With the season right around the corner, players have been ranked, teams dissected, skills put under a microscope. What are story-lines stood out to the gang at RealBallInsider? I rounded up some Jannelle Moore, Pedro Casa, and Rafael Torres to answer the burning questions that I just made up:
LeBron James left his throne in Cleveland to join the youth brigade of Tinsel-Town. The Phoenix Suns turned up their nose at one of the most decorated Euro prospects ever and drafted the physical marvel that is DeAndre Ayton. Paul George did a complete 180, turning his back on the chance to sign with his hometown Lakers to commit to the OKC Thunder. The Kawhi Era in San Antonio being cut short, with Leonard and DeMar DeRozan swapping teams. Plenty went down this off-season- with the dust settling, what’s been the most compelling story arc to you?
Jannelle Moore: Paul George staying with the Thunder is my story. PG’s situation is fascinating because I believe he was going to stay with the Thunder all along, and he really milked the extra attention for all it’s worth. He finessed ESPN out of a special and probably some cash. Brodie (Russell Westbrook) cut his vacation short to throw him a party. PG used the speculation around him going to the Lakers was smart. Why not try to get something out of the hoopla?
Paul George staying with the Thunder is my story. PG’s situation is fascinating because I believe he was going to stay with the Thunder all along, and he really milked the extra attention for all it’s worth. He finessed ESPN out of a special and probably some cash. Brodie (Russell Westbrook) cut his vacation short to throw him a party. PG used the speculation around him going to the Lakers was smart. Why not try to get something out of the hoopla?
Pedro Casas: Lebron’s decision was going to be the story of the off-season regardless, but if we’re talking most compelling – Jannelle is right, it has to be Paul George not even taking a meeting with the Lakers, right? Look, I’m not one to question another man’s decision when he felt it was best for him and his family. Nothing but respect there. But the way the situation played out, the party Russell Westbrook hosted in which he left a family vacation to be there for when it all went down, made it seem like George had made up his mind far in advance.
A year ago, it was all but concluded that the Thunder were getting a one-year rental and then George would be back in SoCal. What a difference a year makes. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka weren’t even given a chance to lay the charm down. What made him have such a faint change of heart? Was it the bright lights and pressure of Hollywood? Is Oklahoma City really that dope? We’ll probably never know, but I’ll speak for most Lakers fans here, we’re on our Mario Winans sh*t: “I don’t wanna know.”
Rafael Torres (AKA “Fearless leader”): The most compelling story to me? Isaiah Thomas joining the Denver Nuggets. I know it’s basically a short (editor’s note: “short”, hehe) story to everyone else, but as someone who follows both the Celtics and Nuggets closely, it is the story of the offseason. He went from MVP candidate to injured trade fodder, to backing up a lottery team point guard in Los Angeles, to cast away free agent. Now Thomas will be backing up another young point guard in Denver. Would he have joined the Nuggets to back Jamal Murray up if he didn’t see star potential in Murray? Were the Nuggets REALLY his only choice? Will he ever get back to scorching defenses like an MVP candidate, and will he get paid next offseason? There’s so many questions with that signing; there would have been less question marks for me if he simply remained unsigned this offseason. I like LeBron in LA, though, and I’m secretly hoping that they don’t make the playoffs.
Does LeBron make the Lakers a significant threat THIS season? Which current Laker will benefit the most from King James’ presence? Which Laker will maybe struggle to mesh with LeBron?
Pedro: This all really depends on what you define as a threat. Are the Lakers built to beat Golden State this year? No. Do they have enough talent around Lebron to push any team in a playoff series to 7? Yes. Now, if George would have come to LA, the Lakers would have had something to think about when it came to acquiring Kawhi Leonard. At that point I’m almost positive Magic would have pulled the trigger and sent either Kuzma or BI and a few picks to SA to bring Kawhi to Tinseltown. Now, that core is the building block that would knock GSW off, but we’ll never get to see it happen.
As far as the Laker who will benefit the most and struggle with Lebron are oddly the same player, Lonzo Ball. He’s used to having the ball in his hands and making the point guard reads within the offense. Having Lebron on the floor will hinder him early in the season as he tries to figure how to play off the ball and come off screens. But, as the season progresses, I think Lebron won’t want the ball in his hands every play like he did on Cleveland. This will allow Lonzo to take everything he’s learned from Lebron on the floor and Magic on the sideline and take his game to unprecedented levels.
Rafael: Um, no they are not a significant threat this season. I think they have some nice pieces, but they still have a long mountain to climb. Bron is kind of trying to build something out of basically nothing so that’s cool, but yeah, no.
