The NBA is not supposed to be this entertaining in July. As a fan of basketball, this is supposed to be the time of year when the basketball news cycle slows down and I am finally able to expand my horizons and find new interests. This is supposed to be the time of year when I finally get around to that book that’s been sitting on my nightstand for the past year, or that documentary about communes that I promised my girlfriend I would someday watch. What I absolutely should not be doing is furiously scrolling through my Twitter timeline wondering if Paul Pierce really doesn’t know what an emoji is, or where I can go to rent a banana boat of my own.
But there’s something inherently entertaining about drama. It’s a universal guilty pleasure. We all have at least one sleazy celebrity gossip blog secretly bookmarked, or a trashy reality television show that we love to watch. And in many ways, this entire NBA off-season has simply resembled one big reality show. A reality show much more dramatic and entertaining than Adam Silver could have ever dreamed of. Here are some of the show’s best story lines so far:
The Bachelor – DeAndre Jordan
I certainly have no idea what the day-to-day life of being a professional basketball player is like, but I am pretty confident that DJ has never felt this wanted in his life. And while some might find it ridiculous that DeAndre was able to renege on what was essentially an agreed upon deal, that’s the beauty of the off-season! In the span of about 10 days we’ve had a figurative hostage situation, a literal hostage situation, the two biggest NBA markets being repeatedly spurned, someone willingly choosing to turn down $10M and a lifetime’s supply of funny tweets. Dear Adam Silver, for the love of god, please don’t mess with free agency. It’s perfectly fine the way it is.
Survivor – The Sacramento Kings
While the Clippers certainly have been the most entertaining team this offseason, the long-term bet for the most entertaining team off of the court this year is definitely the team just a little further north, in Sacramento, where the Kings have put together an all-star lineup of NBA personalities. Let’s start with what they already had: Their star player is the always entertaining DeMarcus Cousins, their coach is professional curmudgeon George Karl and they have an owner in Vivek Ranadivé that at some point seriously proposed a defensive scheme that involved playing four on five. They have since then decided to add Rajon Rondo, who couldn’t have flamed out worse in Dallas, and they’ve drafted a rookie who legally changed his middle name to “Trill”. There are going to be some great news stories as a result of this “island of misfit players” that Sacramento has put together and of all of these reality shows this is the one I look most forward to keeping an eye on.
Undercover Boss - The Cleveland Cavaliers
Remember that summer when LeBron finally realized how big he was? It was scary right? After losing to the Mavericks in the 2011 finals, it was no secret that LeBron began taking his post game more seriously and we all got to witness just how much better it made him as he essentially played “power guard” for large portions of Miami’s back to back championship runs. Watching LBJ operate off the court this summer feels a little like watching that all over again. While he has been one of the faces of the league ever since his rookie season, it seems like LeBron has finally realized how powerful that actually makes him. We have seen glimpses of this before, with LeBron admitting to vetoing some of Coach David Blatt’s play calls and requesting that the Heat draft Shabazz Napier. He also obviously has something to do with the annual pilgrimage of the NBA’s geriatric ring chasers to wherever he happens to be playing. But it seems King James has taken his behind the scene requests to another level this summer because according to reports, LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul are pushing to get his teammate and good friend Tristan Thompson – a man who did not know what hand he shot a basketball with until last year – a contract worth $80M dollars. Even with the upcoming NBA salary cap jump, giving a glorified bench player $80M is insane. But by continuing to sign single year contracts LeBron is essentially using the threat of him leaving to get his say in personnel decisions for the Cavaliers. Just how much of a say does he get? We may honestly never know but it is clear that Lebron is more than just a player at this point in his career. Lebron James just might be the single most powerful person in all of sports, and this summer is just another reminder that – both on and off the court – we have never seen a professional athlete quite like him before.
The Real World – The New York Knicks & The Los Angeles Lakers
In a weird way I really admire Knicks and Lakers fans, because it takes a special kind of optimist to look at the extremely bad basketball teams that they have in both cities and still have the enthusiastic belief that top players will still want to sign there. They’re also so steadfast in their belief that there’s really no point in trying to explain reality to them. It’s like telling a kid Santa Claus isn’t real – they’ll either just refuse to believe you or have a mental breakdown. But the past few years have made it clear that playing for a big market NBA team doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to. In today’s internet era, fans are able to watch good basketball in all markets, and endorsements will follow talented and exciting players no matter where they play. The NBA’s two biggest stars play in Cleveland and Oklahoma City and they seem to be doing just fine. In fact, if you’re content with being a good player on a losing team, is it really better to play in a city where the tabloids will trash you on a regular basis and you will in all likelihood be embarrassed on national TV several times a year?
Hoarders - The San Antonio Spurs
Let’s just all go home. They did it again. The Spurs have all the talent. Seriously though, it is getting ridiculous just how long the Spurs have been able to keep their championship window open for. It seems like every time that the window starts to show signs off closing, another star appears out of nowhere to keep it open. And while Kawhi Leonard has done most of the heavy lifting to keep that window open lately, LaMarcus Aldrige is a proven NBA scorer that turbo-charges their offense and gives them a new big three for the post-Duncan era. And just for fun, San Antonio also signed an extremely discounted David West this year because…Spurs. Sure, do they have some depth issues on the bench? Yes. And will some of the production of the Spurs older stars inevitably begin to drop as they continue to age? Yes again. But these are the Spurs we are talking about! The San Antonio Spurs are allergic to losing – they’ll figure it out.
The Biggest Losers - The Portland Trailblazers
Imagine coming into your workplace and discovering that 80% of your coworkers no longer worked there. That’s pretty much what happened to Damian Lillard. As the sole returning member of Portland’s starting lineup, Lillard is now unquestionably the face of the franchise and the leader of the team. Unfortunately for him, the team he will be leading looks to be a lot worse than it was last year. Portland has picked up some solid young role players and Mason Plumlee may even be a slight upgrade over Robin Lopez at the centre position, but this is definitely a team that will not be making the playoffs like they did last year. The Portland Trailblazers are officially in rebuild mode.