Rudy Gobert being the biggest name to change teams during free agency made this iteration feel like an overhyped, under-delivered trade deadline. While there’s still quite a bit of time left in the offseason, all but a star is running it back with last year’s team. Unless the Brooklyn Nets find a trade partner willing to chop off its right arm for Kevin Durant, or the Knicks amputate several limbs to acquire Donovan Mitchell, this edition of NBA musical chairs will be relatively benign.
There was a will he or won’t he to Bradley Beal, Zach Levine, and James Harden, and all of them opted to return to their respective teams. Damian Lillard extended with Portland. Kyrie Irving opted into the last year of his deal like it wasn’t his only option. Rob Pelinka is cold-calling GMs like an Omaha Steaks protein jockey offering premium cuts of Russell Westbrook at discounted rates — and no one wants a $160 thin-sliced-bacon-wrapped filet mignon.
And on Thursday, Deandre Ayton was the latest three dots to go dark, with Phoenix matching Indiana’s four-year, $133 million offer sheet. Let’s see if he and head coach Monte Williams can now overcome the issues that led to their reported squabbles — which I guess weren’t as tenuous as the Suns tried to leverage them to be.
It’s not a bad number for Phoenix considering they had the league’s best record a season ago, and the connection the big man has with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and that core group of guys will only continue to grow. He’s still only 24, consistently puts up a double-double, and could easily be a 20 and 10 center this upcoming year.
The Pacers have smart guards who could’ve fed Ayton the ball with ease, but it’s one thing to convert those dump-offs and lobs when you’re the third option on a great team and quite another to be the No 1 guy with the fate of a franchise on your shoulders. He’d probably have better numbers in Indiana because of how much they’d rely on him. The tradeoff would be team success.
I understand why the Pacers made the offer — small markets rarely have opportunities to land free agents of Ayton’s caliber/pedigree. The issue is how would that team be improved from the one featuring Domantas Sabonis? Little Arvydas was 20 and eight in his final full season in Indiana. It’s disappointing, sure, but Ayton wasn’t a franchise savior.
Same face, same place
There needs to be a tectonic-plate shifting trade between now and the start of the season, or it’s more of the same in Phoenix… and Washington and Chicago and Philly and Boston and Golden State and Miami and Brooklyn and Denver and on and on. You could even say that for Portland, which will once again be led by Lillard, and New York, which will once again be led by an overpaid glorified role player.
The possibility of Danny Ainge panic-trading Mitchell is extremely low. He’s the person in your fantasy league who only offers lopsided deals and is often the impetus for the implementation of vote-approved trades.
General managers would’ve made irresponsible offers for Durant a few years ago, and there might yet be one out there. That said, KD is in the brand-management/lifestyle phase of his career, and his preferred destinations bear that out. With Phoenix inking Ayton, Miami is the sole organization left on the board confident enough in its amenities to offer sizable assets in exchange for his services.
And who’s to say the Nets acquiesce? They’ve made every concession asked of them to get/keep the mercurial stars, and now they’re just going to let Durant wipe his Nike’s on their foreheads on his way to South Beach? No fucking way.
Same place, returning face
In all honesty, the biggest offseason impacts might be guys returning from lost years due to injury. While I have no idea how interested Durant and Irving are in seeing what life is like with a healthy Ben Simmons, there are a couple of other teams who are definitely excited at their prospects with a full roster.
Denver and New Orleans were both operating at limited capacity due to injuries. For 2022-23, Nikola Jokić will have Jamal Murray and whatever’s left of Michael Porter Jr.’s back back. The Nuggets were a legit dark horse title candidate when Jokić, Murray, Porter, and Aaron Gordon were healthy a couple of seasons ago, and they’ll certainly be better than the team that was dismissed in a gentleman’s sweep by the Warriors this year.
The same “if-healthy” moniker you have to mention with MPJ applies to Zion Williamson, but the Pelicans showed more fight than many expected against the Suns in the first round without Williamson. Inserting him in the offense won’t be as seamless as Murray or Porter getting back on the Jokić merry-go-round, and that should probably be the case considering the force of nature that is Zion. That squad is projected to be as fun as the city it resides in.
Association junkies, constantly photoshopping fantasy Big Threes on Instagram, haven’t received the fix they were seeking this offseason — and they might not get it at all. Yet there are a few returning players, as well as incoming rookies, who are worth getting amped up for.
And in an offseason of mundane moves, silver linings might be all there is to inhale. So, I guess, enjoy smoking resin and second gens.