Attention casual NBA fans, casual gamblers, and everyone who is mesmerized by the intersection of the NBA, Chinese politics, Freedom of Speech and South Park: In case you weren’t paying close attention, the entire NBA landscape changed over the summer.
And what we have here is your guide to making sense of what transpired over the course of the craziest NBA summer anyone can remember.
West still best
The Western conference is even stronger than it was in recent seasons. If you want to start recycling Leastern Conference jokes, join the party. The only cities in which those jokes no longer apply are Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
Remember how recent years have felt like a march to the inevitable: The Golden State Warriors appearing in the NBA Finals? They are over.
Kevin Durant took his talents and his ruptured Achilles to Kings County (yes, that is Brooklyn’s official name); Klay Thompson is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament; DeMarcus Cousins left for L.A. and then got hurt in a pickup game, and one of the few familiar faces playing in the Bay Area (San Francisco now, not Oakland) is Draymond Green.
Anthony Davis finally got his wish and was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he will team with LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma and the newly imported Danny Green and Jared Dudley on a star-packed Lakers team that will make Jeanie Buss the new female face of the NBA.
Kawhi Leonard ditched the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors and played his hand so smartly that he got Paul George to come along with him, part of a breakup of the Oklahoma City Thunder that also included the trade of Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. What remains in OKC is Danilo Gallinari, the soon-to-be-traded Steven Adams, Chris Paul, and a cast of castoffs that will be a bottom feeder in the West this season as general manager Sam Presti spends the season scouting to figure out what will become of the 15 first-round draft picks he acquired in this summer of mayhem.
Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis and Emmanuel Mudiay joined a Utah Jazz team that the bookmakers are taking quite seriously, and Kristaps Porzingis is about to restart his Unicorn act in Dallas alongside the reigning Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic.
Finally, Zion Williamson went No. 1 overall to a New Orleans Pelicans franchise now in the hands of former Cavs general manager David Griffin.
Over in the East…
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has been joined in Milwaukee by his younger brother Thannasis, and 3-point marksman Brook Lopez has been joined by his brother Robin on what is viewed in the NBA futures market as the strongest Eastern Conference team out there.
Philadelphia jettisoned Jimmy Butler and brought in Al Horford and Jason Richardson, giving coach Brett Brown yet another roster overhaul with which he must make some sense out of.
Oh, and Kyrie Irving ditched Boston for Brooklyn.
What the insiders are seeing (and saying)
This is head-spinning stuff, and it is safe to say the NBA is as wide-open in terms of championship contenders and individual award races as it has been for at least a half-decade.
TheLines.com spoke to two veteran NBA reporters to get their thoughts on what transpired. No NBA executives would be quoted on the record for fear of violating tampering rules (along with the fact that they are being discouraged from commenting on gambling-related matters, which is puzzling because the NBA has been at the forefront of this fast-growing segment of the sports industry).
The biggest move?
“I guess Anthony Davis is the first thing that comes to mind,’ said veteran Associated Press basketball writer Brian Mahoney. “If it was just LeBron, they might be a 30-win team, but now they are at least a 50-win team.
“And then there is Kyrie, who basically swaps out another All-Star, DeAngelo Russell. If he plays great, maybe the Nets get to 50 wins. But the big question is Durant. Even if he comes back in March, that is not a lot of time. And by that juncture of the season, they’ll still be worried about earning the home-court advantage.”
Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, who wrote a brilliant piece called “25 Days That Changed the NBA,” said Durant and Irving going to Brooklyn was the No. 1 move, followed by Leonard going to the Clippers and George facilitating it.
“What the Clippers did, it’s a big leap to go without any stars to where they are expected to be. And this leaves Toronto’s chances of repeating in the crapper.
“Steph Curry is now a strong candidate for MVP if you are looking for a team with a lone star. When Steph won his earlier MVP’s, Klay wasn’t Klay yet and Durant wasn’t there.
“I do think LeBron James will have a monster year. He will probably defer for the first time, and that may hurt his MVP chances, but he CAN age gracefully,” Aschburner said.
On to the betting odds
As far as championship odds go, the Clippers are the favorites at both sportsbooks, listed at +330 at FanDuel and +325 at DraftKings. Among Eastern Conference teams, the Bucks and Sixers and more or less neck and neck, Milwaukee listed at +650 at DK and +600 at FD; Philadelphia listed at +700 at DK and +750 at FD.
The guess here is that Aschburner is right — Curry surrounded by two fewer superstars will increase his chances of winning MVP. What’s more, he currently holds the NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a season at 402. Nobody has a prop bet up yet on whether that record will fall, but the folks at FanDuel are pretty much in agreement on this one. They list Curry at -240 to have the most 3-pointers made this season. Barring yet another ankle injury, that there is what you might call a sure thing.
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