Its been less than a week since the free bureau period began, but there have already been seismic changes in the Western Conference
Free agency isnt even a week old and we may have already seen the smartest decision of the offseason, at least from a players perspective. Being successful in the NBA, and pretty much all athletics truly, involves putting yourself in the best possible position to win. Case in point: the Utah Jazzs Gordon Hayward constructing the wise decision to hightail it out of the Western Conference and signing with the Boston Celtics on a four-year, $128 m contract.
While Hayward was mulling over whether to stay with the Jazz or sign with the Celtics or Heat, there was a flurry of activity in the Western Conference. Starting with the Minnesota Timberwolves surprise trade for the Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler, squads in the West have been constructing moves as if this were some escalating arms race. Its been a wild stretching of signings, speculation and instant-analysis as squads attempt to put together a roster that might not get their butts wholly kicked if they have to face Golden State.
Lets start with the Oklahoma City Thunder. While it was awe-inspiring to watch Russell Westbrook carry the entire squad by himself, that was never going to be a long-term answer( it was scarcely a short term one ). Or even a part-time one, so they traded for the Indiana Pacers Paul George, instantly enhancing the roster while depriving the Eastern Conference of yet another Top 15 player.
The Houston Rockets have also improved their roster, although it principally came at the expense of the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the few playoff-caliber squads in the Western Conference thats going backwards. The Rocket signed all-world Chris Paul to a one-year, $24.2 m contract. While that move garnered the headlines, Houston also softly wooed underrated role player PJ Tucker away from the Toronto Raptors. Heck, even the Denver Nuggets , not normally a major player when it comes to free agency, did their part in stripping the West of its most valuable assets, handing a three-year ,$ 90 m contract to the Atlanta Hawks Paul Millsap.
Oh, and the defending champion Warriors re-signed Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, which candidly is probably the most important piece of news to come out here the Warriors are as strong as ever, and added Nick Young from the Lakers but is also the least interesting. Then theres the San Antonio Spurs, who were the second-best team in basketball last season and could very well be that again as long as Gregg Popovich remains head coach and Kawhi Leonard doesnt get hobbled.
This brings us back to Hayward. If youre him, and youve ensure how quickly things have escalated since the draft, why sign anywhere else but the Eastern Conference? Yes, building it to the finals necessitates beating LeBron James in a seven-game series. Its a tricky assignment, obviously, but it sure beats the alternative of having to outlast nearly everybody else.
Its a frustrating period for Jazz fans, and quite possibly Hayward himself. This was the time when Utah were supposed to make the leap into being a challenger, yet the rise and proliferation of super-teams has shut a window that was only barely open to begin with. Its like watching a depict get cancelled in the middle of a pilot episode.
Basketball fans in general have the right to be skeptical about the current status quo and whether this trend is good for the NBAs long-term health. Theres a chance that Eastern Conference games will have a distinct minor league feel to them and theres a 100% surely that most of the leagues stars will play in solely too many games that dont start until 10 pm on the east coast.
Lets objective this on an optimistic note, however. Throughout last season, especially during the postseason, we hoped that teams would at least come up with a strategy to remain competitive against the Warrior. It didnt happen, and the result was one of the more dreadful stretches of basketball in recent memory. This time around, squads will be prepared. Awarded, if you cant beat them, join them isnt a particularly complicated or novel strategy but at least its something.
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