The NBA has become a 24/7/365 sport now, whether you like it or not.
As a result, ball is life, and the main requirement for being married to the game is not only keeping up with all the news, but simultaneously deciphering the league’s opaque hieroglyphics.
What this means is that there is always more than meets the eye, and as we prepare for training camps, there are several under-the-radar plots to be played out that are right in front of our face but aren’t getting nearly enough attention.
First and foremost: The Nets have positioned themselves to be the same trade deadline poison pill that they were in 2011 when Carmelo Anthony forced the Knicks to trade all of their assets, their children’s college funds and even the family dog to guarantee Melo’s services for the following season and ensure he didn’t sign with Brooklyn.
As soon as the 2018-19 campaign concludes, the Nets will have only a minuscule $36.9 million in salary on the books headed into the next season, and only HALF of that is actually guaranteed. This puts the Nets in a position to throw an absurd amount of money at anyone they so choose.
You already know by now how stacked the free agency class of 2019 is. Potentially: Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker — just to name a few.
Because of Brooklyn’s checkbook, roster flexibility and the getting to play for the friends-with-benefits franchise of New York City factor — and, oh by the way, the Nets actually have their own first-round pick for the first time since 2013 AND the rights to Denver’s first-rounder protected 1-12 — don’t be surprised to see playoff teams pay a premium to acquire these stars before they become unrestricted free agents.
That’s exactly what Toronto did with Leonard — because the best way to prevent the prom queen from taking your man is to get him to put a ring on YOUR finger before the dance.
Not mentioned in that list of available standouts: Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant.
They could both leave at the end of the season and send free agency into a Category 5 shitstorm, but Joe Lacob and the Warriors’ brass have the ultimate sales pitch already lined up to retain the two superstars: the Chase Center.
Scheduled to open its doors in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco in time for the 2019-20 season, the Warriors’ new home will not only feature state-of-the-art facilities, but an eye-popping list of Silicon Valley titans sitting courtside every night.
That will make it one of the most intriguing places to play for stars interested in entrepreneurship.
I’m not saying Klay and Durant would leave if the franchise stayed at Oracle, but the fact that this arena is opening the SAME YEAR the Warriors will likely be at the crossroads of dissolving the roster or being a dynasty worthy of discussion with the ’90s Bulls and the Bill Russell Celtics means the Chase Center may ultimately go down as the most important free agency acquisition of this NBA era IF its mystique keeps the Hamptons Five together.
Down the 405 freeway, there is a Civil War stewing in Los Angeles. We’ve already seen the first shots fired over different murals painted across the city …
… and the only way to prevent it from escalating into chaos is the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
This civil war is among “Kobe is the King of LA forever” people, those who will follow LeBron through the depths of hell no matter what team he plays for and Lakers fans who just want the team to win again.
If this Dream Meme team of a roster — which feels like it was put together by drunk NBA Twitter — is under .500 out of the gates or replicates the infamous campaign of 2012-13, one which saw the Lakers BARELY make the playoffs with four Hall of Famers …
… die-hard Kobe fans and Laker fans are going to unite to blame LeBron.
It may not be fair, but you KNOW it’s going to happen.
And then we’re going to get angry GM LeBron …
And then he’s gonna start subtweeting …
And then … well … we saw how that ended last season.
The team with the most to lose might surprise you … because it’s actually the Atlanta Hawks.
You’d figure that a franchise dumping salaries and tanking is playing with house money, but trading away a global prodigy for Monopoly-chance-card Steph Curry and a top-five protected pick from a team that is likely going to be back in the lottery again: RISKY.
In addition to playing Dallas Mavericks roulette, remember when Atlanta gave the Cleveland Cavaliers one of the best 3-point shooters ever for two bags of Cheetos and a top-10 protected pick?
That top-10 pick gets converted into two second-rounders if the Cavs score pick 1-10 in the next two lotteries.
The Hawks are that guy in the casino who just lost all of his winnings, maxed out the ATM and is on his way to double-down on red …
He’s either going broke, or we going Sizzler.
And finally: We can’t sign off without paying homage to the legendary coup pulled off by Kawhi this summer. He trailblazed an unprecedented pre-free agency blueprint.
Because of Leonard, we now know all you have to do is bitch about your leg, tell your friends you’ll meet them at the party then completely no-show, leave your spouse on Read for an entire year, and you will get exactly what you want.
It’s no secret that the Timberwolves’ locker room is simmering with toxicity, and it makes me think, what if Jimmy Butler follows Kawhi into the territory of “Oh my arm, it’s broken!” …
… or if the rumors about Karl-Anthony Towns and Tom Thibodeau escalate into something more serious …
… every unhappy “I’m due to get an extension soon” star may look to test his own version of Kawhi’s “I dare you to call my bluff; I’ll just sit here until my contract expires” strategy.
THESE stories, among many others, are tiptoeing in the NBA shadows — no more.