By Charley Gutierrez
As the defending champion Golden State Warriors continue to pull further away from the rest of the NBA, the league continues to try and play catch up.
This past NBA offseason had the attention of basketball fans worldwide due to the relocation of big-name players. In recent NBA off seasons, owners have thrown hauls of money at less deserving players. This type of news can be bleak when you see someone like Timofey Mozgov signs a 4 year, 64-million-dollar deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. As a starter, Mozgov averaged a mere 6 points and 4 rebounds a game while his salary was more than two-time MVP Stephen Curry’s! However, this year has seen a paradigm shift as superstars, wielding more power than ever, have shipped themselves around the league, reshaping the landscape of professional basketball. All-star players such as Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, and Dwayne Wade all have new homes for this NBA season.
Like being the new kids at school, these players have the opportunity to change their peer’s perception of them as they start fresh in their new homes. A renewal of a professional athlete’s career is unique for each player as he faces new struggles. Some players this season have gone from being the main options at their previous teams to now being the second or third options. On the other hand, certain players have had to step up and become the franchise players that they were destined to be. The new demographic for the NBA has made for a fascinating 2017-2018 season.
Let’s consider The Oklahoma City Thunder who signed Carmelo Anthony and Paul George over the summer. Both were franchise players for their previous teams, and both had to worry about their stats going down playing alongside reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. Anthony has always been criticized for being a selfish player who only cared about cashing checks. But he claims that he signed with OKC because of the talent level of Russell Westbrook. Anthony told the media, “We came here for [Russell Westbrook]. We came here because we believe in what he does and what he can bring to the game. We don’t want him to stop doing that.” Both Anthony and Paul have had to change their games this season. They’ve had to learn how to take a backseat to Westbrook. This kind of sacrifice is tough for them to sustain over a long NBA season because they both were groomed to become franchise players from the start of their careers.
Last year the Houston Rockets were the third best team in the NBA with a record of 55-27. By adding nine-time All-Star Chris Paul this offseason they put themselves at the top of the NBA food chain. However, adding Paul to the lineup has come with some possible complications. The obvious question that you ask when looking at the union of James Harden and Chris Paul is: how will Paul and Harden coexist? “Normally my offenses have had one kind of hall of fame point guard and now we’ve got two that will be on the court the whole time and I’m real excited about that,” said Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Paul has always been the most prominent player on his previous teams. These teams have relied on him to produce night in and night out. Now playing alongside one of the league’s hottest players (James Harden), Paul has had to adjust to being the second option while at the same time being a vocal leader of the team. Think about this: Paul is a ball dominating point guard that has joined forces with James Harden, last year’s league leader in total isolation possessions (a whopping 566 iso possesions). But guess what? It’s worked. The Rockets have the best record in the league heading into the final third of the season. The real question, however, has yet to be answered. How will Paul and Harden handle the pressures of playoffs?
One of the few players who stayed in the Eastern Conference is the young guard Kyrie Irving, who has moved to Celtics — a team the Cavaliers beat in the Eastern Conference a year before. Irving is stepping out of LeBron’s shadow and is now the first scoring option for the Celtics. Kyrie decided to make a decision that was bigger than basketball in his eyes. He was ridiculed for wanting to leave “the King.” Critics and basketball fans across the globe thought of him as being ungrateful, selfish, and a traitor. But there comes a time in every super star’s career when he wants to be considered “the man” for his franchise. Kyrie’s goal in Boston is to start something new and to bring back the championship culture to the Boston franchise. In a media day joint interview with another offseason acquisition, Gordon Hayward, a lot of questions were about Kyrie’s motivation for parting ways with Cleveland. He explained to the media that “It was time to do what is best for me.” He also talked about how he wanted to be in an environment where he can “grow as a player.” Irving’s case is different from the Anthony’s and Paul’s because now he is becoming “the go to guy” for his team. This season Irving has been able to play more freely with Boston’s young core, and he’s been a force.
Perhaps no team shook things up more than the Cleveland Cavaliers this season — in midseason. At the recent trade deadline Cleveland essentially dumped every player on their team not named LeBron James. Cavaliers General Manager Kolby Altman completed three deals that reshaped Cleveland’s franchise and could have possibly saved their season. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the Cavaliers traded six players and a first round pick to four teams. This required three separate deals and in return the Cavaliers received four new players: George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance. However, the Cavs gave up Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and a 2018 first-round pick. Now each player must find his niche within his new team and make a positive impact for the remainder of the season as teams look to make a playoff push.
The casualty in all this is Isaiah Thomas. But he had to go. The 5’9” scrappy guard overstayed his welcome in Cleveland, and many believed he was the source of the frustrating stretch that the team was experiencing. The Cavaliers looked awful at times with a team that was supposed to rival the Warriors. With a mere fifteen-game sample size, the Cavaliers had enough. They were tired of his off-court drama and lack of defensive accountably. Thomas, who finished third in overall scoring last season, has not been the same since coming off a mysterious hip injury this past postseason. Thomas will now be one of the older players on a young Laker’s squad, and he will have to step into a leadership role with his new team. Unquestionably, Isaiah is a star who you think would start right away, right? Wrong. Lakers ownership have been very clear that rookie Lonzo Ball will be the starter for the foreseeable future. Both players can’t start together because of the size disadvantage and the lack of defense from both. Isaiah has been a bench player in the past, and for him to fit best on this young team, he would be most productive coming fresh off the bench. But can Thomas humble himself for the sake of the Lakers’ future success? He is a dynamic scorer when healthy, but he needs to have his pride take a back seat and let his game do the talking. General Managers around the NBA will be watching Thomas’s performance and off-court behavior as he will most likely use this opportunity to springboard him onto a new team next season.
For the Cavaliers, this is a good move as they are now younger and more athletic. Out of the four players that were added, three of them are twenty-five years of age. Another fact, they added three great three-point shooters who will thrive in Cleveland’s offensive scheme. Rodney Hood is an athletic marksman shooting 38.9 percent from the three-point line, and George Hill is shooting at a remarkable 45 percent from the field. Lebron James’s role will not change: he is the leader in Cleveland. His task will be getting his new players up to speed on their system and really equipping them to last in the playoffs. Lebron is the catalyst that holds this team together. The Cavaliers will only go as far as Lebron James is willing to take them.
The new look of the NBA manifests itself differently for many teams as owners aim to make a championship run for their respective franchises. Only time will tell if these moves will benefit the teams and the individual stars as they get the opportunity to renew their careers.