NBA Offseason: Speculation and Predictions

With the conclusion of the 2018-19 NBA season, the offseason is one of the hot topics to discuss. The Highlander sports section is here to discuss some of the big news and make predictions about some of the major storylines happening around the league. This issue will be distributed before the NBA free agency period of July 1. 

The Toronto Raptors just won their first NBA Championship in franchise history. Do you think that winning the championship will impact Kawhi Leonard’s decision to stay or will he return to his hometown of LA, with either the Lakers or Clippers? 

Jonathan Fernandez: After winning the Raptors their first championship in franchise history Kawhi Leonard can leave Toronto to go play in Los Angeles and still be loved in Canada. And that’s exactly what I think is next for Leonard. He’s a Southern California kid who wants to play for one of his hometown teams. He’s made that no secret throughout the past year. Although I’m not entirely sure which LA team he’ll suit up for next season, I’d put my money on the Clippers considering the Lakers don’t currently have the money to afford him and a LeBron-AD-Kawhi lineup always seemed like a longshot. I will admit that the Raptors Cinderella run to the title has likely made it more difficult to walk away, but at the same time because he’s given Toronto a championship, he can walk away knowing he gave the country of Canada something they never had before. 

Jordan Hom: Winning a championship in Toronto should encourage Kawhi to stay. He is already in a great situation with the Raptors and with the Warriors dynasty in flux, they should have another chance to repeat as champions. The Eastern Conference is still weaker than the Western Conference so it will be an easier road in the playoffs. If he decides to stay in Toronto, he has the opportunity to solidify himself as the greatest basketball player ever to wear a Raptors uniform. With the Lakers, he would just be another star in their long list of NBA greats. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the Warriors are coming off of an NBA Finals loss and the former champs look severely wounded. Injuries to Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins among others proved to be too much for Golden State to overcome and the Warriors are now heading into an offseason full of uncertainty. All three of the aforementioned players have the option to change teams this offseason, and even if all three return KD and Klay will likely miss the majority of next season due to injuries sustained in the Finals. Who, if any, of these three players will return next season?

JF: Klay Thompson will be back for sure, KD on the other hand has plenty of options. His injury may have changed the landscape of the NBA on so many levels. Before he ruptured his Achilles, I was very confident Durant was headed to Madison Square Garden to breathe new life into a struggling Knicks franchise, but because of the injury I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to the Warriors as they have “unfinished business.” The injury and Golden State’s subsequent loss in the Finals changed the narrative in terms of how much the Warriors needed him. Durant received overwhelming support for the valiant effort he made to get back on to the court to help his teammates reach their goal and that appreciation may persuade him to stay. However, I think KD’s desire to get away from Steph Curry’s franchise and to prove himself on his own team will ultimately lead him to New York. Cousins is honestly kind of irrelevant, but he said he is going to be “at the Warriors’ necks” next season so I’m guessing he’s leaving.

JH: Klay Thompson should be returning to the Bay unless he decides that he wants to be “the man” of his own team. But he seems perfectly happy here with the Warriors so he should be staying put. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, remains uncertain to remain a Warrior next season. Durant achieved the rings he sought after so he could explore other options. The Knicks could be a possible option as the biggest media market but New York is in no position to win right now. It is possible that other stars will follow KD to the Knicks if he joins, but I don’t see KD wanting to join a losing team. The other team in New York, the Brooklyn Nets, are a better suited team for KD. The have better management with Sean Marks, who has turned the team around from the failures of the Billy King days. In Brooklyn, KD will be in an environment where he is still in New York but doesn’t have the pressure of being a Knick. DeMarcus will probably leave the Warriors to seek a bigger payday and will join the team that offers him the most money. 

Someone who has been rumored to play with Kevin Durant next season is Kyrie Irving. What do you think of the current state of the Celtics? Will Kyrie take his talents to New York? 

JF: The Celtics are in bad shape. Kyrie is definitely leaving. He’s been ghosting them since the season ended and on top of that it’s been reported that their All-Star center Al Horford will also be looking for a new home after the two sides failed to come to an agreement on a contract extension. Kyrie is most likely going to the Nets, with or without KD, which means we get to see if Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier were worth keeping out of trades for Kawhi and AD.

