On NBA Superteams
Instead of doing some ridiculously long thread of tweets, which is the worst, I decided to create this account and post some thoughts on the short-term future of the NBA, my second favorite sports league after the Premier League.
These next few offseasons of the NBA are going to be fascinating to watch, even if the playoffs probably won’t be, due to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, in their current iteration, are the best team ever. I state that as an inarguable fact mainly because athletes get better over time and the overall quality of the league is much better than it was even a decade ago due to advancements in medical science, training, and advanced analytics impacting the way teams play and even the preparation of even the very best players in the league. If you want to argue the ’96 Bulls were comparably better than the ’17 Warriors, that’s fine! Just do it somewhere else.
The Warriors have two of the best five players in the league, both former MVPs, a former and likely future DPOY, and the second best 3pt shooter of all time. Barring some catastrophe, these players will be playing together for the next 3 to 4 years. That creates a bit of a problem for the rest of the league. How can you beat the Warriors?
You need a few things: at least one top 10 player, at least two other top 20 players, and a handful of three point shooters that won’t get you killed on defense. Oh, and all these players need to compliment each other with minimal overlap of style and playing strengths. Simple, right?
Considering there are a number of great players that could lose their title-contending prime to the Warriors, it’s worth considering how they might team up. First, I’ll compile some players that fit these 3 categories I laid out and then follow it up with how they could feasibly connect to form a super team.
Top 10 Players
The top 10 players in the league are tough to nail down other than a top 7: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis. Chris Paul, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and John Wall round out my list, but I would listen to arguments for Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Rudy Gobert, and Draymond Green.
The 10–20 Range
Other than the 3 I listed as feasible top 10 players above, I’d put Gordon Hayward, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Marc Gasol in this tier. Kyrie Irving, Paul Millsap, Mike Conley, LaMarcus Aldridge, Isaiah Thomas, CJ McCollum, and Kyle Lowry could all be in this range too. Perhaps even youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic could be considered in this tier.
Kinda 3 and at-least-not-horrid D guys
There’s too many in the league to list but I’ll throw out a few that are going to be free agents this offseason (not including younger guys who will surely be re-signed by their teams): Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Gay, Serge Ibaka, JJ Redick, Jodie Meeks, Jeff Teague, Nikola Mirotic, PJ Tucker, CJ Miles, Patty Mills, Jonathan Simmons, Dion Waiters, Ian Clark, and Omri Casspi.
The first consideration has to be, where the top players currently are and if they could reasonably end up somewhere else this summer. Second, you have to consider the salary cap mechanics and the possibility of opening up enough space via trades and current space. Third, you have to consider whether a team might gamble its future to go after the Warriors. Lastly, you have to consider the city in which that team plays.
Current non-Golden State teams with top 10 players under contract for next season are Cleveland (LeBron), Houston (Harden), OKC (Russ), San Antonio (Kawhi), New Orleans (Davis), Milwaukee (Giannis), and Washington (Wall). Chris Paul is a free agent. Jimmy Butler is the subject of many trade rumors. Paul George has one year left on his deal and few expect him to stay in Indianapolis. Rudy Gobert is the only stable, multi-year sure thing to stay with his current team, Utah, out of that group.
For the purposes of brevity, I’m going to take Washington, New Orleans, and Milwaukee out of the current super team equation. Washington because the mechanics of having to re-sign Otto Porter, Jr. and having Ian Mahimi as a $16+m/yr millstone around your neck is probably too much to handle. New Orleans because they’re a mess with little hope of making the space to add anyone, even if they were to trade DeMarcus Cousins. Milwaukee because they’re so young, they’re not going to mortgage their future. Giannis, Thon Maker, and Jabari will be hitting their primes when the Warriors are dropping from their’s. They are in no rush.
I’m also going to add Boston to that list of teams because they can feasibly sign a max player and have the assets to trade for others. So, here’s how Cleveland, Houston, OKC, SAS, Washington, and Boston could become superteams that could potentially give the Warriors something to worry about.
Their cap situation is really, really bad at the moment. They had to pay everyone to keep last year’s championship team intact. LeBron is only locked into one more season with the Cavs and then who knows where he will go after that. There has been intense speculation lately that he may bolt for the West Coast. The biggest fake trade that has been thrown out there has been structured around Kevin Love for Paul George. Would a top 3 of LeBron, George and Kyrie, with roughly the same supporting cast be enough to compete with the Warriors? It gets them closer, but I’m not sure it moves the needle enough to lose the guaranteed extra years of Love. Unless they can convince one of the 10–20 range players (Millsap?) into taking the Taxpayer MLE, highly unlikely, they could be in another position to be one of the worst teams in the league if LeBron leaves again. Also, you have to wonder why Indiana would do that deal. It’s feasible that no team will offer anything better than the Cavaliers due to the strong rumor that George will be a Laker in the summer of 2018. If that’s the case, they might as well trade him for Love. Otherwise, it’d seem like they might be able to get packages they like better from someone else. The Cavaliers, sensing their championship window collapsing, may try to push for this, but it seems like there might be too many forces working against them.
