This offseason was always going to hinge on what Kevin Durant would do when he hit free agency.
Durant’s surprise decision to sign a two-year, $54.3m deal with the Golden State Warriors could end up altering the league just as much as LeBron James’s decision to join the Miami Heat back in 2010. Durant’s shocking announcement came while the league was still adjusting to the new realities brought about by a salary cap. Some have found their situations greatly improved by the events of the last few days. Others, particularly those who hail from the Oklahoma City area, not so much.
The Golden State Warriors
So, last year they pulled off the best regular season in NBA history and were a win away from their second straight championship. While it’s not entirely certain how the Warriors will make their new roster work, we’re guessing that Andrew Bogut is heading elsewhere (he has taken references to the Warriors off his Twitter profile). They’re essentially replacing Harrison Barnes, their weak point during the finals, with a guy who is either the second- or third-best player in the league. That just about edges the Warriors into the winners category.
Fans of cliffhangers
You have to give credit to Kevin Durant’s desire to go at his own pace. While teams were hurrying to announce new deals at a frenzied pace all weekend long, Durant was calmly taking in long meetings with various interested parties, including a sobbing Steve Ballmer and at least one NFL superstar/ideal gas law enthusiast. Then on Sunday, after roughly 75% of major free agents were already under new contracts, there came the announcement that Durant was going to make his decision...
... But not until the next morning, where Durant made a mockery of anybody’s concerns that his decision would end up being anticlimactic.
Pretty much every player fortunate enough to be a free agent this year
Durant aside, the biggest story in the NBA over the last few days has involved the rise of the salary cap to $94.1m, which has given teams a lot more money to spend on what is a fairly weak free agent market. Heading into Friday, we all knew that this would result in teams offering cartoonishly large contracts to role players, bench guys and unproven talent. Having that knowledge didn’t make it any less shocking when the Portland Trail Blazers signed Evan Turner for a four-year deal worth $70m or when the Charlotte Hornets re-signed Nicolas Batum to a five-year, $120m contract.
And especially Mike Conley
It’s important to remember the rising salary cap when reading about the Memphis Grizzlies re-signing Mike Conley to what is, for the moment, the largest contract in NBA history. The Grizzlies handed Conley – who has never been named an All-Star – a five-year, $153m contract, putting him in a club that only includes Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as fellow members (although expect that fact to change sooner rather than later).
Besides Durant and LeBron James, who has made it 100% clear that he’s re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, versatile big man Al Horford might have been the most promising unrestricted free agent this summer. Horford was one of a handful of available players worthy of a maximum contract in any market. The Celtics signed Horford to a four-year, $113m deal, adding an All-Star in his prime without having to trade away assets, while still maintaining enough financial flexibility that Celtics fans were able to temporarily delude themselves into thinking they had a shot at landing Durant.
The Heat’s offseason won’t look quite as good should Dwyane Wade actually sign elsewhere, but it’s difficult to imagine Wade’s relationship with the only NBA team he’s ever known ending like this. Miami’s main goal heading into the offseason was to lock up Hassan Whiteside, which they promptly did at the cost of four years and around $98m.
Oklahoma City Thunder
You just have to feel bad for Thunder fans. You could say this is the worst thing that can happen to a franchise, but a whole bunch of secretly gleeful basketball fans in Seattle would probably point out that it’s only the second worst.
Los Angeles Lakers
Does anybody have any clue about what exactly the Los Angeles Lakers are doing? The Lakers made the first big signing of free agency by handing Timofey Mozgov, last seen getting relegated to the Cleveland Cavaliers bench during the NBA Finals, to a four-year, $64m contract. Then they signed a semi-cooked Luol Deng for four years and $72m. It’s not so much that these are atrocious signings, although there’s no way Deng makes it to the end of that contract, it’s more that they seem utterly random.
Whichever team signed Dwight Howard during this offseason was probably going to get slotted into the loser’s column here. This may be unfair to the Hawks. Considering how much money teams have been throwing on relatively unproven talent, the three-year, $70.5m contract they handed Howard was relatively reasonable, especially considering his struggles last year were at least partly due to him being a poor fit with James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
Here’s the thing, by signing Howard, the Hawks ruined any chance they had of keeping Horford. Atlanta also traded away Jeff Teague and used that money to re-sign Kent Bazemore for four years and $70m. All of these moves are defensible on their own terms, but when put together they paint a picture of a team that has taken a decisive step backwards.
It’s looking like another offseason where Mark Cuban has cleared up space to sign star players to slot next to Dirk Nowitzki for one last championship run, but he just can’t find any takers. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Mavericks will be the team that bites the bullet and hands Harrison Barnes a max contract. The good news it that it looks like the Warriors won’t be matching it.
The Wizards’ goal this year was to make a playoff push and hope to convince hometown hero Durant to join in. Instead, they missed the postseason entirely and couldn’t even get a meeting with Durant. Instead, the Wizards ended up spending the extra money on Ian Mahinmi, while hoping that Bradley Beal remains healthy long enough to justify the five-year, $128m contract they gave him.
Kevin Durant’s likeability
Remember that period where Durant was the good guy and LeBron James was the traitor who betrayed his city? We have officially entered the evil parallel universe version of that basketball reality.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are a Kirk Hinrich signing away from transitioning from a viable NBA team to a 2011 Chicago Bulls reunion tour.
Portland Trail Blazers
No, seriously, the Trail Blazers gave Evan Turner $70m. This is a thing that actually happened.
Really every team that has to play the Warriors
Their collapse at the hands of the Cavaliers didn’t end the Warriors, it only made them angrier. I don’t see how they could play better than they did last year, but it’s very possible that they could.
This article was written by Hunter Felt, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 5th July 2016 09.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010