For 29 teams, now is the summer of their discontent. This year’s NBA offseason has been one of the most eventful in recent memory, as the rest of the league has scrambled to respond to the Golden State Warriors’ seemingly unconquerable basketball Death Star. With the dust largely settled from a manic two-week frenzy of trades and signings and Woj bombs, it’s now time to pass judgments, armed only with conjecture and our own personal truths. Here, the Men’s Journal superlatives for the 2017 NBA offseason.
Pettiest Trade: Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder
More than any other sport, the NBA is a soap opera. And, for the past year, there’s been no juicier sub-plot than Russell Westbrook’s jilted-lover insistence that “No, I’m not mad that Kevin Durant left, this is all just really funny to me.” Last year was Westbrook’s furious Lil Uzi Vert interpolation, but this summer has restored some modicum of order to Oklahoma City. Thanks to the trade that brought Paul George to the Big Friendly (which, according to Wikipedia, is an honest-to-god nickname for OKC), Westbrook will once again be paired with another all-world talent. George, although not as galactically gifted as Durant, is a more natural fit alongside Westbrook, providing an explosive secondary offensive option and stalwart defense. More important, Westbrook and George are poised to craft a season-long this could be us but you playing subtweet aimed squarely at Kevin Durant. Maybe they’ll eat a platter of cupcakes together or get matching friendship bracelets or go apple-picking or travel everywhere on a tandem bicycle. The possibilities are endless! The Golden State Warriors are almost assuredly going to win the battle on the hardwood, but the Thunder are winning the battle of hearts and minds.
Most Insignificant Max Contract: Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics
The Celtics are the second best team in the Eastern Conference the same way that Billy Baldwin is the second best Baldwin. Yes, the Celtics are good — their guards are feisty, their wings are versatile, their bigs are big, their coach is a wunderkind — but they’re still eons away from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even after adding All-Star dreamboat Gordon Hayward, the Celtics don’t have the ammo to realistically challenge Lebron James and the Cavs. Hayward is an upgrade, but not quite an advancement. Does it matter? Depends. As a result of the Nets’ decision to drop a MOAB right on their own stupid face four years ago, the Celtics are in the enviable position of being able to contend in the present while also building towards their future. Sitting atop a Hinkiean stash of draft picks, the Celtics are able to supplement their current core with cheap young talent or flip said picks for a paradigm-shifting superstar. For now, they’re playing the waiting game, banking on Jayson Tatum and Jaylon Brown to blossom into a dynamic frontcourt in the mold of the 2009-2010 Charlotte Bobcats (this is a compliment, I won’t tolerate Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace slander). The Celtics are treading water; Gordon Hayward is their new swan-shaped pool raft.
Most Depressing Assortment of Teams: the Eastern Conference
Now, more than ever, there’s a surplus of supremely skilled players: Stephen Curry is redefining the very idea of shooting; Anthony Davis is an arachnid menace patrolling the court; Kawhi Leonard is one of the few players who could get buckets on Kawhi. The problem, though, is that nearly all of them play in the Western Conference–13 of the top 14, per an ESPN graphic. And what about the Eastern Conference? Well, the Eastern Conference is just the boneless Western Conference. Save for Lebron James, the East is largely bereft of talent. More, the teams lack direction — the bulk seem totally happy to soak in the quietude of mediocrity. Although the NBA’s salary cap system is practically Marxist in its devotion to parity, the East remains proof of the gross inequality bred by unfettered, free-market capitalism. These teams are bad and don’t deserve to–or even seem to want to — to fill the conference’s eight allotted playoff spots. Contrary to whatever Rick Perry may say, supply doesn’t always spur demand.
Trade Most Likely to Shake Our Belief in the Inevitable: Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets
Basketball, in its past and current and probably future form, is only played with one (1) basketball. Resultantly, only one player can hold the basketball at a time. This, according to leathery dunces, will pose a problem for the Rockets, who traded for Chris Paul to complement James Harden. The Rockets’ historically proficient offense last season was a carefully calibrated mechanism, these people say, built specifically around James Harden, and the introduction of Paul will disrupt its equilibrium. This, of course, is poppycock. In regard to cowbell, Chipotle and All-NBA players, more is always better. No other team has a backcourt as dynamic and effective as Paul and Harden. To wit, Harden and Paul are perfect foils–Harden alleviates some of the physical toll from the aging Paul; Paul reminds the efficiency-obsessed Rockets that the future is the mid-range; both players are excellent spot-up shooters. For all their potency as a duo, their true impact comes from the Rockets’ ability to stagger the pair’s minutes, allowing them to keep stars fresh and avoid the cwm of unproductivity they oftentimes sunk into last season when Harden rested. The Warriors remain the NBA’s crop’s cream, but the Rockets are perhaps slated to unseat them.
Most Depressing Team: New York Knicks
Put aside that the Knicks haven’t finished a season above .500 since 2012-2013 or that they’ve won only one playoff series since George Bush’s inauguration or that they have the league’s fourth worst winning percentage since the turn of the millennium; being bad isn’t special. The Knicks, like Buzz Lightyear, fall with style. Despite providing fans with a rare moment of hope when they gave Phil Jackson, that cankle-y embodiment of a freshman philosophy class, the heave-ho, the Knicks have remained resolute in their Knicks-yness. They lavished Tim Hardaway Jr. — a fine player, albeit one who’s perfectly apathetic towards matters such as passing or defense — with a $71 million contract, just two years after trading him for scraps. Although Jackson is gone, the Knicks continue to try to trade Carmelo Anthony in their crusade against Kiyan Anthony’s happiness. The Knicks are the fourth panel of the expanding brain meme, haphazardly building and unbuilding their roster according to a set of dictums only they can see. Beyond that, they’re owned by James Dolan, the long-lost fourth Trump son, and are bound to be mired in this shit until the sun melts the Arctic and releases the prehistoric plagues trapped in the ice. If you have friends who are Knicks fans, give them a hug. They need one. I need one.