If Houston renounces all their caps holds, Nene being the only memorable name from that list, they’d have just under $11m to offer next season. To get to the space they need to offer a max or near-max contract to a top 10–20 player, they’d need to shed Ryan Anderson (very tough with his $19+m/year deal) or Eric Gordon (also tough on his ~$13m/year deal). In the alternative, they could try and trade a couple of their cheaper players such as Trevor Ariza, Lou Williams, or Patrick Beverley, the latter being extremely cheap and useful if you’ve got a ball dominant player on your team that isn’t a point guard. Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap each would be good fits in Houston. The latter in particular might be able to raise them to another level with his defense. It would probably take more than one of those players to push them into contention. Could the Rockets shed enough contracts to sign Lowry and Millsap both? Daryl Morey has been good in the past at clearing space, but you’d likely have to convince the two to take a deal in the $15m/yr range, well below their max. D’Antoni with a starting lineup of Lowry, Harden, Ariza, Millsap, and Capela isn’t too shabby at all. Depending on how they worked it out, they could have an exception or two left to give to veteran players chasing a ring. Gay? Redick? CJ Miles? That starting lineup with even one of those guys coming off the bench when the Rockets go small might be enough firepower to give the Warriors some competition, even if they wouldn’t be favored to win the series.
The Thunder are well over the salary cap, as it stands. Even if they renounced all their cap holds, they’d still be almost $12m over the cap. If they dumped Enes Kanter, that’d only get them up to $6m in space. They’ve invested about $43.5m/year in the duo of Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo. Perhaps they eventually become worth those hefty contracts, but it’s difficult to see how they could contend with those two as your second and third highest players. The only way they can feasibly obtain another one of the top 10–20 players that are free agents would be through a sign and trade. Lowry doesn’t fit, but Griffin, Millsap, and Hayward each would. Whether or not they could get the leverage remains to be seen. Would Indiana trade Paul George for a package centered around former Hoosier Victor Oladipo? Would they or OKC be willing to do a trade centered around Steven Adams and Paul George? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because OKC isn’t trading either one of those guys for a one-year rental. In a fantasy world, Bill Simmons’ LAC-NYK-OKC three-way trade sending Griffin to OKC with only really Kanter going out, gives OKC a lot of options, saving their 2 secondary stars for other asset-driven moves while already having 2 superstars in hand. They have a couple of exceptions for ring-chasers and the possibility Russ could take less money next offseason when he opts out. Abrines and McDermott are cheap 3pt threats and Domantas Sabonis is a player they like who is solid defensively and is working on becoming a stretch 4/5. In reality, OKC aren’t going to get any value for Kanter in today’s NBA. Free agents don’t want to play in OKC. Stuck in this in-between situation, you would think OKC would either put up for Russ’ prime or trade him. It seems most likely that Russ will operate as historic stars did, staying with one team for most of his career, on an above-average team, stuck outside of title contention.
Chris Paul is reportedly looking at them. Kyle Lowry could certainly give them a look. The tough thing is their salary situation, particularly Pau Gasol’s. He will most certainly use his $16m player option for next season. His contract and the $15m/yr they’re paying for 35yo Tony Parker really restricts what they can do. LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t been a seamless fit with the Spurs, but his 15% trade kicker makes him more difficult to deal. Even if they could somehow pull off deals to create the space for Paul, they’ve have to really nail their two exception openings, which the Spurs are pretty good at. If they could open things up for Paul and convince Millsap to take the Non-taxpayer MLE and JJ Redick to take the Bi-Annual Exception, which seems less ridiculous when you consider it’s the Spurs and Pop, that’s a really interesting team that could definitely challenge the Warriors. CP3, Green, Leonard, Millsap, and Aldridge with Parker, Gasol, Redick, The Next Jonathan Simmons or Patty Mills as bench players is a dangerous team.
Basically, the only way Boston is contending in the next 3–4 years is if they trade the #1 pick this season. As has been discussed ad nauseum on the Bill Simmons podcast, there is a way for Boston to sign Gordon Hayward and then trade their #1 pick for Jimmy Butler or Paul George. Of the two, I think I’m going with George due to his size and 3pt shot. I’m not a big IT fan, mainly because I don’t think you can have him on the court defensively against good teams, but IT, Hayward, George, Horford is a very good foursome. Good enough to beat the Warriors? Probably not. They’d likely have to trade IT. It’s feasible, with the other assets and exceptions they have, that they could keep Avery Bradley and find a couple more pieces to make things interesting. A defensively solid wing veteran with Bradley, Hayward, George, and Horford, and a revamped veteran bench, at least puts you in range of the Warriors.
Basically, all this exercise has done is point out that, barring stars taking huge pay cuts, there’s no way the Warriors will have any competition, at least next season until LeBron picks his next landing spot in Summer 2018. God, that’s depressing.