KD-Kyrie. LeBron-AD. Kawhi-PG. This year, NBA free agency felt like teams were trying to build the best NBA Jam team possible. The two-on-two arcade game became reality during the last week, as duos that NBA fans had only fantasized about suddenly joined powers and revived franchises in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Aside from a lot of new faces in new places, the fallout of these moves is an NBA landscape that is wide open with double-digit title contenders. These are the ten biggest moves, and how they impact the chase for next year’s title. As NBA Jam players would say, BOOMSHAKALAKA!
- Pacers, Bucks Battle Out for Central Supremacy
The Milwaukee Bucks took major steps forward in the 2018-19 season, but the impending free agencies of several key contributors threatened to drop the Bucks a peg in the NBA power structure. Milwaukee succeeded in keeping their roster mostly intact by signing All Star Khris Middleton to a massive 5-year, $178 million contract, while also keeping floor-spacing big man Brook Lopez and adding his brother Robin. But former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon was a casualty and was shipped to division rival Indiana in a trade. With Brogdon and Victor Oladipo leading the electrifying Indiana backcourt, the Pacers should be up there with the Eastern contenders and make the Central Division title a two-horse race.
- Pelicans Fill Out League Pass-Worthy Lineup
Teams don’t usually rebound from losing a top-five NBA player, but the Pelicans set themselves up for a tantalizing future and a promising present. Drafting the high-flying Zion Williamson to a team that already pushes the pace should make for exciting games, and the haul received in the Davis trade adds pieces around Williamson and All Star Jrue Holiday that make this team a contender to reach the playoffs. Sharpshooter J.J. Redick is another valuable veteran presence that should make the Pelicans an offensive juggernaut.
- Warriors Replenish Roster with Russell
Two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant left Golden State for greener pastures, leaving the Warriors in somewhat of a freefall. Golden State acted quickly, acquiring guard D’Angelo Russell in a trade with Brooklyn as a way to capitalize on their closing championship window and fill in the roster hole that an injured Klay Thompson has opened. The Russell trade may not pan out, and he may not even be on the team in seasons to come, but it’s a move that makes the Warriors relevant and players in the Western Conference picture.
- Jimmy Buckets Takes Over South Beach
The 76ers had three starters on the market, and it was ultimately Jimmy Butler, the de-facto playoff playmaker at the end of last season, who the Sixers traded away. Butler now becomes the main man in Miami, a team that has been on the outside of the playoff fringes but has maintained a win-now mentality. The Heat won’t be on the top tier of the Eastern Conference, but it will be interesting how far the competitive Butler can lead this team.
- Sixers Reload by Keeping Harris, Adding Playoff Foil Horford
Speaking of the Sixers, they had themselves quite the offseason. Aiming to stay at the forefront of the Finals race, general manager Elton Brand made a series of bold moves that he hopes will help Philly make the most of their championship window. Tobias Harris, a midseason acquisition at power forward, was retained on a max contract, while the 76ers also plucked center Al Horford from division rival Boston. Brand also acquired forward Josh Richardson in the Butler trade, gambling that the team would be able to replace Butler’s impact as a playoff closer and top-notch shooter. Philadelphia will boast the league’s tallest lineup next season, and it remains to be seen whether size will take the prize in June.
- Celtics Find New Point Guard in Kemba Walker
After a season that failed to live up to lofty expectations, the Celtics retooled by letting Kyrie Irving walk and then replacing him with Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, a more team-oriented but less proven point guard than Uncle Drew. The Celtics may have a more coherent locker room than last year, but with less playoff experience and the loss of Horford, Boston faces an uphill battle in knocking off the top dogs in the Eastern Conference.
- Utah Jumps Ahead with Conley, Bogdonovic
Utah has been building a championship contender slowly but surely, and they cemented their status as a win-now team by trading for a proven playoff star in the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley and adding big man Bojan Bogdonovic on a four-year deal. Two super duos have risen up in the Western Conference, but the Jazz may have the mix of continuity and talent to take control of the wide-open Western Conference in 2019-20.
- Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving Team Up for Nets
Though he may not even play next year, Kevin Durant was the premier free agent in this year’s class and one who figured to turn around the fortunes of the franchise he joined. An hour before free agency opened, news broke that he would be joining point guard Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. Durant’s decision turned the overlooked Nets into Finals contenders for the foreseeable future and gives him the chance to prove he can win the big one on his own.
- Anthony Davis Sent to Los Angeles
He’s one player, but Anthony Davis gives LeBron James the opportunity to write another chapter of success in his career and build on his case as the best player of all-time. With James at point guard and Davis at the 4, the Lakers will have one of the most potent offensive duos in recent memory. James will finally have the support and shooting he needs to thrive in the late stages of his career, while Davis will have the stage to establish himself as a true superstar and playoff performer. This move has both short- and long-term implications and could result in a title this year.
- Kawhi Leonard, Paul George Go to Clippers
The biggest news of free agency was saved for last, as Kawhi Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, not only signed with the Los Angeles Clippers but also orchestrated a trade that allowed MVP finalist Paul George to join him in SoCal. The Clippers jumped up from the eighth seed in the previous playoffs to the preseason favorite to win the NBA title. Leonard and George add defensive prowess and late-game heroics to a talent-laden and well-run franchise, spelling bad news for the rest of the league. Their additions should also make the Lakers-Clippers rivalry as strong as ever and the NBA season must-watch TV.