I think Brandon Ingram will benefit most from James signing with the Lakers. He and Kuzma will be terrors at the 2 and 4 if they play big ball and put LeBron at the 3. There’s plenty of different combinations there and Ingram will be in just about all of them. I think Lonzo Ball will struggle the most. He won’t have the ball in his hands as much and he isn’t a great spot up shooter.
Jannelle: The addition of LeBron will catapult to the Lakers into the playoff picture this year. Competing is a different story though. With the way that this roster is constructed, they can’t in earnest, compete. In these young players, the Lakers have a handful of very tradable assets for the deadline (and the offseason), and Magic won’t hesitate to use those assets as trade bait for sure for next year.
I believe that Kuz will benefit the most because he is always around other players trying to absorb knowledge and add to his game. Kuz is someone that has a desire to be great and he is constantly working on ways to get better. Lance will struggle for obvious reasons. I just can’t take that dude seriously.
Kawhi Leonard changes the whole dynamic in Toronto. The Raps are at a crossroads: with Lowry ain’t getting younger, and GM Ujiri Masai will have tons of flexibility next summer, depending on the whims of Kawhi. What would it take for the Raps to convince Leonard to stick around? What are the odds that Kawhi: 1) ends next season as a Raptor and 2) starts the 2019-2020 season as a Laker?
Rafael: To convince Kawhi to stay? I don’t think it’ll take as much as everyone believes. I feel like Kawhi just wants to be loved. He wants someone to want the best for him. If the Raptors show him some real love, I don’t see him leaving the money on the table that they can offer him. It would take the Raptors making some drastic changes to the roster, most likely. If they start slow, I expect them to attempt to move Lowry. They likely want to show Kawhi they want what’s best for him even if it means getting rid of their more loyal players cough cough. I’d put the odds at 40-60 right now in favor of the Lakers. I don’t think the Raptors have what it takes to be a dominant team, and LeBron James’ gravity might be a little to much for Leonard to resist.
Jannelle: It will take the Raptors having a winning season, going deep into the playoffs, and GM Masai Ujiri having a foolproof plan to improve the roster going forward to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another PG situation and he stays. Think about it: Leonard may mesh in LA on the court, but off of it, despite being home, perhaps he’ll struggle. He is not the most charismatic star in the game. He don’t talk to media much. He don’t say “hey”,”bye”, “kiss my ass”, nothing, as it is, just imagine how withdrawn he’ll be on that team. His personality doesn’t bode well for endorsements. If he’s winning with the Raptors, I see no reason why he’ll leave.
Pedro: Drake will be in full charm mode for the next year as he tries to convince Kawhi Leonard to re-sign in The Six. The only good news for Raptors fans is that there’s a lot of words that rhyme with Kawhi at Drake’s disposable.
“Kawhi, you know that you my guy
San Antonio made you feel ready to die
But you came to the right city if you wanna feel alive
So, how about you put pen to paper and sign for another 5 and $205”
(Kawhi is gone after this year to team up with Lebron in LA)
Victor Oladipo took a gigantic leap as a player last season, from inconsistent starter to bonafide superstar in Year 5. Such a late jump is rare, but who could you see making such a jump this season?
Jannelle: I believe it will be Barton and Mirotic Will is a solid option for a young Denver team dependable scorer. He always seem to have impactful games against the Warriors. Mirotic has developed as a solid wing and I really see him making a jump in New Orleans. No DeMarcus should equal more opportunities offensively.
Pedro: I think the logical choice would be Clint Capela. He looked like a player ready to make that Oladipo sized jump last year with another year of of CP3 and his already impressive production in the pick & roll. Capela averaged 13.9 ppg last year shooting predominantly around the rim area. I’m looking to see if he adds that little 12-14-foot jumper or flip shot to his arsenal this off-season, where instead of exploding to the rim off a Harden or CP3 pick and roll, he can square up and knock down the open shot.
He’s going to get a lot of those open looks next season playing next to those two guys, he can take it to the next level if he capitalizes those easy opportunities. You take into account that he’s only 23, just got paid big, and he seems to really like it in Houston, and the sky’s the limit for this guy. Plus, Melo will be in town building a brick house, expect his boards per game is to skyrocket as well. Next year could be huge for Capela.
Rafael: I don’t think we will see the jump that Oladipo made last season but if I had a gun to my head and was made to choose, I’d choose Brandon Ingram. He was a good player last season but if he becomes the clear #2 to LeBron James, he can easily average 20+ per game on great efficiency.
Next up: the rookies!