Unfortunately for Portland, it won’t be able to add another elite-level player without getting rid of either Lillard or McCollum. That’s where Porzingis comes into play. Hypothetically, the Blazers could move McCollum and a couple of their bad contracts to New York for this talented young big man. It’s a trade Phil Jackson and Co. would have to think long and hard about making. It would also enable Portland to hold on to its three first-round picks while acquiring cap flexibility to add another starter-caliber player in free agency.
The idea of teaming Lillard and Porzingis up with one another might be too sexy for the brass in the Pacific Northwest to pass up on. Add in another talented young big in Jusuf Nurkic and there would surely be a lot to work with here.
Pacers trade Paul George to the Bucks
Among the most-talented young teams in basketball, the time appears to be now for Milwaukee to make a play in the Eastern Conference. The presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo gives us a primer a potential playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The 22-year-old all-everything superstar is coming off a 2016-17 campaign that saw him put up 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He’s a generational talent, one that needs a couple running partners in order fro Milwaukee to take that next step.
Unfortunately, fellow youngster Jabari Parker tore his ACL for the second time in his career this past regular season. Can the Bucks rely on Parker to be that guy for the Greek Freak? That’s a huge question heading into the summer. If not, there’s surely a scenario in play here that suggests Milwaukee could use him as bait to acquire another top-end player.
In this scenario, Indiana finds itself in position to be able to pick up a All-Star caliber wing to replace George over the long term. It’s something the Pacers have to think about, especially with George set to become a free agent following the 2017-18 season. That’s only magnified by the rumors he was on the trade block this past February and suggestions the star wants to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
For Milwaukee, it just makes too much sense. Sure the team might have to keep its fingers crossed George doesn’t depart after one season. But the trio of Antetokounmpo, George and Khris Middleton could potentially challenge Cleveland back east next season. At that point, who is to say George wouldn’t re-sign with the small-market team? It would be a real possibility.
Rockets go for broke with Carmelo Anthony
Another scorer in Houston? Well, that might very well be the only way the Rockets contend with Golden State out west. They are not going to beat the Warriors when it comes to defense. Adding Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to go with James Harden made sure of this. Why not go after one of the top scorers in the modern history of the game to team up with Harden? Really, that just makes too much sense.
The better news here is that Anthony would likely come on the cheap. It’s something the Rockets would need in terms of an upgrade after yielding their 2017 first-round pick to the Lakers in the Lou Williams trade.
Would Anthony in Houston make the Rockets favorites out west? No. But it would give the team two elite scoring options to go up against what the Warriors bring to the table on a consistent basis. In a seven-game playoff series, that could make for a competitive matchup.
Either way, we fully expect Houston to continue going all in over the short term with Harden still in his prime. If so, Anthony is a real possibility.
Kevin Durant flip flops, returns to Oklahoma City
It seems absolutely absurd on the surface. How can the likely 2017 NBA Finals MVP return to a city that has disowned him? How can he regain a once strong relationship with Russell Westbrook? What would this do for Durant’s image in the league?
At this point, it seems relatively obvious that Durant will remain with the Warriors over the long term. He loves the Bay Area community. His presence on the Warriors has helped the former MVP come out of his shell to an extent. He has a great relationship with his teammates, two-time MVP Stephen Curry included.
But if asked you 12 months ago whether Durant would lave for Oakland, most would have thrown that idea down the window. Sure there were rumors he might be inclined to join the Warriors, but it still seemed like an unrealistic scenario.
In any event, Durant shockingly deciding to return to the Thunder would leave the Warriors themselves hanging big time. It’s not just his presence on the roster. Instead, it is what the Warriors gave up to sign Durant last July. We’re talking Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Leandro Barbosa and Festus Ezeli — four players who had big roles in the team’s first championship back in 2015.
Even though Golden State can re-sign Durant and Curry this summer, that’s due to the fact that NBA rules allows the team to go over the cap in order to do so. If Durant were to bolt, the Warriors wouldn’t be able to replace him with another high-end free agent. That would leave the team with a shorter bench and lacking that second MVP it took to dominate the Association’s landscape this season.
We’re definitely not looking to throw gas into the fire here. Durant leaving the Warriors isn’t likely to happen. But it sure would shake up the power structure around the NBA. After all, look at what KD did against LeBron James in Cleveland in Game 3 of the Finals on Wednesday night. Whew.