JH: Kyrie has made it clear that he isn’t happy on the Celtics so it would be a surprise if he returned. A potential destination for Kyrie is the Nets. Although Brooklyn has All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell, Kyrie could be a potential upgrade. The Clippers are another possible destination if Kyrie decides that he wants to be in LA without being in the shadow of LeBron and Anthony Davis. Boston might be without Al Horford too as he opted out of his 30 million dollar contract. WIth Kyrie and Al potentially gone, the Celtics should look towards the future with Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum leading the way. 

Now going back to the Warriors briefly, with all those free agency implications and possible retirement for core players Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, can the Warriors find a way to reach the mountaintop again or is this the end of the Warriors dynasty as we know it?

JF:  I think they’ll win one more in the future if KD doesn’t come but if he does resign they’ll win at least two more. If it’s just Klay that comes back I think they’ll win it all again in the 2020-2021 season because the trio of Steph, Klay and Draymond is elite and still in their prime. Next year is going to be tough because Klay is going to be out the majority of the season and when he does come back he’ll likely be on a minutes restriction. I think the following season will be their best chance. I also think Steph Curry is actually very underrated and will be a driving force in ensuring this dynasty isn’t forgotten just yet. People forget that when he won the MVP unanimously in 2016 he was in the discussion for best player in the world, and I think he’ll show everyone again soon.

JH: I think this is the beginning of the end of the Warriors dynasty. Klay will be out most if not all of next season with a torn ACL. Even if KD decides to stay, he will be sidelined as well with a torn Achilles. Steph, Dray and a bunch of role players should be enough to remain competitive but other teams in the West should look to overtake the Warriors next season. 

Because of the uncertainty of the Warriors dynasty the Western Conference appears to be open for the first time in a long time. The Los Angeles Lakers, who are well aware of that just landed one of the top stars in Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James. Will this be the season that the Lakers finally return to the NBA Finals, or is this another season of disappointment waiting to happen? Does the Mike Conley trade to the Jazz make them a legit title contender or do the Jazz still need another big piece to contend?

JF: The Lakers will make the Finals next year. I think the timing of the trade was perfect other than the cap space ramifications. The Lakers added another top-five player just as all the top teams are falling apart. As I mentioned earlier, Golden State won’t have Thompson and the Houston Rockets’ chemistry is falling apart. While Mike Conley does make the Jazz a better, more competitive team, they don’t have a single top-five player which means they will likely get bounced in the first or second round for the third straight year.

JH: The Lakers will not be in the finals next year if they cannot adequately fill out the rest of their roster. LeBron was supposed to take the Lakers back to the playoffs this season but because of injuries, they failed to make the playoffs. LeBron and AD should be enough to make at least the second round of the playoffs but without a third star or a strong supporting cast, the Lakers will not return to the finals this season. The Jazz however, can potentially make the conference finals or even the finals with the addition of Mike Conley. While Rubio is a solid player in his own right, Conley gives the Jazz another talented player to take the pressure off Donovan Mitchell. Paired with Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have one of the top defensive teams in the league and Conley provides enough offensive firepower to make a strong playoff run. 

On the other side of that superstar blockbuster was the New Orleans Pelicans who got Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and a slew of future draft picks for Davis. The Pelicans also recently drafted Zion Williamson number one overall to be the face of their franchise. How do you feel about the state of the Pelicans after trading away franchise star Anthony Davis but landing the top pick in Zion? 

JF: The Pelicans are looking really good, especially for having traded their franchise player. Zion is coming into a great situation and has good players around him who can take some of the pressure off. Brandon Ingram when healthy flashed the potential to be a go to scorer and was averaging 27 points after the All-Star break before having to sit out due to blood clots. And Lonzo Ball was also finding his rhythm before suffering a grade three ankle sprain that kept him out of action for the final stretch of the season. Ball’s willingness to pass the ball ahead and overall passing acumen makes him an exciting fit next to Zion. Jrue Holiday will also be a steady hand on both sides of the floor that can help prepare the young team for a playoff push.

JH: It was only a few months ago that the Pelicans were considered as a team without a future due to the status of Anthony Davis. However, with AD off to LA, the Pelicans got back a pretty nice haul to pair with the 2019 first overall pick, Zion Williamson. In addition to Ball and Ingram, the Pelicans also got a slew of draft picks in the haul. The future looks bright down in the Big Easy and Pelican fans should be excited about the direction of their franchise.