On July 18th, 2018 at 4:23 a.m., ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped the biggest trade news of the NBA offseason. The Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard and sent back longtime franchise centerpiece DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs.
The NBA world woke up in a frenzy, as the Raptors were nowhere in sight when it came to possible Kawhi Leonard trade destinations according to the media. I, for one, was shocked. Not only were the Raptors a place that Kawhi Leonard was unlikely to re-sign once he hit free agency, but trading DeMar DeRozan too, the top player in Raptors franchise history? Damn.
However, after thinking about it a bit, I really began to love the trade for Masai Ujiri and the Raptors. Ujiri was done going to the playoffs with a really good team, and losing before the Finals every single year. After last season, here were the Raptors’ playoff results dating back to 2014.
2018: Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers – Eastern Conference Semifinals (Sweep)
2017: Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers – Eastern Conference Semifinals (Sweep)
2016: Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers – Eastern Conference Finals (6)
2015: Lost to Washington Wizards – First Round (Sweep)
2014: Lost to Brooklyn Nets – First Round (7)
So many small-middle market teams are content with results like that. They get to the playoffs, have a really good regular season, and sell a lot of tickets. Masai Ujiri was different though. He took the gamble of a lifetime with Lebron James out of the conference (see 2016-2018 Raptors’ playoff results). He realized how wide open the conference was. Most importantly, he realized that THIS was the Raptors’ window to win. With the constant movement in the NBA and unforeseen circumstances like injuries, you never know when that can end.
Ujiri traded the best and most-beloved player in franchise history for a guy who was a presumed one-year rental, coming off a season where he had only played nine games. Let’s also not forget he fired NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who won a franchise record 57 games during the 2017-2018 season and replaced him with Nick Nurse, who had no NBA head coaching experience. Masai Ujiri shot his shot. If it went terribly wrong, it could have cost him his job.
Fast forward 11 months later and the Toronto Raptors are NBA Champions. Kawhi Leonard is NBA Finals MVP, and the Golden State Warriors dynasty has potentially fallen. Masai Ujiri’s full-court heave swooshed.
How does this affect the rest of the NBA?
Let’s take a look towards the 2019-2020 season. With the Kevin Durant’s torn achilles likely keeping him out all of next season and Klay Thompson’s torn ACL likely keeping him out for 80-90% of next season, the league is as wide-open as it’s ever been.
The Warriors will have an uphill battle to get back to the NBA Finals due to the injuries, and who knows if Kawhi Leonard will re-sign with the Raptors. Even Leonard does re-sign, they were taken to seven games by the Sixers and six games by the Bucks. It’s very possible that they can go down.
Looking at rosters as they’re currently constructed…
Here’s a list of teams that can potentially win it all next season:
- Toronto Raptors
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Houston Rockets
- Golden State Warriors (I still expect them to be a very good team, even without Durant and Thompson)
But what about Anthony Davis?
That’s right. Anthony Davis is on the trade market. It’s likely that the Pelicans will probably trade him before the NBA Draft next week on Thursday, June 20th. Is this not what we just saw last offseason? A top-seven player in the NBA wants out of his current situation, and the landscape of the league is set to look completely different. In this situation, the landscape of the league is going to change even more than just LeBron James switching teams. One of the best dynasties in league history will no longer be at full strength.
This is the PERFECT opportunity for a team to swoop in like Masai Ujiri did 11 months ago and get a top-seven player on a one-year rental. This is the PERFECT situation for a team that’s not listed in that group of five above to risk it all and make a trade for Anthony Davis in order to put themselves in that group. Before the Kawhi Leonard trade last offseason, no one would have put them in the conversation for winning an NBA title.
That being said…
Here’s the list of teams that need to consider trading for Anthony Davis:
- Boston Celtics
- Brooklyn Nets
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Denver Nuggets
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Los Angeles Clippers
Based on a quick look at those teams, there’s no doubt that the Lakers are the most likely to land Davis. We know that, as they have the best package to give for him. A duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis likely gets to the NBA Finals next season.
Two other teams that can surprise and offer up great packages for Anthony Davis are the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. No, they haven’t been mentioned yet as teams that can get involved, but the Nuggets have tons of established players combined with that young talent. If they can throw together a package with Jamal Murray, Garry Harris, Michael Porter Jr. and draft picks, who knows what can happen? If the Nuggets can pull off a trade for Davis, they’d easily be thrown into the Finals conversation.
The Trail Blazers are most like the Raptors of last offseason. They have made the playoffs every year since the 2013-2014 season, but have never been further than the Western Conference Finals. They can trade C.J McCollum along with Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons and draft picks in order to pair Anthony Davis with Damian Lillard. That team would immediately get put into NBA Finals conversations.
Honorable Mention: Oklahoma City Thunder
I wanted to mention the Oklahoma City Thunder and where they stand in all of this. Obviously, they have two stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George. So what do they need to do to take that next step and have a real chance to win the NBA Finals? The short answer to this question… Trade for Bradley Beal or Kevin Love.
Advice to NBA Front Offices…
It’s pretty clear after the NBA Finals that if you’re a GOOD team right now, you need to make high-risk, high-reward moves this offseason in order to become a GREAT team. With a league that hasn’t been this wide-open in years, be Masai Ujiri and do it.
Last offseason, the Boston Celtics didn’t acquire Kawhi Leonard because they were unwilling to part with Jaylen Brown. Don’t be the team to overvalue your young talent so much to the point where it makes you forget how good a top-seven player in this league. I’m talking to you Lakers… Don’t be afraid to part with Kyle Kuzma, when you have the opportunity to pair Lebron James with Anthony Davis. It will cost you a chance at an NBA title.
Congratulations to the Toronto Raptors for winning the 2019 NBA Finals. No one will ever forget the efforts of Masai Ujiri front office last offseason to completely revamp the roster in order to make this happen. That being said… Welcome to the 2019 NBA Offseason. It should be the most wild one we’ve had in a long-time.
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