I have one thing in common with Bill Simmons: my dad raised me to be a fan of the NBA. Much like Simmons, my dad and I spend hours on the phone at a time talking basketball. This June, instead of discussing where we see these playoffs going (because Game 2 put the writing on the wall for us both), we’ve been enjoying wild speculation on the summer to come.
There are certain fault lines in the NBA, some of these shift over time, some are secondary- only a danger if another fault line triggers it- I’m going to indulge in three of my favorite fault line discussions my dad and I have bandied back and forth on here a bit. I won’t tease, we’re starting with the San Andreas fault line of speculation:
There’s no denying it. I came into this season fully expecting and calling on seeing an “autumn” begin this year for him, and LeBron has defied that logic. Even if he were to start to diminish thanks to age, that would still leave him as a top performer in the league for years to come. LeBron’s free agency is the biggest thing going this year. His departure from the East shifts the power balance in a number of ways: some players may try to follow, but still more may suddenly take an interest in an Eastern Conference where LeBron’s guaranteed finals appearance is taken out of the conference mathematics.
If LeBron stays in Cleveland, things remain relatively stable. The fault line does no rupture, our homes stay in tact. But if he does, and I’m on board with the idea that he’s flying West to LA, well then that sets California off into the ocean so to speak. I also think it impacts the league’s future in some ways that ripple out for ages to come: how much better can Lonzo be with a tutor like LeBron to play off?
Also, with teams in development in the West, how does that shift their thinking knowing there’s now LeBron in their own conference to balance against? Do the Rockets double down on their Capela, Harden and Paul trio for another year? Does Portland keep building their sand castle around the Dame-McCollum duo? Do the Clippers build around Lou Williams and Deandre Jordan?
LeBron moving West drastically changes all those conversations, and I think we’re going to see some incredible, league redefining aftershocks from that move. I know there’s a lot of heat for this possibility, but I think Game 1 really sealed it, and it’s all I’ll be thinking of come July 1.
The Toronto Raptors
It’s an old saying that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing again and again and expecting different results. I’m a Clippers fan, and even I had to recognize it was time to shift the approach in the Paul-Griffin-DJ star trio a full year before the Paul sign and trade.
That being said, I made a joke a few months ago that the Raptors are the Clippers of the West. LeBron has stopped them in the playoffs 3 years running, and the last two times it was before they even made it to conference finals- this year it was with the added pressure of their having been Number 1 seed in the East and getting swept.
So there’s a lot of noise about what the Raptors should do. What’s odd to me is how polemic everyone is: it seems like it’s either blow it up or stay the course. Why not some small adjustments to the roster? Clearly the composition they have isn’t working, but it’s close. It just needs a tweak, and I’m going to speculate there’s a trade out there for an alternate to Lowry they might explore- especially if LeBron moves West and there’s a counterbalance of talent interested in moving East?
I’m fully expecting the Raptors to make some moves this summer. They were one of the teams that remained largely inert last summer during a summer of crazy moves, and all it got them in the end was more of the same.
The Bucks & Pacers
I don’t know why or what for on this one, except that it’s a gut feeling. I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish in free agency, or what they should aim for, but I’ll tell you this: these teams both made their statements this year. The Pacers actually put LeBron through more hell than the Raptors managed to, and the Bucks did the same to the Celtics- which when we watched the first round seemed like no big deal what the Celtics’ injuries, but hindsight being 20/20? The Bucks pushed the same team that hung for 7 with LeBron in the conference to a 7 game series as well.
That’s huge, and both teams definitely made their statements this year, especially the young talent on their rosters, they’ll be some dark horses in terms of pitches they’ll be able to make to talent looking for a new home. Boogie’s on the market, and so are quite a number of others- expect an all star caliber level player to sign with each of these two.