Kick Back with Kushal: Just Another Usual Unusual NBA Offseason

How last year's NBA offseason shaped this year's trades

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Kick Back with Kushal: Just Another Usual Unusual NBA Offseason

by Kushal Shah, Sports Columnist

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Just during the 2017-2018 NBA offseason, the NBA was, to put it simply, reassembled. Four teams — the Boston Celtics, the Oklahoma City (OKC) Thunder, the Houston Rockets and the New Orleans Pelicans made gigantic moves to muster enough All-Star talent to potentially dethrone the Golden State Warriors as the dominant force of the league.

The Boston Celtics were the first of five to make a blockbuster trade, or rather two blockbuster trades. In their first play, the Celtics quickly coaxed small forward Gordon Hayward, who was eligible to sign a max deal with the Utah Jazz, into signing a four-year, 128 million- dollar deal with them instead. In their next move, the Celtics swiftly traded away point guard Isaiah Thomas, three more players, a 2018 first round pick and a 2020 second round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for the elite point guard, Kyrie Irving, who had long desired to step out of the King’s shadow, as Irving was often depicted as his sidekick, rather than a high caliber player.

The next team to rebuild its core was the OKC Thunder, which traded two talented players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star Paul George. The Thunder’s next plan of action was to obtain veteran 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks by trading away center Enes Kanter and small forward Doug McDermott.

After supplementing their roster with just the addition of one player, the Houston Rockets were perhaps the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors. Shopping the NBA 2017 offseason market, the Houston Rockets were looking for the perfect player for their team who would aid in its quest to overthrow the Dubs. And find the perfect All-Star they did. The Rockets found and traded three significant players to the Los Angeles Clippers for point guard god, Chris Paul.

The last of these four teams which made a colossal trade, though All-Star Weekend rather than the offseason, was the New Orleans Pelicans. In the last major trade of the 2017-2018 NBA season, the Pelicans sent three players in addition to a first and second round pick in return for three-time All-Star and center DeMarcus Cousins and small forward Omri Casspi.

And yet, despite all of these monumental trades, the outcome remained the same: all four of these “superteams” lost in the playoffs. Even though the Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward in his first game as a Celtic, they still reached the Conference Finals led by Kyrie Irving. Ultimately, they were defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a best of seven series.

However, the OKC Thunder were less fortunate in their prospects as they lost to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. The Houston Rockets were more successful in their undertaking. Although in the end, the team fell up short against the Warriors, there were points in the series where the Rockets gave the Dubs a run for their money. The Rockets not only won two-thirds of their regular season games against the Warriors but also achieved the number 1 seed, one seed above the Warriors. Yet, the conditions were less than perfect for both teams: the Golden State Warriors were faced with the disadvantage of playing in Houston for four of the seven games, while the Rockets lost Chris Paul to injury in Game 5 causing him to be unable to play in Games 6 and 7. Lastly, the New Orleans Pelicans were trounced by the Curry-less Warriors in five games. Even better, the Golden State Warriors went on again to qualify to the NBA Finals to face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive year and swept the Cavs into submission with a broom.

A year later, in the 2018 offseason, these four “superteams” and other teams have determined their own strengths and weaknesses, while also reassessing the value each player brings to their roster.

For example, the Boston Celtics decided to leave its core untouched. After Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome injury in his Celtics debut game last year, the team’s prospects did not appear great. However, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown stepped up and with the guidance of Kyrie Irving, the Celtics reached the Conference Finals despite the year-long absence of Hayward. The Celtics are still a young team that will only climb uphill in its dominance. With the combination of flat-earther Kyrie Irving, second-year Jayson Tatum, future All-Star Jaylen Brown, and an almost fully rehabilitated Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are primed to be the apex predator team of the East, and perhaps, one day, of the NBA.

After LeBron James’ 4 year return to Cleveland, it was time to leave once again. Last year was exhausting for the King: Kyrie left the Cavs for the Celtics and even after the Cavs shook up nearly their entire roster, they still struggled to regain their former ascendancy. Yet, LeBron had no objection and undoubtedly carried his team to the Finals. Unfortunately, though LeBron gave it his all, the Warriors proved to be indomitable. So on June 30, The King opted out of his contract with the Cavs, and the next day, in arguably the biggest trade of the 2018 offseason, announced he would sign a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Throughout the offseason, it was rumored that the Warriors was looking for another center, specifically an All-Star, to bolster its Death Lineup. Among the names that the NBA rumor mill coughed up was Dwight Howard; however, the Washington Wizards snatched him up before the Warriors could. Then, on July 3, it was announced that DeMarcus Cousins, who had been waived by the Pelicans because of an ACL injury, had agreed to sign a one year deal with the Warriors. In fact, news of the deal came only two days after LeBron James agreed to a four year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Call that what you will, but I call that a major statement by the Warriors sent to express fearlessness and almost disinterest to both the Lakers and The King. 

Another trade involved two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and San Antonio Spurs Veteran Danny Green being traded for DeMar DeRozan and a 2019 first round pick from the Toronto Raptors. Many expected that Leonard would be traded due to friction between him and the Spurs, but lifelong Raptor DeRozan being traded was completely unexpected.

In the last blockbuster trade of the 2018 offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded All-Star Carmelo Anthony (to reduce their luxury tax bill) and a 2022 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks, in turn, waived Anthony, who was then picked up by none other than the talent-hungry Rockets. And with that, the All-Star veteran Carmelo Anthony sealed the 2018 offseason with a 2.4 million dollar, one year deal with the Houston Rockets.

Still, despite all these drastic trades, I believe that, like last year, the Golden State Warriors will pounce on their Western Conference “peers” like an eagle pouncing on its prey, while the only squad that may have a real chance of defeating the Boston Celtics, is the Toronto Raptors. Ultimately, the result will be the same as the past two years, with the Dubs hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy victoriously and adding another championship banner to their home court, Oracle Arena.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on Aug. 31, 2018.